Reviewing a book collection seems relatively straight forward. There’s no searching for suitable books or ditching writing because the story doesn’t work for you. With entire works, what matters is that you read and review each book from A to Z. How hard can it be?
After acquiring John Steinbeck’s books, I had to sort them in order. I went online, found a reliable source and started my project. But something wasn’t right – the books on my bookshelf cited contradictory information.
Luckily, I came across the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, a museum dedicated to the author. By referring to the most complete listing of his work, John Steinbeck Bibliography by Goldstone and Payne, the lovely staff there including archivist Lisa Josephs showed me how the other lists were incorrect and confirmed the chronological order.
However, there is more to a book collection than publication dates.
In John Steinbeck’s case, some of his work was published in instalments as newspaper articles or chapter releases in literary magazines significantly earlier than the book became available. Therefore, I had to assign the correct publication date for these books, which can be tricky.
So what have I learned from this exercise?
- Published information can be wrong. Search for that gold standard.
- Subjective decisions need to be made.
Although these decisions I make affect the direction I take, ultimately it doesn’t matter what I do. That’s because there’s no right or wrong way to review an author’s life work.
I cannot be Steinbeck’s contemporary 46 years after his passing.
But what I can do is travel back in time to see how the great events of the day shaped his work and convey what I have learned.
With so much to explore, how can this journey not be rewarding?