Author Review X: Bukowski

Charles Bukowski might be the literary equivalent of Marmite i.e. you love him or you hate him. I imagine very few people ride the fence on this one. For example, before I read any of his work, a good friend of mine, who gives me plenty of great reading recommendations, said something like: “Bukowski’s not a good writer; he’s just a drunk.” When I was getting my MA, one of my instructor’s said something like “I hate Bukowski, probably because I don’t want to believe that men actually treat women that way”. On the other hand, I had two different people who liked Bukowski so much, that they commissioned me to paint portraits of him. Despite hearing about him from all of these people, I hadn’t actually read any Charles Bukowski until I had a chance encounter with an alcoholic (which the author himself might’ve appreciated).

The drunk in question had well-meaning parents who wanted to get him a gift, but didn’t want to give him money because they knew he’d piss it away, so they gave him books. He proceeded to sell those books to his fellow MA students at the pub and use the money to buy beer. Now, I’m not proud of being an enabler, but when this gentleman begged me to buy his copy of Post Office at a reasonable discount, I went along with it…and thoroughly enjoyed the book. Turns out old Buke wasn’t just a drunk after all.

Despite cranking out a prolific amount of poetry and short fiction, Charles Bukowski only wrote seven novels and I think they’re fairly easy to rank. Or, at least six of them can be ranked together and then there’s one odd ball out in left field, which I’ll come to later.

Ham on Rye is easily the greatest literary achievement of the Bukowski’s novels because it brings his humanity into focus. The semi-autobiographical story deals so intimately and honestly with his brutal childhood that it gives readers a chance to sympathise with him before he becomes the sloppy misanthropic misogynist of his later works.

On the other hand, Post Office does less to get the reader emotionally involved and more to entertain them. With the exception of a few unscrupulous episodes that cross the line, this novel is probably the most fun to read.

Factotum deals with a lot of the same type of crappy job/pitiful existence anecdotes as Post Office, but it lacks the same sense of coherence. If you like the vibe of Post Office and you want more of the same, you’ll enjoy Factotum, but it doesn’t have much of a story arch.

In Hollywood, Bukowski manages to recapture the strong story arch of Post Office as well as it’s sense of humour. All in all, it’s a better novel than Factotum, but in it, the main character has come so far along his trajectory, it’s hard to believe it’s the same person. If you like the ‘low-life’ aspect of the earlier novels, you might be slightly disillusioned by this story of how those hi jinx were ultimately made into a movie. On the other hand, it’s a nicely surreal capstone to one of the most unbelievable manifestations of the American dream. Immigrant comes to the USA, lives in the gutter, gains a cult following, ends up on the silver screen.

At the far end of the spectrum, Women is probably the worst of his semi-autobiographical novels or, at the very least, it’s the hardest to read without constantly cringing. In a documentary I watched, Bukowski’s last wife explained that she wasn’t thrilled when she read it and you can hardly blame her. I can’t imagine most woment would be thrilled by it.

With 6 out of the 7 novels behind us, that just leaves the odd ball: Pulp. This is Bukowski’s only non-autobiographical work and his only stab at genre fiction. To some extent, it suffers on both accounts. It’s easy to read it and think, this isn’t a great Bukowski novel or a great detective novel. But, I’d contend that it was never meant to be. I think Bukowski was intentionally lampooning the detective genre, as well as his own body of work. Viewed in that light, this self-consciously weak book actually comes across as kind of clever. And when you consider the ending in the light of the fact that he basically finished it on his death bed, it’s also kind of bittersweet.

So, if you’re interested in Bukowski, start with Ham on Rye or Post Office. If you like Post Office, you’ll probably like Factotum. If you like Ham on Rye, you might be interested to read Hollywood to see how the wild ride of his life starts and ends. If you’re at all uncomfortable with misogynism, skip Women altogether. And, unless you’re trying to work your way through the whole collection like I did, you can probably give Pulp a miss as well.

