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~E-PUB ♵ Travels with Charley: In Search of America ♾ A Quest Across America, From The Northernmost Tip Of Maine To California S Monterey PeninsulaTo Hear The Speech Of The Real America, To Smell The Grass And The Trees, To See The Colors And The Light These Were John Steinbeck S Goals As He Set Out, At The Age Of Fifty Eight, To Rediscover The Country He Had Been Writing About For So Many YearsWith Charley, His French Poodle, Steinbeck Drives The Interstates And The Country Roads, Dines With Truckers, Encounters Bears At Yellowstone And Old Friends In San Francisco Along The Way He Reflects On The American Character, Racial Hostility, The Particular Form Of American Loneliness He Finds Almost Everywhere, And The Unexpected Kindness Of Strangers
John Steinbeck put a house on a pickup, left the wife behind in their Long Island home and traveled the nation for several months This is his tale of that experience I found many quotables here, and I guess one should expect that when the traveler s name is Steinbeck In a book of about two hundred pages, one can hardly expect a detailed look at all of America Steinbeck picks his spots Sometimes they work, sometimes not It was, of necessity, merely a sketch of some parts of the country But some of those sketches should hang in the Louvres Two in particular grabbed me His description of The Cheerleaders, a group of women who gathered every day at a newly integrated southern elementary school to taunt and threaten the black kids and Steinbeck s look at the culture surrounding that was chilling, a close portrait of an incendiary place at an incendiary time, and is, alone, a reason to read this book The other was his depiction of a redwood forest in northern California, where the massive trees alter dawn and blot out the night sky Steinbeck and Charley from the NY TimesThe subtitle of the book is In Search of America What travel books are really about, particularly when undertaken by a literary person, is self discovery It works the same as in literature The road, the quest, the journey all exist in an interior landscape and lead to an inner destination I did not feel that this was much at work here, and was disappointed Steinbeck kept his eyes on the external road Sometimes his snapshots of early 1960s America were uninteresting Sometimes they were compelling The compelling parts made the trip one worth taking EXTRA STUFFApparently, there is some thought that not all the material in this book was actuallyumreal GR friend Jim sent along a link to a site by a guy named Bill Steigerwald, who writes about Steinbeck Looks like he did a fair bit of research and concluded that Steinbeck s journey may have been of an internal one than we believed check it out. I usually enjoy fiction, but a mite cheated when I learn that a travelogue isn t I m sure some people enjoy the writing regardless of the misleading content Steinbeck never went to some of the places in the book, he made up the folks that he never met and the hotels and resorts he and his wife stayed in are a bit luxurious than the camper top on his GMC pick up On the plus side, he did purchase a pick up truck and add a camper top to it His wife did have a poodle named Charley. 4 to 4.5 starsIt seems like lately I have been reading a lot of books about road trips This is just fine with me as I love the open road Getting some perspective on others experiences on the highway combines road trips with my other favorite hobby reading, of course Travels With Charlie is mid 20th century America in the words of one of the most American authors that ever was Just a truck, a dog, and the open road It is poetic and beautiful It is dark and mysterious It funny and infuriating Don t go in expecting a smooth ride, because 1960s America was full of pot holes and speed traps Steinbeck is viewing post WWII America before new technology takes over and shrinks the country down When each region still each had a strong unique mystique of their own Where prejudices still ran high in some places if you were not a local or not the right color and, yes, I know this is still an issue today, but what Steinbeck describes is extreme And when vending machines at rest stops could still blow Steinbeck s mind as the most cutting edge retail technology He pulls no punches when it comes to telling the reader how much he loved or loathed his experiences Because of this, some people may have a hard time reading this without getting upset.I think works like this are so important We have plenty of books preserving information on major historical events, but day to day life needs it s time in the sun as well To be able to read something like this about life in my country around the time my parents were teenagers has the potential to impact me a lot than learning about the major news events of the time period I am not sure how much an impact this book might have on non Americans, but I think everyone who grew up in the United States will be captivated. In 1960, when John Steinbeck was 58 years old, ill with the heart disease which was to kill him eight years later and rather discontented with life, he decided to embark on a road trip around the United States in a fitted out pick up truck, accompanied by his standard French poodle, Charley Steinbeck s plan was to re connect with the America which had informed his fiction and to assess how much it had changed over the years This book is the result of that trip part memoir, part travelogue, part philosophical treatise and part fiction Just how much