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Travels with Charley in Search of America (original 1962; edition 1980)

by John Steinbeck

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5,892138709 (4.02)1 / 386
Title:Travels with Charley in Search of America
Authors:John Steinbeck
Info:Penguin Books (1980), Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:read in high school

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Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck (1962)


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Showing 1-5 of 137 (next | show all)
Not the most interesting travel book I've ever read. I prefer his novels. ( )
  Kitty.Cunningham | Jul 19, 2017 |
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. ( )
1 vote mattries37315 | Jun 7, 2017 |
Steinbeck is one of the towering names of literature that you just know about, and you grow up with an inherent sense of his importance. Up till now, however, I've only read a couple of his shorter works. The major novels like Grapes and Eden are still perched on the mountain called "To Be Read," patiently awaiting my eventual ascent.

I only offer this little blurb of personal reading background because I want to stress how delighted I was with 'Travels with Charley.' As a fan of travel writing, I've had this on my radar in a casual way, but I did not expect the man primarily famous for epic stories of the great depression to be so funny. Steinbeck's voice is so personal and welcoming that you see yourself taking this road trip with him, and the understated, witty observations are just private jokes between the two of you and Charley.

This is not to say that it's a zany journey of hi-larious hijinks. Steinbeck has set himself a goal to re-acquaint himself with the country, and he takes seriously his journalist-observer role. Each section is treated sensitively and with respect, whether it deals with the inexpressible wonder of encountering the giant redwoods, the peculiar laconic non-communicative style of certain mid-westerners, the subtle heartbreak of misunderstanding between a son with big-city aspirations and his small-town father, or a "you-can-never-go-home-again" reunion with old friends in Steinbeck's old California stomping grounds.

Most affecting for me, though, was the account of the 1960 New Orleans school integration. Steinbeck gives you an idea of the political climate of the time, with a particular focus on the "cheerleaders:" women who lined up every day behind police barricades to perform their vile, venomous, hateful protest as young Ruby Bridges was accompanied to and from school by U.S. marshals. I don't want to dilute its effect with my own inexpert re-telling, but this is the kind of thing that everyone should read. Especially today, when the "doomed-to-repeat-it" threat is ever more real and present, we need all the help we can get to steer our world away from the simplistic, crass, and hateful, and toward the sensitive, complicated, and respectful.

An excerpt, with Steinbeck's observation on the "cheerleaders" and the vile things they shouted in protest to the white man who dared to bring his white child to the same school where a tiny black girl had been admitted:
"No newspaper had printed the words these women shouted. It was indicated that they were indelicate, some even said obscene. On television the sound track was made to blur or had crowd noises cut in to cover. But now I heard the words, bestial and filthy and degenerate. In a long and unprotected life I have seen and heard the vomitings of demoniac humans before. Why then did these screams fill me with a shocked and sickened sorrow?
The words written down are dirty, carefully and selectedly filthy. But there was something far worse here than dirt, a kind of frightening witches' Sabbath. Here was no spontaneous cry of anger, of insane rage.
Perhaps that is what made me sick with weary nausea. Here was no principle good or bad, no direction. These blowzy women with their little hats and their [newspaper] clippings hungered for attention. They wanted to be admired. They simpered in happy, almost innocent triumph when they were applauded. Theirs was the demented cruelty of egocentric children, and somehow this made their insensate beastliness much more heartbreaking. These were not mothers, not even women. They were crazy actors playing to a crazy audience."
It was a pleasure reading this book, and I look forward to exploring more of Steinbeck very soon to see what I've been missing.
Highly recommended.