For my next author review, I think I’ll take a shot at an Italian stallion: Alessandro Barrico.

Ham on Rye

Post Office





The Plague Notebooks

In college, I started carrying around little notebooks/journals small enough to fit in my pocket. When I had ideas, I want to be able to write them down before I lost them. Fifteen years later, I’m still perserving thoughts and observations in the same way. But, over the last year and a half, I have experimented with one minor adjustment: I’ve been making the notebooks myself.

It all started with Who Gives a Crap. Being the sickly waif of a writer that I am, I’ve almost always got a runny nose, so I go through a lot of tissue boxes and I got tired of just sending all that cardboard off in the recycling bin. I’d already experimented with drawing and painting on scraps of cardboard, so I thought, why not write on it? Throw in a hole punch and some string and next thing I know, I’m on my 13th of these scrappy little homemade wonders. They’re cobbled together out of everything from cereal boxes to Amazon packing paper.

As this period has coincided with the pandemic, I’ve dubbed these my Plague Notebooks. Recently, I went back through them and gathered up all of my reflections on the Covid world we’ve been living in. I’m presenting them below in an essentially unedited form, not because I think they’re particularly brilliant, but more like the literary equivalent of a no-makeup-selfie.

If you appreciate what you see, please consider buying one of my books here or here.

Extracts from the plague notebooks

2020: from the start, I thought of it as an impossible year. 

2020: something meant to hang on the horizon forever, 

but never get here. Pure scifi. 

A time for lunar colonies and flying cars. 

A year we wouldn’t/couldn’t see in our lifetimes. 

Something perpetually far. 

But here it is 

and with it, the plague. 

Not the deadliest, 

not yet at least, 

but in some sense, the hardest hitting. 

An impossible impact – 

the economy crippled, 

the workforce shelved, 

the world waiting at home, 

literally holding their breaths.


The bug that broke the world


Give me something normal, 

Something open,

like an ungloved hand

extended in greeting

or an unmasked face,

grinning – 


besides a politician’s mouth

or Pandora’s box

or the gates of Hell, 

something simple, 

like a restaurant or shop,

not a freshly-dug grave.


You think you should/want to go away. 


You can’t go anywhere. 

There is no ‘Anywhere’. 

The ‘Here’ follows you everywhere. 

There is no ‘Going’.


Don’t get your hopes up.

Tomorrow is bankrupt

and the day after 

is a complete disaster.


The plague opened up

like a hole in the year;

spring fell in

and summer after it.


Rule #1: don’t touch anything, 

no surface held in common, nothing 

any other hand could’ve contaminated, 

no doorknob, counter, or computer

Rule #2: don’t breathe any shared air,

When in doubt, shut yourself out

Or suffocate


Like the North American landmass

at the close of the last ice age, 

the feeling of a dying glacier

grinding down your back,

cold, hard, plowing

mountains into hills,

relentless pressure and friction,

filling soil with stone fragments,

fracturing as it goes,

reshaping the surface


We Can’t Stay – a title?


When does a plague stop being a plague?

How do you recognize the end?

Does it come down to the death count,

a low enough number of daily dead?



I think the walls are closing in again.

Perhaps we’ll have a lockdown Christmas…


You were born into a difficult year

of discord and disease, 

bad blood and crooked politics,

but your smile was contagious, 

a gift that we shared


Each day like a sheet of sandpaper

rubbed over a piece of wood,

subtly wearing away, little by little,

shaping and taking



a good year for Ctrl+Z – 

so much to undo


This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things – a title?


Lockdowns and circus clowns


Miley Cyrus notwithstanding, 

my instinct was to think of this year 

like a wrecking ball, 

but that’s wrong. 

It’s more like the treads of a tank.

I’ve been not so much struck 

as crushed,

a great weight, yes, 

but not the kind

that punches holes in walls, 

just the sort of bulk 

that grinds it all down.


