Travels with Charley

Perhaps we have overrated roots as a psychic need. Maybe the greater the urge, the deeper and more ancient is the need, the will, the hunger to be somewhere else.

The year is 1960. Author John Steinbeck sets out to see the country he has spent his career writing about. His only companion is his french poodle, Charley; his home a custom-made camper he has named Rocinante. Travels with Charley: In Search of America is Steinbeck’s account of the journey, his description of the people and places he encounters, his ruminations on what being an American means.

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Steinbeck’s prose, no surprise, is reflective but honest. Several years back I read Bill Bryson’s own American travelogue, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America and found it to be laugh-out-loud-till-your-eyes-water funny, at least for the first third of the book, before the thick sarcasm started to leave a biting, sour taste in my mouth. I appreciate Steinbeck’s innate respect for the people  he meets, and value the mindfulness with which he approaches his travels.

Travels with Charley is not a work of fiction; there hasn’t been any apparent juggling of events and characters in the interest of plot and pacing, and there isn’t necessarily a particular destination or moral in mind. While there is plenty of thought-exploration throughout the book, ultimately it is left to the reader to draw his or her own meaning from Steinbeck’s experiences.

My Grade: B+

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