DL 5/21/17 ( )
  SirRoger | May 21, 2017 |
Have you ever thought "I love Steinbeck! I wish I could hang out with him!" If you have, then: READ. THIS. BOOK. This journal/travelogue work is John Steinbeck's account of his travels across the United States in the 1960s, with his dog Charley, in a trailer that he names the Rocinante (after Don Quixote's horse). He describes what he sees, records interactions with different people he meets on the way, and this book is filled with reflective notes on what he thought of certain situation and how they relate to other instances in life or giving his opinion on his immediate reaction. There are a few literary references, and there instances of simple humour (i.e. getting stopped at the Canadian border for "dog reasons"). I kept thinking that if anyone other than Steinbeck wrote the same travelogue it wouldn't be that interesting. It's interesting BECAUSE it's Steinbeck. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys travel literature, travelogues, journals/diaries, and those who love Steinbeck and his work because in the end it just feels like you're hanging out with him and his dog. ( )
1 vote AndreeaMarin | Mar 2, 2017 |
Travels With Charley is a travel memoir written by the famous Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck. Steinbeck piles some books, shotguns, tinned food, and his poodle Charley into a truck/camper van and sets off around the U.S. The book was first published in 1962 which was an interesting time for the U.S. and the world. The world was on the cusp of change. Steinbeck reminds me of my Father in many ways, someone who was afraid of change and the new technologies that were taking over the world.

Steinbeck claims that he wasn’t really sure what he was looking for, and at the end of the novel he isn’t really sure what he found. He lays his travels bare and it is up to the reader to decide what to make of it all. The U.S. is a big place, so to claim that it is supposed to have one kind of vibe, mentality, demeanor is unthinkable. Steinbeck, despite the vastness of the U.S. tries his best to tie together his experiences that make up his journey.

These are some of the life lessons I picked up along the way whilst reading Steinbeck’s novel.

1. Look Beyond the City.

Steinbeck towards the beginning of his novel says,

“American cities are like badger holes, ringed with trash-all of them-surrounded by piles of wrecked and rusting automobiles, and almost smothered with rubbish.”

While this is a very critical judgement of the U.S., it also a statement that could be said about all cities in one way or another. I believe that too many of us get caught up in city life; the artificial lights, pavements, people… It is enticing and magical. There is always something to do, always something to see. Every minute of every hour is completely saturated with sound, lights, smells, and tastes in a city, which means there is no time to pause and reflect. The Australian poet Banjo Paterson also wrote something similar about cities and their people in Clancy of the Overflow:

With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.

What can we take from Steinbeck’s words? Well, it isn’t to forget the city, but rather, to remember what is beyond the city. Look for the quiet, look for the natural beauty in life. Heck, I’m going to say it! Stop and smell a rose. The city can be all consuming, and I believe that retreating to somewhere green and quiet can do us all the world of good.

2. Stop Buying Junk and Over Packaged Things.

I find Steinbeck to be a bit of a paradox at times. Throughout his writings he constantly talks about waste and our neglect of the environment. When we consider the time Steinbeck was around, people were not always as enviro-aware as they are now (although I would argue that we are not much better). Although Steinbeck talks about keeping the environment clean, he also talks about throwing aluminum cooking trays into the ocean. Hence, the paradox. Despite this though, I think that Steinbeck’s intentions are good. He laments, “Everything we use comes in boxes, cartons, bins, the so-called packaging we love so much.” He sums it up nicely I think. We buy too much junk and the junk is always over-packed with paper, plastic, and carton. We could all be a little bit more wise when it comes to how we consume things.

3. We Should Re-Think Our Roots.

Steinbeck, throughout all his novels, closely scrutinizes the American dream. The American dream, like the Australian dream, or arguably any countries dream is this: buy a house, have kids, work until you retire. Maybe it varies, but the little-place-of-our-own idea keeps coming up every time. Buying a house means settling down, growing roots. Throughout his travels with Charley, Steinbeck finds many people who go against the American dream of owning a house and instead, these people travel around in camper vans, Winnebagos, and caravans. They’re not all crack addicts with bad hygiene either. They are families, hard working adults, and Americans. They have just reinvented what it means to have roots.

