John Steinbeck

Quotations

I have owed you this letter for a very long time — but my fingers have avoided the pencil as though it were an old and poisoned tool.

Letter to his literary agent, found on his desk after his death in 1968

You got a god. Don’t make no difference if you don’t know what he looks like.

Men do change, and change comes like a little wind that ruffles the curtains at dawn, and it comes like the stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass.

The President must be greater than anyone else, but not better than anyone else. We subject him and his family to close and constant scrutiny and denounce them for things that we ourselves do every day. A Presidential slip of the tongue, a slight error in judgment — social, political, or ethical — can raise a storm of protest. We give the President more work than a man can do, more responsibility than a man should take, more pressure than a man can bear. We abuse him often and rarely praise him. We wear him out, use him up, eat him up. And with all this, Americans have a love for the President that goes beyond loyalty or party nationality; he is ours, and we exercise the right to destroy him.

America and Americans (1966)

Where does discontent start? You are warm enough, but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You have been loved, but your yearning wanders in new fields. And to prod all these there’s time, the Bastard Time.

Sweet Thursday (1954)

Sectional football games have the glory and the despair of war, and when a Texas team takes the field against a foreign state, it is an army with banners.

The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage.

The new American finds his challenge and his love in the traffic-choked streets, skies nested in smog, choking with the acids of industry, the screech of rubber and houses leashed in against one another while the townlets wither a time and die.

Travels With Charley: In Search of America, pt. 2 (1961)

The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty.

A book is like a man—clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly. For every flowering thought there will be a page like a wet and mangy mongrel, and for every looping flight a tap on the wing and a reminder that wax cannot hold the feathers firm too near the sun.

Letter to his editor and friend, Pascal "Pat" Covici, 1952

The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.

Accepting Nobel Prize, 1962

Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word. And there’s an opening convey of generalities. A Texan outside of Texas is a foreigner.

It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.

Give a critic an inch, he’ll write a play.

One man was so mad at me that he ended his letter: “Beware. You will never get out of this world alive.”

"The Mail I

Even while I protest the assembly-line production of our food, our songs, our language, and eventually our souls, I know that it was a rare home that baked good bread in the old days. Mother’s cooking was with rare exceptions poor, that good unpasteurized milk touched only by flies and bits of manure crawled with bacteria, the healthy old-time life was riddled with aches, sudden death from unknown causes, and that sweet local speech I mourn was the child of illiteracy and ignorance. It is the nature of a man as he grows older, a small bridge in time, to protest against change, particularly change for the better.

Travels With Charley: In Search of America (1962)

Writers are a little below clowns and a little above trained seals.

It is true that we are weak and sick and ugly and quarrelsome but if that is all we ever were, we would millenniums ago have disappeared from the face of the earth.

I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession.

Accepting Nobel Prize, 1962

The Mojave is a big desert and a frightening one. It’s as though nature tested a man for endurance and constancy to prove whether he was good enough to get to California.

I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.

Accepting Nobel Prize, 1962

Time is the only critic without ambition.

In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable.

In diary

A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you.

The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.

In diary