New Strains – a title?


Lament for 2021 – 

Where’s my f***ing flying car?

Where’s my colony on Mars?

Where’s my pristine, glistening city of the future?

Where’s my android maid?

My teleporter getaway?

Where’s my goddamn laser pistol/ray gun?

What the f**k, 2021,

What have you done?

What have you got to say for yourself?

You were supposed to be sci-fi?


I can’t remember the last time 

I met a new person 

and had a conversation


(Can’t remember if I wrote it down before, but)

I continue to be struck 

by the contemporary phenomenon 

of single use surgical masks and gloves 

blowing around the streets 

like tumbleweeds


There are two ways to be stoned to death. In the first, a crowd hurls projectiles. In the second, the victim lies flat and stones are slowly piled on top of them until they’re crushed to death. This reminds me of the phases of the pandemic. The waves of fear struck first, sharp and hard. But as that subsided, it was replaced by the dull weight of fatigue, mounting.

Author Review IX: Bantock

Nick Bantock stands apart from the other authors that I’ve reviewed so far, because he’s not just a great writer; he’s also an excellent artist. At the start of the 1990s, he burst onto the scene with the first installment of his Griffin and Sabine series and, even now, this dynamic collection of illustrated epistles remains his most highly regarded work.

The Griffin and Sabine books are the perfect fusion of Bantock’s literary and artistic talents, but I’d be lying if I said they were all equally good. Out of the seven part series, the first trilogy is the most compelling. It has a momentum and continuity that propels readers from one volume to the next. The second trilogy attempted to revive the narrative after a conspicuous hiatus and, while they were strong in their own right, they didn’t quite do the first books (or the overall story arch) justice. The final book in the series is little more than an addendum produced to fill in a few blanks and, possibly, cash in on some nostalgia. If readers came to it on its own, they’d certainly be intrigued, but in the broader context of the series, it doesn’t live up to its fore-bearers.

In addition to his infamous seven-part saga, Bantock’s produced four other novels: I loved one, disliked another, and found the other two pretty much equally good.

I’ll start with my least favourite: Windflower. This story deals with the nomadic nation of Capolan, but it’s not the first time that Bantock described this enigmatic culture. Back in 1997, he introduced the world to Capolan with an intriguing art box and it was the perfect teaser. It included just enough information to leave audiences eager for more. Unfortunately, Windflower didn’t live up to its predecessor. Compared to Bantock’s other works, I seem to recall that Windflower has the most text and the least illustration. This imbalance is one significant strike against it. Like Griffin and Sabine, as well as The Venetian’s Wife, this story focuses on a metaphysical love affair. While the trope is successful elsewhere, it somehow falls flat here. I’m not sure, but I think it might be because the central affair is too convoluted. We can all handle a fictional love triangle, but a pentagon? Too much. It might also be worth noting that Windflower is a some sort of collaboration with someone named Edoardo Ponti. The details of this collaboration are not clear to me and I’d love to give Mr. Ponti the benefit of the doubt, but could he be the reason this is Bantock’s weakest novel? We may never know.

Several months ago, when I started drafting this review, I found it so hard to remember whether I preferred The Venetian’s Wife or The Forgetting Room, I resolved to read them both over again and refresh my memory. Now, after having done so, I’m hardly better off than when I started. These are both fun, interesting page-turners, but they both suffer from certain weaknesses, like an odd lack of conflict which leaves readers with a feeling that everything came together too easily. These books also employ an excessive dose of ambiguity and hand-waving when it comes to their endings. So, not only is it hard to believe how effortlessly things are resolved, it’s also hard to understand exactly what those resolutions consisted of. At a push though, I think Forgetting Room is slightly more sophisticated than Venetian’s Wife. What it lacks in fantasy, it makes up for in pacing and character development.

