Classics Club Spin #25 Review: Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck


What’s a Spin?

A Classics Club Spin is a game where you make a list of the 20 classics you want to read. Then, on the announced date, the Classics Club [blog] randomly draws a number. You read the book on your list that corresponds to the number drawn. It’s fun! You can read my List for Spin 25 here.



My Interest in Tortilla Flat

I needed short choices from the classics for this challenge. I also wanted to try more Steinbeck even though East of Eden gave me real world nightmares. To date I’d read East of Eden, Grapes of Wrath, The Pearl Of Mice and Men (all three in high school in the 70s). I wanted a Steinbeck that wouldn’t depress me too much, too.

The Story

In a run-down part of town, Danny and his friends do their best to avoid working, yet still acquire wine. One day, Danny’s luck changes and he inherits his Grandfather’s two run-down houses. He agrees to ‘rent’ one to his friends who never actually pay rent. Danny begins to see the other side of owning something worth having. The friends start to resent his wealth. Then they are all friends again. A woman gets involved. A terrible accident sets the stage for conflict…that does….not…happen. In fact nothing much happens.

The chapter titles tell the story, for example:

“How Danny’s Friends sought mystic treasure on St. Andrew’s Eve. How Pilon found it and later how a pair of serge pants changed ownership twice.”

On and on nothing really happens. They talk. The find or beg or have gifted their wine. They steal chickens to eat. They have run-ins with others in the Monterey neighborhood of the title. They accomplish nothing.

Supposedly the story mirrors Arthurian legends with Danny as Arthur. Sure, John, if you say so. Whatever. Maybe I am too stupid to “get it” again–like with many Japanese books? To me, Arthur had class, style, manners, and did stuff. These guys are what used to be called “bums.” Not “hobos” because they (usually) have a home of some sort somewhere.

They reminded me of the guys in Last of the Summer Wine (a British sitcom in which little happens while the men avoid their wives) but dirtier and with coarser manners and different accents. And not enjoyable like LOTSW was.

My verdict

4.0 For the actual writing. 

2.0 For how it held my interest.

I’ll be honest–I’m done with Steinbeck except for Travels With Charley–I do still plan to read it and possibly Harvest Gypsies.

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck

Random episode of the random antics of Last of the Summer Wine


10 thoughts on “Classics Club Spin #25 Review: Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck

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  1. I’ve only read 2 Steinbeck’s and consider him one of my hit or miss authors. Loved East of Eden when I read it twenty-odd years ago, but struggled with The Grapes of Wrath and its unrelenting grimness. However, I do have A Russian Journal on my TBR pile, to see how I fare with his non-fiction.

    My spin was an Australian classic, My Love Must Wait, which sounds like a corny romance but was actually the story of Matthew Flinders and his circumnavigation of Australia.

    I haven’t popped by your blog for a while, but I love the (new?) purple and green pattern – my two favourite colours 🙂 Now that I’m on WP, I’m checking out the various themes and design options.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was fairly meh on Steinbeck until a few months ago. I’ve since really enjoyed Cannery Row and The Moon is Down. I totally get though getting to that point where you know you don’t want to read anymore of an author. It helps with pruning the bookshelves too!

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  3. Great write-up. My book group read this about a year ago, and I think our reactions were pretty much line with what you’ve described. I liked the writing a lot and thought there were some really funny bits, but overall everyone was annoyed by how these guys just sat around and did nothing most of the time. I think our expectations were a little off too because of the Knights of the Round Table comparison. I do want to read more Steinbeck — maybe I’ll finally get to Grapes of Wrath this year.


  4. Pretty much my only memory from high school Grapes of Wrath were the “inter chapters” not related to the story — I think one was about a turtle crossing a road?? Didn’t really get it. Really liked East of Eden and Mice/Men as an adult. This one sounds very skippable to me — thanks for the insight 🙂

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