As someone who lives an immigrant life in Switzerland, with a Brazilian husband, the idea of roots is complicated for me, to say the least. No matter where we go, my husband and I will never have roots like other people will. I know my great-grandparents came from Sweden and Scotland to Australia, but the family history before Australia is a cold dead end. My husband has German and possibly Dutch heritage, but knows little of his European roots. We now live in Switzerland together… I’m sure you get where I am going with this. Roots are not always about staying in the same place your great-great-great-great-great grandparents grew up. For some people it is, but the world is changing and the ‘roots’ people used to have are just not there anymore.

It is important for us to rethink our heritage, what we call home, and what we call roots.

4. Worry About the Means, Not the End Goal.

Towards the end of the novel Steinbeck talks about his conversations with a few African Americans. He doesn’t explicitly address the whole civil rights movement that was in its early stages back then, rather, he hints at the changes the U.S. is going to face.

Steinbeck says that he is not worried about the end goal, the finishing line. He hints at knowing where it will end up: equality (although we are still far from it today). Steinbeck is worried about the means to that end. How we are going to get to where we need to end up. The history books teach us that the means of the civil rights movement from the 1960s onward was a time of violence, bloodshed, fear, and grief. If we look at today’s headlines, with the likes of Boko Haram, the Ferguson Riots, and neomasculinists just to name a few, I am not worried about the end goal, which I know will be peace and equality. I am worried about how we are going to get there and how much life will be lost. As Steinbeck suggests, I am worried about the means. It is all to easy too get caught up in the end goals we have, and not really see the things we have to do to get there.

Rather than focusing on the end, worry about the means. ( )
1 vote bound2books | Feb 12, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 137 (next | show all)
Steinbeck’s book-length account of his journey, “Travels With Charley: In Search of America,” published in 1962, was generally well reviewed and became a best-seller. It remains in print, regarded by some as a classic of American travel writing. Almost from the beginning, though, a few readers pointed out that many of the conversations in the book had a stagey, wooden quality, not unlike the dialogue in Steinbeck’s fiction.

Early on in the book, for example, Steinbeck has a New England farmer talking in folksy terms about Nikita S. Khrushchev’s shoe-pounding (or -brandishing, depending on whom you ask) speech at the United Nations weeks before Khrushchev actually visited the United Nations. A particularly unlikely encounter occurs at a campsite near Alice, N.D., where a Shakespearean actor, mistaking Steinbeck for a fellow thespian, greets him with a sweeping bow, saying, “I see you are of the profession,” and then proceeds to talk about John Gielgud.

Even Steinbeck’s son John said he was convinced that his father never talked to many of the people he wrote about, and added, “He just sat in his camper and wrote all that [expletive].”

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Steinbeck, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Herman, Rein F.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parini, JayIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sinise, GaryNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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.
No newspaper had printed the words these women shouted. It was indicated that they were indelicate, some even said obscene...But now I heard the words, bestial and filthy and degenerate. In a long and unprotected life I have seen and heard the vomitings of demoniac humans before. Why then did these screams fill me with a shocked and sickened sorrow?
For how can one know color in perpetual green, and what good is warmth without cold to give it sweetness?
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.
Who has not known a journey to be over and dead before the traveler returns? The reverse is also true: many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0142000701, Paperback)

In September 1960, John Steinbeck and his poodle, Charley, embarked on a journey across America. A picaresque tale, this chronicle of their trip meanders through scenic backroads and speeds along anonymous superhighways, moving from small towns to growing cities to glorious wilderness oases. Travels with Charley in Search of America is animated by Steinbeck’s attention to the specific details of the natural world and his sense of how the lives of people are intimately connected to the rhythms of nature—to weather, geography, the cycle of the seasons. His keen ear for the transactions among people is evident, too, as he records the interests and obsessions that preoccupy the Americans he encounters along the way.

Travels with Charley in Search of America, originally published in 1962, provides an intimate and personal look at one of America’s most beloved writers in the later years of his life—a self-portrait of a man who never wrote an explicit autobiography. It was written during a time of upheaval and racial tension in the South—which Steinbeck witnessed firsthand—and is a stunning evocation of America on the eve of a tumultuous decade.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:50 -0400)

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Steinbeck records his emotions and experiences during a journey of rediscovery in his native land.

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