If any recently read book has reminded me of the importance of giving a writer and his or her words the care and attention they deserve, it is John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley: In Search of America. If you happened to have read this post (sorry, we're back to Hardy again . . .), you'll know that I came late to this book, just a few weeks ago. And during those weeks, I've been reading it at a gentle pace. Because that is what it demands. Yes, you could speedread it in a couple of hours but you would miss so much in the rush to reach the last page. But how could one rush at a book that opens thus: "When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked." When Steinbeck and his standard poodle headed off in a camper van called Rocinante, (named after Don Quixote's horse) to rediscover the author's native land, the heart disease that was to end his life just a few years later had aready made its presence known. This was to be Steinbeck's last opportunity to reconnect with his roots and to note what remained and what had changed in America, especially in parts of the country he remembered from his youth and earlier life. His travelling companion, the eponymous Charley, was "an elderly gentleman", struggling - nobly as dogs do - with the infirmities of age; Steinbeck's concern to preserve his venerable canine's dignity is poignant yet never sentimental. But not only did Steinbeck write great opening lines, he wrote great closing lines too - and pretty well everything in between is as good as it gets. Every word counts; every sentence is carefully crafted. Nothing is superfluous. Emphasis and inflection, when needed, arise as they should from the words and the images themselves, not an exclamation mark in sight. Here is a writer at the very height of his powers; a writer who, in just a few words, can give us the measure of a man or a woman: a lonely lake guardian in northern Michigan, who "wanted his pretty little wife and . . . . something else" and who "couldn't have both"; an equally lonely and loquacious elderly woman stuck in the Bad Lands, with her "dying vestiges of a garden", or the vagabond actor with his handwritten note from John Gielgud, which he kept "in a carefully folded piece of aluminium foil". When I was in my teens and early twenties, I read every Steinbeck I could get my hands on; landmark novels, such as The Grapes of Wrath informed my political thinking, as well as my thoughts on writing. But, somehow, this one book had passed me by. I'm grateful, however, to have discovered and read it at more or less the same age as Steinbeck was when he wrote it. Perhaps one needs to be this age to understand why he noticed the things that he did and the responses that they evoked in him. And he was such a perceptive observer of the human condition; as readers, we marvel at his ability to translate his thoughts and reflections into words that speak to us all. Read Travels with Charley and you will know what it is to write from the heart, as well as from the head. If you've not yet had the good fortune to sit down with this wise, compassionate and exquisitely written book, buy or borrow a copy as soon as you can, take it slowly and know what it is to read from the heart.
Travels with charley in search of america - paperback: 9780140053203
Arrives by Tue, Oct 27
About This Item
To 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 years.
With 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.
Penguin Publishing Group
|Number of Pages|
Travels with Charley in Search of America
|Assembled Product Dimensions (L x W x H)|
7.50 x 4.20 x 0.73 Inches
Customer reviews & ratings
If any recently read b...
I loved this. Such a c...
I loved this. Such a colorful glimpse at a moment in history. The writing and observations would be stunning all by themselves, but the narration of Gary Sinise elevates this memoir another notch. Definitely one I will read again. I can identify with a man who can get lost in his own backyard and who names his vehicle Rocinante, after Don Quixote's horse. I liked that he traveled incognito and took the backroads when he could. That he sought out ordinary people in the midst of their daily routine. His America is not my America, but it still has the same ugliness, the same beauty. It reeks of possibility. "In my flurry of nostalgic spite, I have done the Monterey Peninsula a disservice. It is a beautiful place, clean, well run, and progressive. The beaches are clean where once they festered with fish guts and flies. The canneries which once put up a sickening stench are gone, their places filled with restaurants, antique shops, and the like. They fish for tourists now, not pilchards, and that species they are not likely to wipe out. And Carmel, begun by starveling writers and unwanted painters, is now a community of the well-to-do and the retired. If Carmel's founders should return, they could not afford to live there, but it wouldn't go that far. They would be instantly picked up as suspicious characters and deported over the city line. The place of my origin had changed, and having gone away I had not changed with it. In my memory it stood as it once did and its outward appearance confused and angered me....Tom Wolfe was right. You can't go home again because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory."
