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

by John Steinbeck

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5,733134740 (4.01)1 / 380
Member:kristinevandusen
Title:Travels with Charley in Search of America
Authors:John Steinbeck
Info:Penguin Books (1980), Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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 132 (next | show all)
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. ( )
  bound2books | Feb 12, 2017 |
Travels with John Steinbeck were a joy. ( )
  gbelik | Feb 7, 2017 |
I picked up this book because I needed a road trip book to fill a participation requirement in a book challenge. I'm so glad that I did. The author took time off from everything to drive across the country with his dog. He met all different types of people and had good and bad experiences. Politics and beliefs came up often and varied person to person. Elections, war and racial desecration are just a little of what was on the minds of many. He's pretty good at giving mostly unbiased opinions of his interactions. He describes many popular geographical spots also. I felt that I received a pretty accurate and interesting look at the U.S. of the past. ( )
  ToniFGMAMTC | Jan 19, 2017 |
I picked up this book because I needed a road trip book to fill a participation requirement in a book challenge. I'm so glad that I did. The author took time off from everything to drive across the country with his dog. He met all different types of people and had good and bad experiences. Politics and beliefs came up often and varied person to person. Elections, war and racial desecration are just a little of what was on the minds of many. He's pretty good at giving mostly unbiased opinions of his interactions. He describes many popular geographical spots also. I felt that I received a pretty accurate and interesting look at the U.S. of the past. ( )
  ToniFGMAMTC | Jan 19, 2017 |
Until I read this I thought Bill Bryson wrote the best travel books, but he never made me envious of a french poodle. Can you imagine what it must have been like driving around the country with freaking John Steinbeck at the wheel? Charley, you were one blessed dog. ( )
  5hrdrive | Oct 29, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 132 (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].”
 

» Add other authors (22 possible)

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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This book is dedicated to
HAROLD GUINZBURG
with respect born of an association and
affection that just growed.
-JOHN STEINBECK
First words
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.
Quotations
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.

(summary from another edition)

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