Last, but not least, is The Museum at Purgatory. This might be my absolute favourite Bantock novel and the one I’d be the first to recommend to new-comers (though, full disclosure, re-reading those other two novels made me wonder just how much I’ve forgotten about this one as well). I love this book for typical Bantock reasons i.e. great art and enjoyable writing, but the essential premise might be the part I love the most: the waiting room of death, the lobby of eternity. Bantock isn’t the only person willing to play with notions of the afterlife’s antechamber (for other examples, check out the Japanese film, Afterlife; Kevin Brockmeier’s novel, A Brief History of the Dead; or my own short story, Last Laugh), but he does it in a whimsical way that’s surely all his own. 

Now, as I’ve pointed out previously, I focus these author reviews on novels, but in Bantock’s case, I need to give an honorable mention to his, both of his puzzle books. Like his novels, they’re wonderfully illustrated and, my favourite of the two, The Egyptian Jukebox, is also full of great stories. Dubious Documents lacks that narrative strength, but it is still beautiful and fun to solve.

So, if you’re interested in Bantock, start with the Museum at Purgatory or the first three books of the Griffin and Sabine Saga (Griffin and Sabine, Sabine’s Notebook, and the Golden Mean) and if you have extra time, try out The Forgetting Room, The Venetian’s Wife, and the second Griffin and Sabine Trilogy. Don’t waste your time with Windflower or the last installment of the G & S saga unless you’re desperate for more of a Bantock fix. Even then, you’re better off with The Egyptian’s Jukebox.

  1. The Museum at Purgatory
  2. Griffin and Sabine/Sabine’s Notebook/The Golden Mean
  3. The Forgetting Room
  4. The Venetian’s Wife
  5. The Gryphon/Alexandria/The Morning Star
  6. Windflower – with Edoardo Ponti
  7. The Pharos Gate

Next, I think I’ll try someone a little more lowbrow: Bukowski.

Another One Bites The Dust

Once again, I have the unpleasant job of announcing the death and/or disappearance of a literary publication. This time, the dearly departed is This Great Society. Though this digital journal stopped putting out new issues way back in 2013, they’ve just emailed me to say that their site, and all their archives, will cease to exist entirely on Tuesday, October 13th.

This Great Society was one of the first publications to feature my work, way back in 2011. This came at a time when I really needed the encouragement. Their acceptance inspired me to persist with both my writing and my submissions, so I feel a particular debt of gratitude to them. They even took the time to help me edit and improve my poem, Opa, where most publications wouldn’t have bothered. I also liked the way they matched my poem with an attractive illustration by Lara Hughes (included below).

My initial appearance in This Great Society would’ve been good enough, but as icing on the cake, they featured me in their Best of Poetry retrospective in 2013. I was sorry to see the site go dormant then and I’m even sorrier to see it vanish now. RIP This Great Society. Fortunately, you can still find my poem in my collection, Caught Light, available from Amazon.


I can’t believe how long it’s been since my last post, but when you consider how strange of a year it’s been, I like to think that I’ll be forgiven for such a lapse. In addition to the pandemic-shaped elephant in the room, I’ve also been coming to grips with the new size/shape of my family, as well as trying to find a new home to accommodate us.

With all of that on my plate, I simply haven’t had time to write or deliver any news about my writing. To be honest, there hasn’t really been any news for quite awhile. But, I’m finally breaking my silence, because there is some news now. Arts Richmond has been kind enough to feature two of my poems online among their Poems for the Day. The first, Abandoned Piano or Some of the Keys, was originally published by Friends of Alice in my collection, Caught Light. But the second poem is a different story. Catch and Release is previously unpublished, so you’ll be seeing it for the first time. It’s also the poem that I’ve completed most recently, so I’m particularly excited to see it published. In the coming days, Arts Richmond will also be featuring another of my poems, Brief Distraction, so be sure to keep an eye out for that.