Wonderful book - great...
Wonderful book - great writing; and a 'travel-book' that really captures the experience of driving across America. Steinbeck doesn't attempt to log every stop, but rather, he selects colorful and meaningful instances of sincere contact with individuals. I loved his insertions of 'philosophical' insights along with the great colorful characterizations. This book prompts me to go back and read Steinbeck's other classics.
In the fall and early ...
In the fall and early winter of 1960, John Steinbeck packed up a camper-converted pickup truck and along with his dog went in search of America. Travels with Charley finds Steinbeck making a round trip around the United States with his dog, the titular Charley, looking to rediscover the voice, attitude, and personality of the characters he peoples his fictional work with. Yet like all journeys this one takes unexpected turns that the author doesn't see coming. Save prearranged meetings with his wife in Chicago and then in Texas for Thanksgiving, Steinbeck and his loyal canine Charley traverse various sections looking to get back in-touch with other Americans that he's missed by flying over or traveling abroad. Quickly though Steinbeck learns that the uniqueness of speech and language was beginning to disappear into a standardize English in many sections of the country. He finds the Interstate and Superhighway system a gray ribbon with no color in comparison to state roads that show color and local character of the area. And his amazement about how towns and cities have begun to sprawl losing local character as they became mini-versions of New York or Los Angeles which includes his own home town in the Salinas valley, highlighting the changes the country had occurred to the nation during his life time alone by 1960. Yet Travels with Charley isn't gloom or despair, Steinbeck writes about the national treasure that is the various landscapes around the country that help give locals their own personality even in the face of "standardizing". His interactions with people throughout his trip, whether friendly or hostile, give the reader a sense of how things remain the same yet are changing in the United States at the time of Steinbeck's trip. But Steinbeck's interactions and observations of this travel companion Charley are what make this book something that is hard to put down. Whether it's Charley's excitement to explore that night's rest stop or Steinbeck's amazement at Charley's nonchalance at seeing a towering redwood or Steinbeck's concern over Charley's health or Charley's own assessment of people, Steinbeck's prose gives Charley character and lets the reader imagine the old dog by their side wherever they're reading this book. Written later in the author's career, the reader is given throughout the entire book the elegance of Steinbeck's prose that embeds what he his writing about deep into one's subconscious. Though there is debate about how much of Travels with Charleyy is fiction or if an individual is a composite of several others or even if events are ordered correctly, what the reader learns is that Steinbeck's journey is unique to himself as theirs would be unique for them as well. Written almost 60 years ago Travels with Charley details a changing America through the eyes of one of its greatest authors, even today some of Steinbeck's passages resonate with us in today's cultural and political climate. But if like me you wanted a book by Steinbeck to get to know his style and prose than this is the book to do so.
In the fall of 1960, C...
In the fall of 1960, Civil Rights was still an ugly snarl and a hopeful young presidential candidate was waiting in the wings. Steinbeck was well into his fifties at the time and decided to take a final tour of his beloved America. He packed up his converted pick-up truck and along with his French poodle named Charley, he set out. From Sag Harbor New York, he followed a northerly route, ending up in Monterrey California and then returned, covering the southern part of the country. This book contains his thoughts and observations about the people he met and the towns he visited, along with a sharp commentary about this vast beautiful landscape, we call home. This is his view of the Badlands: "They deserve this name. They are like the work of an evil child. Such a place the Fallen Angels might have built as a spite to Heaven, dry and sharp, desolate and dangerous, and for me filled with foreboding. A sense comes from it that it does not like or welcome humans." The second half of the narrative is a bit more dry and wordy but it does conclude with a devastating event in the deep south, where a very young black girl is being escorted into a "white" grade school, amid a torrent of verbal abuse from a matronly group of women, who call themselves "The Cheerleaders". Steinbeck is so shaken, he immediately returns home in a daze. This is a very good book, by one of America's finest writers.
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