of the narrative is fiction rather than fact has been the subject of investigation and discussion in recent years, much of it instigated by the work of journalist Bill Steigerwald, who recreated Steinbeck s trip and exposed what he argues to be the fallacies in the narrative This article in the New York Times summarises Steigerwald s findings and typing Steigerwald s name into any reliable search engine will locate a range of Steigerwald s writings on the issue, as well as some responses to his position on the book While I ve read Steigerwald s conclusions about Steinbeck s journey with interest, it matters little to me that the work has been edited in such a way as to make it look like Steinbeck and Charley were travelling alone almost all the time, whereas Steinbeck s original manuscript held at the Morgan Library Museum in New York City shows that Steinbeck s wife Elaine was with him for much of the time and that he probably spent than half the nights he was away sleeping in hotels rather than in the truck Likewise, it matters little to me that Steinbeck s reported conversations with people he meets on the way are fiction rather than reportage In relation to this, the fact that Steinbeck preserved and then donated his manuscript indicates that he was not concerned that readers might discover that there was or possibly less to the journey than appears in the book Further, the narrative itself is full of disclaimers Steinbeck does not claim that the book is a day by day, diary style account of his journey Rather, what he conveys is a range of impressions on a number of topics, some insights into issues he considered important and some at times painful self reflection, all conveyed in Steinbeck s powerful yet accessible prose On some matters Steinbeck was ahead of his time For example, what he wrote about the destruction of the environment and the overuse of packaging products The mountain of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use , expressed what I doubt was a matter of widespread public concern as early as 1960 Other parts of the narrative are much personal Steinbeck s encounter with old Latino drinking buddies in a bar in Monterey is particularly poignant As Steinbeck s friend tries to persuade the New York resident to come home , Steinbeck names all of their friends who have died and concludes that Thomas Wolfe was right You can t go home again because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory Possibly the most powerful incident in the book is Steinbeck s witnessing of the cheerleaders in New Orleans a group of women who stood across the street from William Frantz Elementary school and yelled obscenities at Ruby Bridges the first black child to attend the all white school and at the few white parents who did not comply with the white boycott of the school Ruby, who had started at the school only a week or two before Steinbeck was in New Orleans, was escorted to school by federal marshalls Her ordeal is recorded in this painting by Norman Rockwell Shortly after witnessing the behaviour of the cheerleaders, Steinbeck decided to cut his journey short and head straight back to New York City The narrative gives the strong impression that the incident left him heart sick and distressed Overall, whatever may be this book s shortcomings as a piece of travel reportage, it s a moving and engaging piece of writing Steinbeck had become rather a cranky old man by the time he embarked on the journey, and was an even crankier old man by time he finished it He was certainly no longer the novelist at the peak of his powers But there s still passion, warmth and humour in his words and plenty for the reader who loves Steinbeck s writing to engage with And there s Charley Charley is wonderful. I first read this book in high school, and it s what made me fall in love with travelogues In 1960, John Steinbeck drove a small camper around the United States with his dog, Charley He wrote that he wanted to get to know his country again, to learn about this new America For many years I have traveled in many parts of the world In America I live in New York, or dip into Chicago, or San Francisco But New York is no America than Paris is France or London is England Thus I discovered that I did not know my own country I, an American writer, writing about America, was working from memory, and the memory is at best a faulty, warpy reservoir I had not heard the speech of America, smelled the grass and trees and sewage, seen its hills and water, its color and quality of light I knew the changes only from books and newspapers But than this, I had not felt the country for twenty five years In short, I was writing of something I did not know about, and it seems to me that in a so called writer this is criminal My memories were distorted by twenty five intervening years Travels with Charley was published in 1962, and Steinbeck, who had been in poor health, died just six years later.I remember loving this book I loved Steinbeck s stories about the people he met and the places he visited, and even the details of how he organized the camper and his trip I have recommended this book to countless friends over the years, gushing about how good it was.So you can imagine my UTTER HEARTBREAK because I found out that parts of the story were fabricated or fictionalized Reporters have verified that some details in the narrative could not have been true, and that Steinbeck made up a lot of the conversations he supposedly had with people along the road This news first broke in 2011, but I didn t learn it until I