K.D. Absolutely's Reviews > Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
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's review
Oct 27, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: travel, memoirs, nobel, 501
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books (Memoirs)

Six years before he died, John Steinbeck (1902-1968) had a lonesome trip aboard a camper named Rocinante (after Don Quixote’s horse) around the USA. He said that he would like to see this country on a personal level before he died as he made a good living writing about it. Considering his heart condition, such trip alone could have been disastrous to his health but he insisted. The main question that he would like to be answered was “What are Americans like today?” and after travelling with his poodle Charley for around 10,000 miles for 3 months, he did not like the answer that he got.

He saw the wastefulness of the people. He got worried about excessive packaging that consumers liked. He noticed the ambiguity of culture brought about my mass media technologies. Advancement in technologies, though giving people instant gratification, could alienate members of the families from each other. He met people who could not be trusted even by giving the right direction. He met poor migrant potato pickers from Canada (that reminded me of the Joads family in his opus, The Grapes of Wrath). He finally saw Niagara Falls that made him happy because finally we could say we saw it already. He met unreasonable and illogical border authorities. He saw how people in different states differ on how they talk to one another and treat other people. For example, in New England people spoke very little and waited for him to come over while in Midwestern cities, people were more outgoing and did not hesitate approaching him. He got amazed on how fast the population grew in those states that he had visited before. When he visited Sauk Centre because he would like to see the birthplace of his favorite writer, Sinclair Lewis he got disheartened. A waitress in the restaurant did not know who Lewis was. In fact, ignorance, according to him, was prevalent in most people he encountered particularly in politics, economics and culture. In Texas, he despised the so-called “Cheerleaders” who were protesting the integration of black children in a school in New Orleans. In New Orleans, he learned that racism of the South was not confined with those towards blacks but also towards Jews. The trip ended with Steinbeck missing a U-turn and telling the policeman: “Officer, I’ve driven this thing all over the country – mountains, plains, deserts. And now I’m back in my own town, where I live – and I’m lost.”

This is my 3rd book by Steinbeck and for me this is the most down-to-earth. Although I have only been to California, Philadelphia, Texas and Ohio, visualizing those places he visited and conversations that he had with the people he met was not a problem. I used to enjoy watching American movies in the 50’s and 60’s and I was able to picture those scenes in my mind. Also, I think Steinbeck wanted to have a last hand long look with the people he wrote about in his novels that made him who he was – one of the greatest American authors (and certainly one of my favorite novelists of all times). So what if he had a heart problem? So what if he was alone with just a dog to talk to? So what if there was a raging snow storm outside? So what if he might be killed by dangerous mad men in the forests and highways? The thought of Steinbeck risking his life to be able to see the country for the last time and talk to the people who patronized his novels was a marked of a good artist or, simply, a good humble man.

And oh yes, if you love reading about dogs, read this because Charley could even talk. Steinbeck imagined words being said by his dog in one of the scenes and their dialogues were so clever and amusing. Steinbeck could write anything. He could make any scenario believable. Enough for me to gasp for air as his words were always outrageously breathtaking.
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Reading Progress

October 27, 2010 – Shelved
September 19, 2011 – Started Reading
September 19, 2011 – Shelved as: travel
September 19, 2011 – Shelved as: memoirs
September 19, 2011 –
page 97
35.27% "Rocinante, the trailer. Charley, the poodle. Charley says "pff" He is so lovable!"
September 20, 2011 –
page 138
50.18% "Charley the dog is my favorite character here. I felt sorry about him having alergy to fleas. I loved the part where he sniffs when asked by Steinbeck "how does America smell like?""
September 21, 2011 –
page 201
73.09% "I hope that this book ends with Charley alive. Otherwise, I will have to take an anti-depressant pill."
September 22, 2011 –
page 213
77.45% "Done reading. Will write a review soon!"
September 22, 2011 – Shelved as: nobel
September 22, 2011 – Shelved as: 501
September 23, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-15 of 15) (15 new)

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message 1: by Apokripos (new) - added it

Apokripos Advancement in technologies, though giving people instant gratification, could alienate members of the families from each other.

Such was Steinbeck's insight that he even predicted what the internet can do to the modern family in our time.

Impressive review, Kuya!

We ♥ Steinbeck!

K.D. Absolutely Thanks. Yes, we do! My next Steinbeck should either be "East of Eden" or "Cannery Row", Jzhun!

message 3: by Apokripos (new) - added it

Apokripos K.D. wrote: "Thanks. Yes, we do! My next Steinbeck should either be "East of Eden" or "Cannery Row", Jzhun!"

As for me, I might next read The Long Valley, as I would like to try his short stories, and In Dubious Battle.

Anne Great review. I love this book. I loved his interactions with his dog. Of course dogs can talk. :)

K.D. Absolutely Yes, I love that part. Charley is the hero in this book!

Anne Absolutely.

Sylvia I live i Nigeria and hav read tons of books in my 24 years but this one stands out. I love John! And Charley too. Very human person and not ashamed 2 admit it. It broke my heart to learn that he's dead. A very alive man. I don't know why i'd never heard of him before. I stumbled on this one...

K.D. Absolutely Thanks for the message, Malinalda. I love Steinbeck too!

message 9: by Nsf (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nsf I also loved Steinbeck's amusing and clever dialogues with Charley! They contributed a less serious and somber tone to the nonfiction book, which otherwise could have been very nostalgic. Like you said, "He noticed the ambiguity of culture brought about my mass media technologies." Steinbeck could have easily written this book to prove that America is disappearing. Instead, he wrote an amusing and flowing book that labelled him a a people person who truly cared about Americans. Steinbeck's inspiration to write this book was to accurately portray Americans through characters in his novels. He realized he needed to travel across America to identify with modern Americans.

message 10: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely Right on the dot, Nsf. Thanks! :)

message 11: by Henry (new) - added it

Henry Avila Fine review K.D.I also am a big fan of Steinbeck,being a Californian.Read this book too.Now reading East of Eden so far, very good,my seventh of his novels.Next the Grapes of Wrath.

message 12: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely Good for you, Henry. Hope you'll like all Steinbeck's books. :)

message 13: by Henry (new) - added it

Henry Avila I have always.

message 14: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely Good to hear, Henry. :)

message 15: by Lilo (new) - rated it 1 star

Lilo I just came across this review and enjoyed reading it very much. I read the book many years ago, and had not remembered too much of it, only that I had liked it. I have also read three books by John Steinbeck--the above book, "Of Mice and Men", and "Grapes of Wrath". Because of the latter, John Steinbeck is one of my two favorite American authors. (The other is Mark Twain.)

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