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Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1962)

by John Steinbeck

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7,741202963 (4)1 / 465
Author John Steinbeck was 58 when he set out to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years. With his elderly French poodle, Charley, he embarked on a quest across America, from the northermost tip of Maine to California's Monterey Peninsula. Traveling the interstates and the country roads, they stopped to smell America: trucker and strangers, old friends and new acquaintances. Steinbeck's poignant, perceptive reflections reveal the American character: a blend of unexpected kindnesses and racial hostilities, loneliness and humor.… (more)
  1. 40
    The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America by Bill Bryson (John_Vaughan)
  2. 30
    The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck (John_Vaughan)
  3. 10
    No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin (andomck)
    andomck: Non fiction from these novelists where their pets play a large role. Also, UKL has an essay in her book about knowing Steinbeck in real life
  4. 11
    Tagebuch, später (edition suhrkamp) by Andrzej Stasiuk (Philosofiction)
  5. 11
    Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat-Moon (usnmm2)
  6. 11
    Coast to Coast by Jan Morris (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: Two authors with different backgrounds but both books filled with love of travel and America.
  7. 00
    Of Men and Their Making by John Steinbeck (Booksloth)
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» See also 465 mentions

English (196)  Spanish (1)  Catalan (1)  French (1)  All languages (199)
Showing 1-5 of 196 (next | show all)
hang out in steinbeck's head as he searches for america with no company aside from his very interesting dog. awesome.

the book is uneven, but it reads more like a travel journal than a polished work of anthropological insight. whether or not he finds america sort of remains to be seen, and the end may be seen as anti-climactic. still, like i said, hanging out in steinbeck's head is alright by me. ( )
  J.Flux | Aug 13, 2022 |
Summary: John Steinbeck’s memoir of his 1960 roadtrip in his truck/camper Rocinante with his French poodle Charley.

It was 1960. Richard Nixon and John Kennedy were in a race for president. Highways from town to town were being replaced by high speed Interstate highways. The South was in deep conflict over desegregation. Mass media was expanding its impact on the culture. And John Steinbeck was aging. His son, Thom, said Steinbeck knew he had the heart condition from which he would die in 1968. And he wanted to see the America that had been the backdrop of his stories one more time,

So he bought a 3/4 ton truck on which a custom camper top was installed with bed, stove, lights, and facilities and dubbed his vehicle “Rocinante,” after Don Quixote’s mount. One wonders if he thought this journey quixotic in nature. He sets out from New York City north to main, across New England and New York, along the south of the Great Lakes through the Midwest, across the northern states all the way to Washington, down to California including revisiting his old stomping ground, trekking across the Southwest, through Texas, stopping in New Orleans during a desegregation crisis which he witnesses, across the South, up through Virginia, and New Jersey and back home.

Accompanying him is his faithful old companion, his ten year old French poodle, Charley, who would go “Ffft” when Steinbeck was too slow to take him out. One of the most endearing parts of this work was the bond between them, often evoking some of the strongest emotions Steinbeck has throughout–contempt for the government bureaucracy that wouldn’t allow them to cut through Canada without Charley’s inoculation papers, surprise at Charley’s fierceness when they spot grizzlies, anger at a veterinarian whose indifference to Charley’s bladder problems, frustration at Charley’s lack of interest in the greatest of the redwoods, and warm affection for another vet who cared for his old dog. As the title suggests, Charley is perhaps the main character in this memoir besides Steinbeck himself.

Steinbeck remarks the changes that have occurred throughout the country. He speaks of the massive growth of the cities, which he tries generally to avoid (one exception is Minneapolis, and the nuclear evacuation route he followed, reflecting on the traffic jams that would have made this route worthless). He describes listening to jukeboxes, where the same songs were #1 wherever you went, a harbinger of the growth of mass culture. He remarks on the odd phenomenon of the reticence of people to talk about the presidential election.

Christian Smith has described American religion as “moral therapeutic deism.” Steinbeck noted this even in the 1960’s as he traveled across the country, contrasting what he found in one Vermont church with what he found elsewhere:

“For some years now God has been a pal to us, practicing togetherness, and that causes the same emptiness a father does playing softball with his son. But this Vermont God cared enough about me to go to a lot of trouble kicking the hell out of me. He put my sins in a new perspective…I wasn’t a a naughty child but a first rate sinner, and I was going to catch it” (p. 61).