I realise that my long time away from the site has meant that I missed Pi Day this year, so I plan to address that in a separate post. I’m also keenly aware that I’ve dropped the ball on my Author Review series. I owe you a long overdue appraisal of Bantock’s books and I promise I’ll get to ASAP. Until then, stay safe, read, enjoy art, etc.

Author Review VIII: Hemingway

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been limiting my author reviews to novels and excluding other work, like short stories. I’ve done it for convenience; it just keeps everything tidier, but it’s a damn shame for the likes of Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway was such a prolific short story writer, and so much of his best work was produced in that form, that I’d be doing both him and his potential readers a disservice if I didn’t mention it. You can’t fully experience or evaluate Hemingway’s work without digging into his short stories.

Moving on, it’s easy for me to pick my favourite Hemingway novel: The Sun Also Rises. It’s no contest. This book stands head and shoulders above the rest. I think some of this comes down to Hemingway’s problematic approach to writing about sexual relationships specifically and women in general.

For example, I found just about everything in For Whom the Bell Tolls interesting, besides the development of its awkward romance. I found Across the River and Into the Trees entirely sub-par because its female lead was so poorly and flatly written that she distracted from the rest of the book. And, though True at First Light is problematic for several reasons, which I’ll touch on later, the relationship between the main character and the local woman, Debba, is uncomfortable to read at the very least.

What separates The Sun Also Rises from these other books is quite possibly the main character’s impotence (spoiler alert?). Because there’s no chance for the main characters to consummate their relationship, there’s also no chance for Hemingway to ruin the novel with an unbearably awkward love scene. And because all of the interactions between these characters is soaked with unfulfilled desire, it makes the whole story more dynamic and rich. Furthermore, I don’t think it’s going too far to suggest that these characters’ dissatisfaction is emblematic of their generation, the one that Gertrude Stein so aptly described as ‘Lost’. It’s no coincidence that the male lead is suffering the lingering effects of a war wound and that’s keeping him from moving forward as a productive member of society. In some ways, a whole strata of society was struggling to piece its psyche back together after WWI. All this to say, The Sun also Rises succeeds on multiple levels.

I suppose A Farewell to Arms comes in second on my list of top Hemingway novels, but I don’t remember having anywhere near as strong of a reaction to it. From what I vaguely recall (you’ve gotta cut me a break because it’s been years since I read a lot of these books), I thought it was good, but not amazing. I’d be happy to read it again, but not much of my first reading has stuck with me.

To Have and Have Not is at least half good, by which I mean I like the first half much more than the second half. Islands in the Stream is similar, though it’s the first third of that book that I like the most. But, it brings us into the troubling waters of posthumous publications and unfinished books. Also residing in this strange space is The Garden of Eden and True at First Light, which I touched on earlier. These two books were so heavily edited after Hemingway’s death, it’s questionable as to whether they can even be included on his list of novels. It is a damn shame that The Garden of Eden was never finished, because it showed real promise and was, possibly in some ways, ahead of its time. The way that the female lead experiments with her sexuality is certainly intriguing and would probably resonate a lot more with readers these days than Hem’s bull fighting or lion hunting work. Unfortunately, the real test of whether or not this is a good novel is how it all ties together and, in its unfinished state, you just can’t really evaluate it. True at First Light doesn’t seem to have anywhere near as much potential as The Garden of Eden, but what it does have is similarly unfulfilled.

This leaves two more novels, Hemingway’s first and last: The Torrents of Spring and The Old Man and The Sea. Torrents of Spring isn’t bad, but it’s not a serious novel like the rest. It’s satirical and as a piece of satire, I didn’t get the joke. That’s not Hemingway’s fault, but I can hardly think of the book as a timeless classic. On the other hand, The Old Man and The Sea is definitely considered a timeless classic. It won the Pulitzer Prize and basically landed Hemingway the Nobel Prize in Literature! These prizes are funny things, though. They’re not always awarded when they should be and have a tendency of showing up late to the party. To put it another way, you could argue that The Old Man’s prizes were actually more like lifetime recognition awards for everything that came before. The book itself is, in my opinion, tedious and drawn out.

