While I’m out on the eastern tip of Long Island, I had a chance to visit John Steinbeck’s summer home and I reckon favorite place to live, at least on the East Coast. It’s a modest home on about an acre of land in Sag Harbor, a few miles outside of East Hampton. He lived there, and on the upper east side of Manhattan, in the last years of his life. This was the house he left from on his 10,000 mile journey that became the book Travels with Charley.
Steinbeck spent many years in Monterey, CA, right on the coast. His best friend was a marine biologist who would take him out on sampling expeditions to give him a break from writing, and several of his novels and nonfiction books have water themes.
When he moved to the East Coast it’s not surprising he ended up out here. His house is tucked away on a little peninsula surrounded by some coves and near Sag Harbor Bay, on the south fork near the end of Long Island. The place is a bit isolated from any activity but is near the neighbors. It has big windows to let in the Sun from a few different directions. It’s the perfect place if you have a lot of water in your chart (Sun Pisces, Moon Scorpio for water) and Leo rising (for sunshine).
While I was visiting, one of the guys working on the house (which is still in the family) said he’d heard of Steinbeck but didn’t understand why people were so excited about him. Steinbeck won both the Pulitzer and the Nobel prizes (Pulitzer for The Grapes of Wrath and Nobel for his lifetime achievements).
He’s not quite an obscure author, but because his books are not about killing people, or corporate intrigue, they don’t get as much airplay as we need them to have. I explained that Steinbeck’s themes are meaningful right now because they involve fairness, what happens to people who don’t have the advantages of wealth and what happens when society reverts to greed as its guiding philosophy (yes, we have been out to this edge before).
In essence, Steinbeck’s work is all about compassion for people; it’s about how we can and must take care of one another. He is the very antithesis of Ayn Rand, who preached a false doctrine of selfishness that’s influencing our whole society — but she couldn’t even take care of herself. (She depended on public assistance at the end of her life — the very thing that her ideas are used to destroy.)
You never forget Steinbeck’s characters: has Lennie Small, from Of Mice and Men, ever left your mind or your feelings? I could list nearly every character in The Grapes of Wrath without referring to notes. The reason we remember these people is because the writer cared about them, and therefore so do we. They were real to him — they are real to us.
Remember that Steinbeck started as a journalist, and his writing is realistic rather than fanciful. A journalist’s job is to tell you what the human race sees, hears, thinks and feels — not to make up stories. There are no special effects, no superhuman powers, no divine intervention. There are just guys like Jim Casey, the former preacher who decided that religion was full of shit but loved how the young women would get themselves so filled up with the Holy Spirit, one would fuck him wildly behind the church after the service was over.
One of the guys working on the house asked me what my interest in Steinbeck was. I told him that I might not be a writer had I not read his work. Steinbeck’s was the first writing voice that ever spoke to me, and I have to say we have the same taste in real estate.
I’ll come back to his chart around the time of his birthday next month.