I love celebrating birthdays—celebrating my own and those of others. So my favorite writer’s birthday is no exception. But I never know how to celebrate. How did John Steinbeck celebrate his birthday? No idea. I imagine it was no different than how most of us do it: with friends and family, presents, and maybe some cake. I threw a Steinbeck birthday party one year and plenty of my friends joined me, but I suspect it was because it was something to do and there was cake. Which is totally fine, I don’t expect most people to hold Steinbeck and birthdays in the same regard that I do (even if I wish they did).
He's got a sea captain vibe happening here. Which is awesome.
Image from here.
Maybe this year the best way to celebrate is to share some of my favorite passages from the man himself. Here they are:
To his son Thom in a letter (1958):
There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.
On friendship from Sweet Thursday (1954):
If you love him you must do anything to help him—anything. Even kill him to save him incurable pain. This is the highest and most terrible duty of friendship. I gather what you must do is violent. You must first make sure it can be successful, and you must, second, make sure within yourself that you know you will be punished. It is quite possible that even if you are successful your friend will never speak to you again. That takes a lot of love—maybe the greatest love. Make sure you love him that much.
I don’t know where this one came from originally, but it appeared in a short TIME feature titled “People: Dec. 20, 1963.” It’s one of my favorites:
One of the laws of paleontology is that an animal which must protect itself with thick armor is degenerate. It is usually a sign that the species is on the road to extinction.
From “About Ed Ricketts,” a tribute to Steinbeck’s best friend found at the end of The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951). This can be a hard thing to acquire:
It requires a self-esteem to receive—not self-love but just a pleasant acquaintance and liking for oneself.
And finally, from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech (1962), a bold declaration as many of Steinbeck’s contemporaries seemed to believe otherwise (read the entire speech, it’s incredible):
I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man, has no dedication nor any membership in literature.