Hello, everyone! I was able to squeeze in another book this month (mostly because it’s short), and it was a good one! My big project is winding down so hopefully I’ll be back in the swing of things soon.
I read Travels with Charley in Search of America (hereafter referred to as Travels with Charley) as part of the 12 Months of Reading Goodness challenge. November’s challenge is to read a book with a mode of transportation on the cover since Thanksgiving yields some of the busiest travel days in the US.
Travels with Charley was published in 1962. John Steinbeck was living in Long Island, NY, at the time but had just returned from living abroad for many years. Steinbeck was a writer who was really vested in what was happening in his country, as is evidenced by the social commentary that populates so many of his great books. But after being gone so long, he felt like he was out of touch with America, especially the people and the culture. As a remedy, he set out on a long, cross-country road trip in his souped up camper/truck, Rocinante (named, fittingly, for Don Quixote’s horse), with only his standard poodle, Charley, for company.
Steinbeck’s route took him up to Maine and then he headed west through the northern states, took a left when he reached Washington and then spent some time reminiscing in California, where he was born. From there, he headed east through the southern states. He completely missed the heartland, perhaps because he knew we were doing just fine.
His goal was to get into the hearts and minds of average Americans, but in the end he didn’t feel like he really accomplished much of that. However, he had some good stories to tell about people he met and things he saw, most accompanied by philosophical musings and some by very humorous commentary. In fact, an alternate title for the book could have been “Deep Thoughts with John Steinbeck” because the man had a lot going on in his head. He shared his views on topics ranging from urban sprawl to the State of Texas to materialism to race relations. I guess being alone on a long road trip gives you a lot of time to think!
Except he wasn’t alone – he had Charley to keep him company. To me, Charley was the star of the show and Steinbeck was at his wittiest when he was describing his poodle. Steinbeck credited Charley very human characteristics, like wisdom, perception and dignity. He was even dignified when conducting doggy business. It’s obvious Steinbeck loved that dog and, in some ways, Travels with Charley is a tribute to a French poodle.
There was some fairly recent scandal about Travels with Charley when a journalist discovered that Steinbeck made up some of the content, meaning it isn’t purely nonfiction. Maybe I should care, but I really don’t. Whether completely true or not, it was still entertaining and made me think (although I have to admit it took me awhile to get into it). The fact that Steinbeck felt out of touch with the American people and culture particularly resonated with me, although my reason has to do with being housebound for 5 1/2 years. I also found it interesting that he often commented on issues that are still around today. Or, conversely, I was surprised to be reminded that what I thought were fairly new issues were already happening 50+ years ago.
Travels with Charley is a good, quick read and exactly what I needed to ease me back into reading mode.
What about you? What books have you been reading recently?
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
P.S. – December’s challenge is to read a book that takes place during the holidays. Please join me for the last one of the year.