Swashbuckling Steinbeck

I am immersed in thrilling deadlines right now and writing as fast as I can, so I’m afraid this is going to be one of those weeks where the house doesn’t get cleaned and showering falls way down the priority list and the blog is a mishmash of nonsense (er, which is so different from how it normally is…right?).

But I wanted to whiz by and tell you all about this fascinating book I just read called Cup of Gold: A Life of Sir Henry Morgan, Buccaneer, with Occasional Reference to History… (which, first of all, if I tried to give one of my books a title that long, I’m pretty sure the design department would stab me to death with their pencils.)

Yikes! Atrocious cover! Who would buy this?

Much better cover. Suddenly it seems much classier, doesn’t it? What a difference a cover makes. I love you, design department!

This book is about PIRATES!, especially one real-life pirate who rampaged around the Caribbean in the 1600s. I read it because (a) I’m currently writing about pirates (more on that topic when it’s in real book form) and (b) it’s John Steinbeck’s first novel.

I know! Isn’t that WEIRD? I love John Steinbeck (most of the time — let us never speak of The Red Pony — a truly horrifying thing to inflict on sixth graders, if you ask me) but I totally think of him as Mr. Dust Bowl…tragic families, hardscrabble farming, itinerant workers, dead animals, etc., etc. (OK, that sounds rather unappealing, but actually East of Eden is pretty amazing.) Who knew he wrote a pirate book? Swashbuckling and swordfights? Steinbeck? Seriously?

Of course, it turns out this isn’t exactly the most straightforward swashbuckling story. In fact, he kind of skips over most of the pirate bits, like how Henry Morgan becomes the most powerful pirate in the Caribbean. Instead he focuses on the restless boy in Wales who wants to go to sea…the lonely captain who finds himself unsatisfied and friendless despite his power and wealth…the retired pirate who doesn’t really know what his purpose in life is. And the main heart of the story is Morgan’s search for a woman called “La Santa Roja” (the Red Saint), which leads him to basically burn down Panama looking for her (now that’s romantic).

So even though it’s a “pirate book”, it’s still, like most of Steinbeck’s later work, more of an exploration of character and what drives people and all of that, with some fascinating odd tangents into unrelated observations on life. Probably my favorite part is a bit near the end, when random character Lady Moddyford is explaining to this girl how to capture Captain Morgan’s heart:

“I don’t know what we should do without protection. I don’t know when Sir Charles would have proposed to me. The dear was frightened out of his life to begin. One afternoon we sat on a bench and I positively searched the landscape for something to frighten me. We must have been there three hours before a little water-snake ambled along the path and terrified me into his arms. No, I can’t think what we should do without protection. Sir Charles has a man in the garden all the time looking for snakes. And do you know, I have always liked snakes. I had three of them for pets when I was a little girl.”

Ha! That’s actually very funny, and it kinds of feels true, doesn’t it? Poor boys, needing such artful encouragement to do what’s good for them. But isn’t that an odd passage to find in a pirate book? It’s kind of a cute character moment, albeit for a character we only meet for about three pages. This probably sounds like a weird comparison, but I noticed that the first Terminator movie does that too — small character details for people like the police officers, or Sarah’s roommate and fellow waitresses, even people who only have a couple of lines before they die. I just think that’s kind of cool; like, if you’re going to have random background characters, they might as well be interesting. I think that’s part of what makes Terminator not just another running-around-blowing-things-up robot-killers movie.

ALSO, I wanted to let you know that I have found a reality show in this barren wilderness of stop-gap TV that is actually so worth watching. YES. I KNOW. It is:



I know, I’m been having some kind of mad dance obsession in the last year (me and the rest of America, evidently), but this one is seriously approaching So You Think You Can Dance caliber, in my opinion (unlike, say, Dance War…sorry, Bruno and Carrie Ann, but SERIOUSLY. Adam kept coming into the room and going, "What are you watching? Kids Incorporated?").

For one thing, all the music on America’s Best Dance Crew is hip-hop, which means I am SO there anyway, and then the dancing is all choreographed by the groups themselves, who have been working together already for years. AMAZING. Like, this is RIDICULOUS talent. There are still seven teams left, and I have no idea who they could possibly eliminate next, because they’re all phenomenal.

Oh, and one of the judges is Shane Sparks, who also appears on So You Think You Can Dance, and I kind of love him because he gets SO excited about good dancing — he can hardly contain himself, like after Status Quo performed this week, which I agreed with because they RULED HARD. I think my favorite crew right now is Kaba Modern (aaah I can’t even talk about how cool they are) but everyone is kind of brilliant (one group does everything on roller skates! whaat!?). SO if you get MTV, and you like having your head exploded with awesomeness, you should check it out — I think it’s on Thursdays, but it reruns all the time.

Yeah, I just wrote a blog entry about John Steinbeck and hip-hop. What of it? 🙂 But now I have to finish my own pirate book and then go think about Golden Retrievers and vampires and polar bears for a while (er…different projects, don’t worry!).

Happy Leap Year this Friday! And I hope you all enjoyed the Oscars — I thought Jon Stewart was hilarious, didn’t you? Plus yay Diablo Cody and Juno for winning Best Screenplay!

Quote of the Day: "Democrats do have a historic race going, Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama. Normally, when you see a black or female president, an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty." — Jon Stewart at the Oscars clip_image001