In 1940, Steinbeck’s good friend, Ed Ricketts died after a terrible car accident. Ricketts is best known in Steinbeck’s works as Doc. The Log on the Sea of Cortez is almost two books. The first is a moving and loving tribute about Ed Ricketts and his role in the community in Monterey and Salinas. The second book is a memoir, a slow-paced, somewhat mundane account of their trip around the Gul of California in search of sea specimens for examination and study. Steinbeck has taken Ricketts’ log of the account and along with his own ideas and commentary, has created a detailed account of their trip with their colorful, if not goofy, crewmen.
Towards the middle of the book, it becomes largely philosophical, seeing as how Ricketts and Steinbeck loved to talk about mostly philosophical topics. The book is likewise filled with interesting tidbits about the cities they visited and the people they encountered. The book, like their journey, really takes the reader away from our fast-paced, technology driven lives. There is a huge sense of calm reading the book, and I think that is because their trip was calming, and quite meditative. Don’t get me wrong, it was incredibly boring at times, more often than I want to admit, since I love Steinbeck. But somehow I was able to get through his 200+ pages of fish-gathering chapters and yet I gave up on Hemingway’s short account of hunting in Africa. Sorry. Steinbeck always trumps Hemingway in my opinion.
Despite being boring (I would read the book to lull my infant to sleep…it worked quite well every time,) there were so many gems of Steinbeck’s gift with writing sprinkled throughout the sea specimen collection paragraphs. There are perhaps too many thoughts I underlined and pages I dog-eared so that I could return to a favorite or interesting passage. His humor is subtle, but it is ever-present throughout the entire account. I did prefer the first part, the tribute to Ed Ricketts more than their journey, but overall, it is a great read for anyone interested in going beyond Steinbeck’s fiction and really learning about his life, his thoughts and his unique ability to understand and fit into the world around him.