saw it mentioned in John Waters book about hitchhiking, Carsick When the 50th anniversary edition of Travels with Charley was published in 2012, it came with a disclaimer Indeed, it would be a mistake to take this travelogue too literally, as Steinbeck was at heart a novelist, and he added countless touches changing the sequence of events, elaborating on scenes, inventing dialogue that one associates with fiction than nonfiction So here is my conundrum Knowing that parts of it have been fictionalized, should I continue to recommend it to others If the book is as good as I remember, doesn t that outweigh its dubious origin Or I could just live in denial and remember the joy I felt when I first read it.Update June 2014 I was so upset to learn that Steinbeck had embellished his stories that I decided to reread the book to see how it holds up It was great It was glorious I will even say that I think it s one of the best travelogues written about America, ever Travels with Charley is beautifully written it is so quotable and insightful that I had dozens of pages marked It would be pleasant to be able to say of my travels with Charley, I went out to find the truth about my country and I found it And then it would be such a simple matter to set down my findings and lean back comfortably with a fine sense of having discovered truths and taught them to my readers I wish it were that easy This monster of a land, this mightiest of nations, this spawn of the future, turns out to be the macrocosm of microcosm me If an Englishman or a Frenchman or an Italian should travel my route, see what I saw, hear what I heard, their stored pictures would be not only different from mine but equally different from one another If other Americans reading this account should feel it true, that agreement would only mean that we are alike in our Americanness For all of our enormous geographic range, for all of our sectionalism, for all of our interwoven breeds drawn from every part of the ethnic world, we are a nation, a new breed Americans are much American than they are Northerns, Southerners, Westerners, or Easterners The American identity is an exact and provable thing Because it had been criticized by modern reporters, on this reread I paid attention to Steinbecks conversations with folks around the country, and yes, the dialogue was so smooth and concise that it had to have been finessed But after considering the issue, I ve relaxed on this point because I bet every writer does that Every writer is going to streamline speech so that it reads well Steinbeck even talks about writers who can quickly take measure of a place I ve always admired those reporters who can descend on an area, talk to key people, ask key questions, take samplings of opinions, and then set down an orderly report very like a road map I envy this technique and at the same time do not trust it as a mirror of reality I feel that there are too many realities What I set down here is true until someone else passes that way and rearranges the world in his own style I do think Steinbeck got at the spirit of what was going on in America in 1960 it was a big election year between Kennedy and Nixon racial tensions were high in the South because schools had been desegregated and there was heightened anxiety about Russia and the threat of the atomic bomb He even wrote about environmentalism and his concerns for how much waste America was producing, and he contemplated how the new cross country interstate system would change the country The guy was prescient, I tell you.Some of my favorite parts were when Steinbeck tried to cross into Canada with his dog and ran into a bureaucratic snafu regarding Charley s vaccination paperwork very amusing a warm conversation he had with a family of immigrants while they shared a drink in his camper and when he drove through a forest of massive Redwood trees out West The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree The feeling they produce is not transferable From them comes silence and awe It s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time They have the mystery of ferns that disappeared a million years ago into the coal of the carboniferous era They carry their own light and shade The vainest, most slap happy and irreverent of men, in the presence of redwoods, goes under a spell of wonder and respect Another theme Steinbeck returns to often is the wanderlust that seems to pervade Americans everywhere He mentions how many families had started buying mobile homes so they can move freely about, and how many others gazed at his camper and said they wished they could travel across the country I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every state I visited Nearly every American hungers to move I so enjoyed rereading this book that I will definitely continue to recommend it to friends I even upgraded my original 4 star rating to 5, because of how gorgeous Steinbeck s writing was I just wish I could give Charley a biscuit and a belly rub for being such a good traveling companion. My father bought me this book when I was probably about eight years old, and I read it quickly and fell in love with it One day now that I ve thought of it, probably sooner than later I ll reread it, but for now I m content believing I would still find it a good read. Goddamn it I ve driven coast to coast across the U.S fives times already and yet, thanks to Travels with Charley I m ready to go again During the mid century period, discovering America and or oneself through the medium of the road trip came into vogue While