Friday, April 5, 2013
Travels with Charley
by John Steinbeck
New York, N.Y., U.S.A. : Penguin Books, 1997 (originally published 1962).
Right from the beginning, Steinbeck admits to always having a bit of wanderlust and a desire to travel. This particular trip is brought on by his realization that, for all his writing about America, he hadn't actually been outside his small corner of it for some time. So, he buys a truck specially made for his trip, equipped with everything he will need (ie., booze), takes his trusty poodle Charley, and hightails it out of New York on a cross-country trip.
This is a short book that contains much to think about. You might think that reading about a trip taken over fifty years ago would have little to say about our country and Americans today, but you would miss a lot if you focused on that aspect alone. Steinbeck recounts specifics of his journey and conversations with individuals, yes, but this is also a rumination on the human spirit - particularly the American spirit. The book has many passages that are even more relevant today than they were then (his thoughts on change, the growth of cities, and regional speech differences come immediately to mind). Steinbeck's journey is as much a quest and a window into his own internal world as it is a discovery of his country. His observations are witty, often humorous, and always thought-provoking. I found myself lingering over a sentence or paragraph here and there, wanting to draw out my reading experience instead of just finishing the book quickly and ticking it off. Whether you enjoy travel narratives, a book group choice, or just plain good, descriptive writing, I highly recommend this book.