Steinbeck said he felt so revived he put $5 in the offering plate and commented of the pastor: “He forged a religion designed to last, not predigested obsolescence.”

These larger observations of society alternate with personal encounters, many at breakfast counters across the country, taciturn in New England and more voluble as he entered the Midwest. Then there is the very human encounter with a property manager who informed Steinbeck that he was trespassing, and as they talk and share some coffee with something added, the manager shows him a place to park and takes him fishing. Like so many, they saw Steinbeck’s camper, and wanted to be him.

In the end, Steinbeck wanted to get home. Something seemed to change once he reached California. Spotting coyotes he could have easily taken down and done others a favor, he cannot. He witnesses the viciousness of white women (the cheerladies) when a little black girl tries to integrate a school in Louisiana. Encounters with two hitchhikers, one white, one black underscore the deep racial divide of the time. Strikingly, the black man fears him, and gets out before reaching his destination, preferring walking to fear.

Getting lost, being misdirected and directed runs through the narrative. Even back in New York City, he requires directions from a policeman to make it home. One senses that it is a lost man who is in search of America with his dog. And what did he find? In his own words, “I do know this–the big and mysterious America is bigger than I thought. And more mysterious.”

I have to admit, the older I get, the more I find myself in agreement with Steinbeck. All the things I thought I knew about the country, I know no longer. What I thought I knew has become mysterious. And I find myself longing more and more for people like that Vermont preacher. Someone needs to kick the hell out of us. ( )
  BobonBooks | Aug 11, 2022 |
A nice way to travel 1960s America again is to hop into a camper truck with John Steinbeck and his dog, Charley. Plagued by a chronic disease and probably feeling like it was now or never, Mr. Steinbeck hit the road from his home in Sag Harbor and traveled across the states and back again, making astute observations as he went and sharing a bit of the flavor of America in this moment of great upheaval and change.

I was afraid this might be boring, like watching someone else’s home movies (no matter how stunning the scenery, we just don’t want to see you posed in front of it over and over again). I should have had no fear, since this was not your everyday traveler, this was John Steinbeck. His powers of observation are acute and he knows how to render them into a free-flowing conversation with his reader. I felt he was pretty even-handed in his observations as well, even though his trek through the 1960s south made me cringe with shame. He notes that as an outsider his encounters might not be a true representation of the people, and I think he is right because he intentionally sought out the ugliest kind of setting to observe them in, but then he didn’t make up the setting or the people he saw, they were there and, while not speaking for everyone, they certainly spoke for far too many.

One of my favorite parts of the book was his visit to his own home turf around Salinas, California. As he prepared to leave, he says, ”I printed it once more on my eyes, south, west, and north, and then we hurried away from the permanent and changeless past where my mother is always shooting a wildcat and my father is always burning his name with his love.”

I know this feeling all too well. You can hardly visit the place of your youth with a clear and unprejudiced eye, for the past is always there coloring it a much rosier color than it actually is. That is alright, that is part of life. We are meant to feel it.

I am glad I finally got around to making this trip with one of my favorite authors. It made me feel that I would have liked the man as much as I like his work.
( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
Slow and dated ( )
  farrhon | May 19, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 196 (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 (36 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Steinbeckprimary authorall editionscalculated
Álvarez Flórez, José ManuelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bianciardi, LucianoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Duvivier, M.M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Farber, PaulPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Foerster, IrisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Foerster, Rolf HellmutTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fritz-Crone, PelleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Herman, Rein F.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parini, JayIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sampietro, LuigiEditorsecondary 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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Author John Steinbeck was 58 when he set out to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years. With his elderly French poodle, Charley, he embarked on a quest across America, from the northermost tip of Maine to California's Monterey Peninsula. Traveling the interstates and the country roads, they stopped to smell America: trucker and strangers, old friends and new acquaintances. Steinbeck's poignant, perceptive reflections reveal the American character: a blend of unexpected kindnesses and racial hostilities, loneliness and humor.

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