other prominent authors, such as Kerouac and Thompson, were publishing their own, heralded versions, I prefer Steinbeck s It lacks the hedonism of the others and I love him for that And further, these journals often get offtrack, forgetting the road for some favored topic that the writer expounds upon until it becomes a journey of its own and the original path fades from memory Steinbeck veers off now and then, but it s always for a good cause and it never lasts too long Here s a few of my personal favorite highlights from his trip Charley Before I began I had no idea who this Charley was, but he s a lovable guy and he made the whole thing all the enjoyable to read o I love Steinbeck s super sleuthing in the Chicago hotel room, where he adeptly pieces together a clandestine romance in a way that would impress Sherlock Holmes The book gets extra marks for a visit, description and kind words for Deer Isle, Maine, where from my grandmother s kin hail O Discovering that what I thought were imagined characters outrageously colorful characters from his novel Tortilla Flat were actually real people.While Grapes of Wrath will go down as a lasting work of genius, it carries with it the weight of moral baggage and an oppressive sadness Maybe Travels with Charley is not the same sort of classic literature masterpiece that will survive the ages, but I found it to be a pure joy to read from start to finish. dude, steinbeck is so much better than kerouac.and i know that is a totally obvious statement, but if i want to read a story about a man traveling across america and describing his findings, it is going to be a man with a varied vocabulary, a keen eye for detail, and some powers of interpreting his experiences john, i am listeningthis is my first nonfiction from steinbeck, and i am impressed with how conversational it reads he has a real skill in making his experiences near visible to the reader,in both his physical descriptions and his musings about what an american is i feel like he would be a fantastic road trip companion, and i envy charley.and that is another thing when it comes to dogs, i am completely breed ist there are dogs that i love, and then there are dogs i think should be banned from breeding, so i don t have to see them ever again poodles are among these breeds they are the silliest of all dogs, and how a man s man like steinbeck could travel across the country with one of them baffles me this is not a dog, it is an aberration but, for steinbeck s sake, i can read about a poodle for a little while, and it is sweet how they bond with each other but i still think they are ugly and not real dogs.steinbeck misses out on an investment opportunity if i were a good businessman, and cared a tittle for my unborn great grandchildren, which i do not, i would gather all the junk and the wrecked automobiles, comb the city dumps, and pile these gleanings in mountains and spray the whole thing with that stuff the navy uses to mothball ships at the end of a hundred years my descendants would be permitted to open this treasure trove and would be the antique kings of the world if the battered, cracked, and broken stuff our ancestors tried to get rid of now brings so much money, think what a 1954 oldsmobile, or a 1960 toastmaster will bring and a vintage waring mixer lord, the possibilities are endless things we have to pay to have hauled away could bring fortunes.of course he is being facetious here, but i for one would kill for some vintage appliances in another life in a better apartment i would have a fantastic kitchen filled with these old timey kitchen things, and i curse steinbeck for not giving a tittle.steinbeck does not get sucked into revisionist nostalgia 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 but it is true that we have exchanged corpulence for starvation, and either one will kill us. i am so glad my real world book club finally chose something i can review on here instead of just a short story or an essay or a poemand this time, i will have something to add they are all european intellectual types, with their tales of berlin and ukraine and their war stories as both witness and participant and i just sit there and drink my wine and play the role of very good young listener thank you, steinbeck for giving america some street cred and fodder for booktalks come to my blog In Travels with Charley In Search of America, John Steinbeck provides an entertaining and wry account of his observations as he road trips with his poodle in what essentially becomes his house on wheels, Rocinante I m a big fan of Steinbeck s work I really like what I see as his sympathetic treatment of quirky and damaged characters in novels like Cannery Row and Tortilla Flats I also remember enjoying Travels with Charley at least the few chapters of it which I read while I was in high school That said, despite frequent protestations that he wasn t upset about changes progress, I was irritated both by Steinbeck s defensiveness and by all the time he spent complaining about change I did like Steinbeck s assessment of Americans as a people on the move, but I didn t see him building toward anything in this travelogue I know that s the nature of travel writing, but I wanted from Steinbeck When he climbs out of Rocinante and explores a new town, does he see characters from his novels Does he see material for books Or only this specific travelogue I wasn t sure how he grew during this trip, just that he and Charley seemed to intuitively know when the journey was over I guess I was looking for something that wasn t there.