Breakfast, by John Steinbeck

I love this book.  There is so much to love about it.  First, this word sketch of simple country folk making and enjoying breakfast, is a tiny and yet perfect jewel.  It is Steinbeck at the height of his descriptive powers.  This sketch or fragment is often thought of as coming from The Grapes of Wrath, but it was first published in the November 9, 1936 issue of “Pacific Weekly.”  It was first published in book form in The Long Valley, Steinbeck’s short story collection that Viking published in 1938, the year before it published The Grapes of Wrath.

Front cover

Front cover

If you can’t smell the coffee, the bacon frying, and the bread cooking, if you can’t feel the crispness of the morning, if you don’t understand the brotherhood of small, common people preparing and sharing their breakfast in the midst of hard times, then you just aren’t paying attention.  Art doesn’t have to be difficult to understand to be effective and achieve greatness.  In this case, Steinbeck’s art is at its most simplistic.  The results are spectacular.  Read the story and you will be transported.  That is certainly part of its magic.

One of the hand-colored wood engraving illusrations

One of the hand-colored wood engraving illusrations

This particular book is the first separate printing of Breakfast.  It was published by Petaluma’s Anchor & Acorn Press in 1990.  It was issued in plain wrappers with an illustrated dust jacket.  This fine press item was created by Colleen Dwire Weaver (now known as Colleen Dwire)  as an internship project.  She illustrated the book with charming simplicity that beautifully dovetails with Steinbeck’s words.  Her wood engravings are hand-colored by her.  It is a perfect blend of artistic talents  —  the written word so marvelously intertwined with a skilled artist’s renderings of a simple scene of life at its most basic.

Dwire produced 100 numbered copies of this gem, adding her own Afterword.  It includes a double-spread title page of Steinbeck writing while smoking a cigarette that was created by Dwire from photos of Steinbeck by Sonya Noskowiak and Robert Capa.

Part of the title page

Part of the title page

Few of these books were ever sold.  Most were given away by Ms. Dwire to friends and family members.  There were only a few left when she received permission from Elaine Steinbeck to sell the remaining copies.  Elaine gave her permission because she knew this project was not a commercial venture which would deprive Steinbeck’s literary estate of big money.  Literary estates aren’t too keen on people using the estate’s literary property for their own financial gain.  In this case Elaine realized that the scope of the project was small, and that it was a labor of love, not a labor for financial profit.  Try looking for a copy to buy.  It is elusive, to say the least.

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