In conclusion, if you’re going to try Hemingway, please start with The Sun Also Rises. If you don’t make it any further than that, at least your time will have been well spent. But, if you’re willing to invest a little more into Hem, try a few of the others in the top 5 of my list. Beyond that, you’re not missing much, especially if you make time for the short stories.

For my next author review, I think I’ll go for someone completely different: Nick Bantock.

The Sun Also Rises
A Farewell to Arms
To Have and Have Not
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Islands in the Stream
The Garden of Eden
The Old Man and the Sea
True at First Light
The Torrents of Spring
Across the River and into the Trees

Readings, Past and Future

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of performing my poetry at The Library in central London. This wonderfully relaxed and intimate event was hosted by Friends of Alice (publishers of my collection, Caught Light) and it gave me a chance to read alongside fellow FoA authors, Michael Wyndham and Isabel del Rio. Unfortunately, Wlodek Fenrych was too unwell to attend, but his daughter was kind enough to read from his translations of Fifty Ruba’iyat by Rumi. Despite their brevity, each of these little poems packed an insightful punch. The evening was rounded out by a few open mic performances and the whole thing had an almost familial geniality to it. I’m genuinely looking forward to any and all future events with my FoA cohorts.

On 3rd November, I’ll be back in Teddington at The Adelaide for another night of Poetry Performance. In December of 2017, they were kind enough to feature me and help me promote my debut chapbook, (Reasons for) Moving. So, I’m thrilled that they’re having me back to read from Caught Light. You can get more info about the event at Arts Richmond’s site.

If these two exciting events are the bread of a poetry reading sandwich, I’d be remiss to leave the sandwich without any filling, so I’m hoping to read at The Poetry Cafe’s 4th Friday event on 25th October. It’s been years since I last participated in 4th Friday and I’m eager to see what it’s like these days.

Hopefully, I’ll see you at one of these readings.


Friends of Alice Showcase and Other News

When it comes to poetry readings, I’ve been laying low lately. In August, I dropped the ball entirely and didn’t manage to make it out to a single event. In July, I decided to go for workshopping instead of open mic and headed back to the ever-helpful Chiswick/Barnes Stanzas group. Yet again, they provided me with valuable feedback, which I think will make the poem in question stronger (if I can just find the time to sit down and apply their suggestions). But it was all the way back in June when I attended my last real poetry reading: 1000 Monkeys at The Keep in Guildford. It was great to hear Richard Woolmer read from his collection, Speaking to Crows, as well as the other seasoned veterans, but that seems like ages ago.

Fortunately, I’ll be back in the saddle next month. On 9th September, I’ll be taking part in a fabulous showcase put on by Friends of Alice Publishing at the Library in London. I will be reading alongside my fellow Friends of Alice authors, Wlodek Fenrych, Michael Wyndham, and Isabel del Rio, with music provided by Russell Swallow. I’m really looking forward to promoting my book, Caught Light, and I’m sure it will be a rollicking good time, so if you can make it out, please do. It’s a free event, but you need to register on eventbrite in order to provide an accurate headcount.

In other news, Paul Brookes has been kind enough to interview me on his site, The Wombwell Rainbow, so if you want to hear me ramble on about all sorts of things, check that out as well.

Caught Light

Author Review VII: Steinbeck

If you want a great (albeit nerdy) debate, sit down with some die hard Steinbeck fans and try to hash out which novel is his masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden. For a writer to have created just one of these brilliant books in their lifetime is impressive, but for one man to produce both is staggering. Grapes of Wrath seems to get the lion’s share of attention, but in my opinion, East of Eden is a richer text. It’s hard to pin down exactly what gives it the advantage, but if I had to guess, I’d say it has something to do with politics. Grapes of Wrath is a convincing tapestry with deeply human characters artfully woven into it, but the design of the whole is coloured by an agenda. While I sympathise with much of Steinbeck’s political sentiments, they can be distracting at times. It’s one thing to write about workers’ rights, but it’s more ambitious to excavate the fundamentals of the human condition, as East of Eden does.

