“Nothing Good Gets Away”: John Steinbeck Offers Love Advice in a Letter to His Son (1958)


Cer­tain read­ers may turn, for gen­er­al solace, to the nov­els of John Stein­beck. But how many, in par­tic­u­lar need of roman­tic advice, open up Of Mice and Men, East of Eden, or The Grapes of Wrath? Yet on mat­ters of the heart, Stein­beck knew of what he spoke, as his son Thom found out after men­tion­ing a new school sweet­heart in a note home. In what must sure­ly count as the most elo­quent, rel­e­vant piece of unso­licit­ed parental love advice ever given—not, admit­ted­ly, a high bar to cross—the for­mi­da­ble man of Amer­i­can let­ters explained how best to nav­i­gate this rich­est of all expe­ri­ences:

First—if you are in love—that’s a good thing—that’s about the best thing that can hap­pen to any­one. Don’t let any­one make it small or light to you.

Second—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.

This excerpt comes from a full text avail­able at a favorite site of ours, Let­ters of Note. One of the inter­net’s finest repos­i­to­ries of man’s wis­dom and fol­ly, Let­ters of Note has offered William Faulkn­er’s take-this-job-and-shove-it, a young Kurt Von­negut’s wartime report home after his release from a Dres­den work camp, the first Amer­i­can fan let­ter sent to David Bowie, and Aldous Hux­ley’s death as described by his wid­ow. My per­son­al favorite remains the simul­ta­ne­ous­ly astute and unhinged lament Ted Turn­er received from his father after chang­ing his col­lege major to clas­sics. Turn­er père wrote, in his askew fash­ion, in the same spir­it of father­ly sup­port as Stein­beck. But Ted did­n’t get to read any lines half as reas­sur­ing as those Thom Stein­beck did: “Don’t wor­ry about los­ing,” his father advised. “If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hur­ry. Noth­ing good gets away.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

John Steinbeck’s Six Tips for the Aspir­ing Writer and His Nobel Prize Speech

This is Your Brain in Love: Scenes from the Stan­ford Love Com­pe­ti­tion

Face to Face with Bertrand Rus­sell: ‘Love is Wise, Hatred is Fool­ish’

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

by | Permalink | Comments (3) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (3)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.