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Travels with Charley and later novels, 1947-1962 (edition 2007)

by John Steinbeck

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286256,992 (4.06)2
Member:Speaks
Title:Travels with Charley and later novels, 1947-1962
Authors:John Steinbeck
Info:New York : Library of America : Distributed to the trade in the United States by Penguin Putnam, c2007.
Collections:Prose Fiction, Your library (inactive)
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Tags:LOA, American

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John Steinbeck: Travels with Charley and Later Novels 1947-1962 by John Steinbeck

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When the virus of restlessness begins to take possession of a wayward man, and the road away from Here seems broad and straight and sweet, the victim must first find in himself a good and sufficient reason for going. This to the practical bum is not difficult. He has a built-in garden of reasons to choose from….”

In 1960, John Steinbeck took off on a journey around the United States in his tailor-made camper, Rocinante. “…. because my planned trip had aroused some satiric remarks among my friends, I named it Rocinante, which you will remember was the name of Don Quixote’s horse.” Why such a trip? There were, according to Steinbeck, two reasons: his self-proclaimed bumdom, and his profession as a writer. “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 more 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. …”

His trip started after Labor Day and he was accompanied by his loyal and faithful companion, a large French poodle named Charley. Charley was to provide companionship and protection, but more than that, “… an exotic like Charley, is a bond between strangers.” And indeed he was. Steinbeck also lured interesting characters into Rocinante with some down-to-earth hospitality helped along with strong coffee and even stronger booze. Some of the people he meets along the way are French Canadians who come down to harvest potatoes; an old-fashioned thespian; a boy in Colorado who dreams of being a hairdresser much to his father’s chagrin. There is the occasional rendezvous with his wife and a Thanksgiving spent with some wealthy friends in Texas. His trip back to his native California was especially interesting to me as I have visited Steinbeck’s native Salinas, California and the Sequoia National Forest. His writing about the giant Redwoods was particularly moving.

Steinbeck’s stories on the road are interesting, entertaining and educational. He reflects on the changes he sees in the country along the way: new-fangled roads (freeways), where you can pass through a city without ever really seeing the city; the (what I call) plasticizing of American road-side eateries (plastic silverware, butter and jelly served in little plastic packets, etc.); the homogenizing of the American dialect through TV. It’s not that Steinbeck stands back and calls these things bad necessarily, but stands back and wonders if they’ll prove to be beneficial or detrimental changes over the long haul. In 1960, when these changes are really starting to take hold, it’s too soon to tell.

One of the changes happening around this time was the desegregation of schools in the South. “… the incident most reported in the newspapers was the matriculation of a couple of tiny Negro children in a New Orleans school. …. I had seen photographs in the papers every day and motion pictures on the television screen. What made the newsmen love the story was a group of stout middle-aged women, who, by some curious definition of the word ‘mother,’ gathered every day to scream invectives at children. Further, a small group of them had become so expert that they were known as the Cheerleaders, and a crowd gathered every day to enjoy and to applaud their performance. This strange drama seemed so improbable that I felt I had to see it. …” So he drives to New Orleans to witness the “Cheerleaders” scream their filth at the“… littlest Negro girl you ever saw…” The whole thing “…. Made me sick with weary nausea.” This part of the book made me sit up and pay attention since I had never heard of such a thing happening. As a mother, I can’t even imagine such a thing as grown women spewing filth at a first-grader! Steinbeck seems to head home in a hurry after witnessing this spectacle. Or, maybe he was just travel weary:
“This journey had been like a full dinner of many courses, set before a starving man. At first he tries to eat all of everything, but as the meal progresses he finds he must forgo some things to keep his appetite and his taste buds functioning.”


As much as I thoroughly enjoyed [Travels with Charley] there were times I felt that the speech of certain characters he meets along the way were just a little too intellectual and artsy to be believed. (I believe another reviewer here had said something along similar lines.) I don’t think Steinbeck made things up; I think he may have simply embellished certain situations. Poetic license, I suppose. That tiny complaint aside, [Travels with Charley] is an interesting time-capsule of the United States at the beginning of a decade that would prove one of the most interesting, exciting, and tumultuous in our culture. It’s a definite must for Steinbeck fans and probably something that armchair travelers, wannabe time travelers, and dog lovers would definitely appreciate.

Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote avidmom | May 24, 2014 |
Dec 2010: Travels with Charley, 5 of 5 stars. Bill Bryson, et al can't hold a candle to Steinbeck. How low our expectations have become, this is how high they could be. Note to eighth grade American English teachers: if you want your students to learn about their country, their country's history, their people and the land no matter where in the country you are, where the nation is at right now and how we got here, AND become fond of John Steinbeck, give them Travels with Charley and trust that they'll go to Grapes of Wrath on their own when they're ready. This was in every aspect and detail what goodreads says 5 stars should mean: amazing.

Oct 2007: The Wayward Bus, 3 0f 5 stars (review here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/25564504 ) ( )
  gunsofbrixton | Mar 30, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Steinbeckprimary authorall editionscalculated
DeMott, RobertEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Railsback, BrianEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Book description
Omnibus edition containing:
The Wayward Bus, Burning Bright, Sweet Thursday, The Winter of Our Discontent, Travels With Charley in Search of America
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A final installment of a four-part collection of the classic American writer's works features his later novels, including "The Wayward Bus," "Burning Bright," "Sweet Thursday," and "The Winter of Our Discontent," in a volume that is complemented by his final published account, "Travels with Charley."… (more)

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