To hear the speech of the real America, to smell the grass and the trees, to see the colors and the light— these were John Steinbeck's goals as he set out, at the age of fifty-eight, to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years.
This is my favorite Steinbeck book ever. I first read it back in high school, when it was recommended by my english teacher. I don't always enjoy his fiction, even though I love the way he writes - usually his subject matter is a bit too depressing for me. (Starving farm families, suicidal men with mid-life crises - yeah, not my thing). But THIS book would be among the ones I'd pack to go live on a desert island, no matter how limited the space available in my luggage.
Steinbeck traveled around the country with just his gray French Poodle, Charley, for company on his months-long journey in the truck camper he christened Rocinante (yes, the fictional "horse" of Don Quixote).
I love Steinbeck's ability to laugh at himself and at the rest of us, his knack for seeing both his own faults and those of others, and the innate dignity and humanity he wrote of, found in the most humble of the people he met on his travels.
My favorite quote comes from an episode in which Steinbeck and Charley pull into a rest stop, and Charley falls violently in love with a stout Pomeranian "of the female persuasion", much to the distress of the Pom's owner:
"Until that moment, I never quite knew the meaning of the phrase, "to make the welkin ring". In the first place, I didn't know what a welkin was. I looked it up later. And that bull bitch of a woman sure as hell made it ring."
I still laugh just thinking about the first time I read that. :)