Travels With Charley : In Search of America (by John Steinbeck)


5-Star Review

Finding myself without a new book to read one evening, I started to read this classic a second time. To my surprise, I found I couldn’t put it down – again. Steinbeck’s time in his cozy camper parked along seemingly picturesque creek banks throughout America’s back country roads about sixty years ago is a trip I gladly rejoined him on. Isn’t that the beauty of a book? The beauty of this book is not only in the setting details, but also in Steinbeck’s musings. One of those rare novels you get the urge to highlight and underline as you read. Quite often, he makes points about the country, society, people, and politics that you emphatically relate to and it is then that you realize the more things change, the more they stay the same. Throughout the novel the reader is invited for civilized conversation over a good cup of coffee in that little camper with Mr. Steinbeck, Charley the sophisticated Poodle and a random guest and it is a delight.

There is a mystery to this novel, as well. It has been suggested that Mr. Steinbeck was not completely honest with us. Some suggest that upon making it to his boyhood home in California he hightailed it home to Long Island. He did mention more than once that he did not care to complete the southern part of his proposed trip. One reason he states is that his wife being from Texas has taken him there on multiple occasions and he had one too many contacts there to keep that portion of the trip authentic. The other reason being he was not keen on the idea of traveling through parts of the south dealing with heated segregation debates and riots and where his northern license plate and pro-desegregation views would not be welcome in such places like Alabama and Louisiana.

I have to agree that I, too, have my suspicions. The post-California portion of the log is just painfully different and more vague than the beginning parts of the book. It lacks the intimacy that was so endearing about the first half to three-quarters of the novel. Still, this book remains one of my favorites in spite of the questionable authenticity. Perhaps I enjoy it even more because of that uncertainty. It gives the reader even more to gnaw on long after devouring John Steinbeck’s intellectual prose.

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