- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; unknown edition (January 31, 1980)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0140053204
- ISBN-13: 978-0140053203
- Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 0.7 x 7.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (829 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,329 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Travels with Charley in Search of America Paperback – January 31, 1980
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“Pure delight, a pungent potpourri of places and people interspersed with bittersweet essays on everything from the emotional difficulties of growing old to the reasons why giant sequoias arouse such awe.” The New York Times Book Review
“Profound, sympathetic, often angry . . . an honest moving book by one of our great writers.” The San Francisco Examiner
“This is superior Steinbecka muscular, evocative report of a journey of rediscovery.” John Barkham, Saturday Review Syndicate
“The eager, sensuous pages in which he writes about what he found and whom he encountered frame a picture of our human nature in the twentieth century which will not soon be surpassed.” Edward Weeks, The Atlantic Monthly
From the Back Cover
In September 1960, John Steinbeck and his poodle, Charley, embarked on a journey across America. A picaresque tale, this chronicle of their trip meanders along scenic backroads and speeds along anonymous superhighways, moving from small towns to growing cities to glorious wilderness oases. Travels with Charley 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 cycles 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. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
It is about John Steinbeck's trip across America. He begins in New York, drives up through Maine, across the midwest, through Montana to Washington, down the Pacific Coast, through Texas and finally through the American southeast. He was 58 when he took this trip, and his only companions were his loyal dog Charley and trailer Rocinante. I appreciated the way that Steinbeck respected Charley, gave him human characteristics, and looked for Charley's observations on mankind as well as his own.
I have heard this memoir described as an "angry" book, but I think this only describes a small portion of Steinbeck's experiences on the road. Steinbeck was certainly troubled by certain things--chief among them the horrifying "witches sabbath" that occurred in New Orleans. He also looked with sadness upon the "progress" that has diminished our cultural identities and ravaged our beautiful land. However, he was wise enough to know that older people often cling to the past simply because it is familiar, but not because it was superior or even good. He recognized that trait in himself and challenged it.
Some individual passages in this book were so wise I read them several times to try to appreciate the full extent of his wisdom. For example, the passage where Steinbeck remarks that too many older people turn in their exciting lives for healthy and safe ones. He wrote that he was not willing to exchange the quality of his life for slightly more quantity. As I read this passage, I considered that he died less than 10 years after writing this book. Sad, but how many people do a solo, cross-country road trip in their twilight years?
I also appreciated, but was wounded by, his descriptions of racial unrest in the south. The witches sabbath brought tears to my eyes, as it described the young black students as ultimately less pitiable then their tormenters. The students were going places and had their whole lives before them; their tormenters were ugly, twisted people clinging to a past that they cherished simply because they feared the future and the unknown.
Ultimately, "Travels with Charley" is about embracing life. Though Steinbeck saw much that troubled him, he saw much more that was beautiful, like the migrant farmers in Maine, the kind veterinarian in Amarillo, the wonderful tire shop owner in Portland. As Steinbeck remarks, the America that he wrote about in this book doesn't exist anymore. If we followed his exact route today, we would encounter something entirely different--both because of the passage of time and because of our varying perspectives. However, while the America he wrote about no longer exists, the Americans do, and Steinbeck's memoir is a love song to them.
Overall, Steinbeck seems to paint a pretty picture. While driving through New England in the fall, he is taken with the brilliant foliage on display. He is much impressed with Wisconsin, and says about Montana, "I am in love. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana it is love." Later, Steinbeck also speaks glowingly of the California Redwoods.
Steinbeck also has nice things to say about the American people - sometimes. He notes that midwesterners are openly friendly, and again praises Montana, for its inhabitants "had time...to undertake the passing art of neighborliness." However, interspersed throughout his journey, Steinbeck encounters many things which are not so delightful. In fact, some were quite upsetting. He talks of waste - "American cities are like badger holes, ringed with trash" - and of miserable people - "(some people) can drain off energy and joy, can suck pleasure dry and get no sustenance from it. (They) spread a grayness in the air about them." (This was his opinion of a waitress Steinbeck had just met in Maine.) And the waitress wasn't the only one.
Along his journey, he met many close-minded, opinionated, bigoted and rascist Americans, and it made for depressing reading. I don't think Steinbeck was quite prepared for it. I believe he had an idealized vision of a great trip, but in reality, it wasn't, and it took a lot out of him. By the end Steinbeck was burned out and wanted nothing more than to get back home. After California he went straight through to Texas, and then to New Orleans, where he encountered rascism at its worst. That seemed to be the last straw for him. After that, he blew off the rest of the southeast US and went back to New York. He had had enough.
Jay Parini, who wrote the introduction, notes this ominous feeling. He states that the book is filled with "whimsical vignettes, charm, etc., but beneath its surface there is a sense of disenchantment that turns to anger." He goes on to say that Steinbeck "is never quite able to bring himself to say that he was often disgusted by what he saw." But there's no question that he was.
Still, this was a very good book. And it's not demoralizing from start to finish. There are many humors adventures as well - his discussions with border guards near Canada being the most memorable. But one can't help but feel that Steinbeck was sorry he'd gone. He had a pre-conceived notion of what America was, and when it didn't meet his expectations, he was crushed. "Travels with Charley" brilliantly captures what Steinbeck reluctantly learned - that you can't go home again.