Now that we’ve (controversially) established which is Steinbeck’s greatest novel, I’d like to move on to my favourite. As much as I appreciate the gravity of Steinbeck’s serious writing, I prefer the levity of his more comedic books and the foremost among these has to be Cannery Row. Though it stands on its own, it’s worth reading Tortilla Flat and Sweet Thursday alongside it if you have time, as they’re all loosely connected. The Short Reign of Pippin IV is another enjoyable read, but it feels almost frivolous in comparison to the others. It also comes across as something of an inside joke if you’re not familiar enough with the history of French politics. I certainly felt like some of the humour was over my head, but I still liked it.

Some novelists manage to stun readers right out of the gate with an amazing debut; I wouldn’t put Steinbeck in this category. His first book, Cup of Gold, is probably among his weakest and I would only recommend it to devoted fans. His next novella, The Red Pony, is a different kettle of fish but it also lacks the strength of his later work. It comprises a series of episodes; this formal experiment is both a pro and a con. On the one hand, it shows Steinbeck’s writing taking on greater sophistication.  On the other hand, it’s jarring and a little off-putting. There is a fine thematic thread connecting the sections, but it’s easy enough to miss.

It’s in Steinbeck’s 3rd novel, To a God Unknown, that his writing really begins to mature. I don’t know what it is about this odd familial saga, but the whole thing has a haunting quality that sticks with you. The Wayward Bus is another entertaining novel and a great character study. It certainly has prominent comedic leanings, but one harrowing scene in particular keeps me from putting it in the comedic category.

In Dubious Battle is a compelling bit of propaganda, but its political agenda is even more blatant than Grapes of Wrath’s and it loses more of its literary potency because of it. The Moon is Down certainly has a political agenda as well, but its delivery is smoother, more subtle. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily go as far as to say that it’s better than Dubious Battle. They’re pretty evenly matched.

If you’re anything like me, you’re first encounter with Steinbeck was probably in an academic setting where you were forced to read Of Mice and Men. And, if you’re anything like me, you were too immature to appreciate it at the time. Unfortunately, I still haven’t revisited the book since, so my impressions of it are still negative. I know now how great of an author he is, but I look at his best work and think, “It’s a damn shame that there isn’t time to have kids read some of that stuff in school instead of Mice and Men.” Of course, they might not appreciate any of that either. Who knows?

The last three novels on the list have settled down to the bottom because they’re outliers, hard to categorise. The Pearl is so thickly allegorical and two dimensional, it seems impossible to rate against the others. Burning Bright is probably the most experimental of Steinbeck’s novels and, like Red Pony, the form distracts from the content. Last but not least, The Winter of Our Discontent just doesn’t feel like a true Steinbeck. With so much of his work rooted in California, this New England novel seems thoroughly dislocated. It may not be his worst, but it certainly isn’t among his best either.

To conclude, if you’ve only got time for one Steinbeck novel and you want something fun, go with Cannery Row. If you want something you can really sink your teeth into, then read East of Eden. I’d also highly recommend several more of his books and just plain recommend a few others, but when it comes to the bottom of the list, you can probably afford to miss the last four.

For my next instalment of Author Review, I’ll try another literary giant: Hemingway.

Cannery Row
East of Eden
The Grapes of Wrath
Tortilla Flat
Sweet Thursday
To a God Unknown
The Wayward Bus
In Dubious Battle
The Short Reign of Pippin IV: A Fabrication
The Moon Is Down
Of Mice and Men
The Winter of Our Discontent
The Red Pony
The Pearl
Burning Bright
Cup of Gold