Travels with Charley: In Search of America

by John Steinbeck

Hardcover, 1962




New York, Viking Press [1962]. Seventh printing.


Biography & Autobiography. History. Travel. Nonfiction. HTML:An intimate journey across America, as told by one of its most beloved writers   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. With Charley, his French poodle, Steinbeck drives the interstates and the country roads, dines with truckers, encounters bears at Yellowstone and old friends in San Francisco. Along the way he reflects on the American character, racial hostility, the particular form of American loneliness he finds almost everywhere, and  the unexpected kindness of strange… (more)

Media reviews

Steinbeck’s book-length account of his journey, “Travels With Charley: In Search of America,” published in 1962, was generally well reviewed and became a best-seller. It remains in print, regarded by some as a classic of American travel writing. Almost from the beginning, though, a few
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readers pointed out that many of the conversations in the book had a stagey, wooden quality, not unlike the dialogue in Steinbeck’s fiction. Early on in the book, for example, Steinbeck has a New England farmer talking in folksy terms about Nikita S. Khrushchev’s shoe-pounding (or -brandishing, depending on whom you ask) speech at the United Nations weeks before Khrushchev actually visited the United Nations. A particularly unlikely encounter occurs at a campsite near Alice, N.D., where a Shakespearean actor, mistaking Steinbeck for a fellow thespian, greets him with a sweeping bow, saying, “I see you are of the profession,” and then proceeds to talk about John Gielgud. Even Steinbeck’s son John said he was convinced that his father never talked to many of the people he wrote about, and added, “He just sat in his camper and wrote all that [expletive].”
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User reviews

LibraryThing member EBT1002
Okay, let's start with the obvious. I love the dog. Charley is a great character and Steinbeck captures his intelligence and personality with Steinbeck-like brilliance. That's going to bump up the star-rating right there.

Otherwise, this memoir of Steinbeck's tour across the continental US in a
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lovingly tricked out camper truck during the last months of 1960 is just plain good reading. Steinbeck beautifully describes the land through which he travels, some of the people he meets, and occasionally the philosophical musings generated by his solitary driving adventure. Among the best bits, though, are those during which he describes his internal experience while on the road. He explores the deep loneliness of human experience with reverence and appreciation - and the recognition that "there seemed to be no cure for loneliness save only being alone." I wish more people could learn this lesson.

Steinbeck says he started his journey in the hopes of finding out "what Americans are like," but he never claims to either figure that out or even to bring objectivity to the process. He tells the story of going to Prague several years before this 1960 adventure,

...and at the same time Joseph Alsop, the justly famous critic of places and events, was there. He talked to informed people, officials, ambassadors; he read reports, even the fine print and figures, while I in my slipshod manner roved about with actors, gypsies, vagabonds. Joe and I flew home to America in the same plane, and on the way he told me about Prague, and his Prague had no relation to the city I had seen and heard. It just wasn't the same place, and yet each of us was honest, neither one a liar, both pretty good observers by any standard, and we brought home two cities, two truths. For this reason, I cannot commend this account as an America that you will find. So much there is to see, but our morning eyes describe a different world than do our afternoon eyes, and surely our wearied evening eyes can report only a weary evening world.

As his travels bring him to his own home area, near the Redwoods of southern Oregon and northern California, he captures a feeling that I have experienced but could never have described such:

The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferrable. From them comes silence and awe. It's not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any tree we know, they are ambassadors from another time. They have the mystery of ferns that disappeared a million years ago into the coal of the carboniferous era. They carry their own light and shade.

Finally, Steinbeck describes his travels through the south. In 1960, the south was in the middle of the boiling, broiling heat of integrating the schools, undoing the years of brutal and thoughtless Jim Crow laws that had effectively silenced generations of African Americans. Steinbeck provides witness to the human ugliness and the human beauty of this time in this place. At one point, Steinbeck gives a Black man a ride and is initially puzzled by the man's palpable fear of the white man in the driver's seat. He asks the man questions about how he feels about what's happening in the south and is deeply confused by the man's reluctance to talk. Then he reflects again on an event he experienced a few years prior, when he was living a small brick house in Manhattan, and, being for the moment solvent, employed a Negro. Across the street and on the corner there was a bar and restaurant. One winter dusk when the sidewalks were iced I stood in my window and looking out and saw a tipsy woman come out of the bar, slip on the ice, and fall flat. She tried to struggle up but slipped and fell again and lay there screaming maudlinly. At that moment the Negro who worked for me came around the corner, saw the woman, and instantly crossed the street, keeping as far from her as possible.
When he came in I said "I saw you duck. Why didn't you give that woman a hand?"
"Well, sir, she's drunk and I'm Negro. If I touched her she could easy scream rape, and then it's a crowd, and who believes me?"
"It took quick thinking to duck like that."
"Oh, no sir!" he said. "I've been practicing to be a Negro a long time."
And now in Rocinante (his truck) I was foolishly trying to destroy a lifetime of practice.

I love this poignant description of Steinbeck's gut-getting of white privilege.

I love this memoir and it makes me want to get a camper van, fix it up with all I need, get a good dog, and head out across the country. I'll never do it, so I'll settle for planning a re-read of this delightful work by John Steinbeck.
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LibraryThing member msf59
In the fall of 1960, Civil Rights was still an ugly snarl and a hopeful young presidential candidate was waiting in the wings. Steinbeck was well into his fifties at the time and decided to take a final tour of his beloved America. He packed up his converted pick-up truck and along with his French
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poodle named Charley, he set out. From Sag Harbor New York, he followed a northerly route, ending up in Monterrey California and then returned, covering the southern part of the country. This book contains his thoughts and observations about the people he met and the towns he visited, along with a sharp commentary about this vast beautiful landscape, we call home. This is his view of the Badlands:
“They deserve this name. They are like the work of an evil child. Such a place the Fallen Angels might have built as a spite to Heaven, dry and sharp, desolate and dangerous, and for me filled with foreboding. A sense comes from it that it does not like or welcome humans.”
The second half of the narrative is a bit more dry and wordy but it does conclude with a devastating event in the deep south, where a very young black girl is being escorted into a “white” grade school, amid a torrent of verbal abuse from a matronly group of women, who call themselves “The Cheerleaders”. Steinbeck is so shaken, he immediately returns home in a daze. This is a very good book, by one of America’s finest writers.
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LibraryThing member MusicMom41
This is my fourth Steinbeck read and he has become one of my favorite authors. I think he could have made the Yellow Pages into a riveting book if he'd had a mind to. No matter what the subject I find that his prose just seems to move me along like a lovely boat ride on calm water—it just
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This book was about a circular trip around the USA, conceived because he wanted to get the feel of what made America a cohesive country and learn about her character. When he finished he decided he really didn’t learn what he thought he would and he was left with more questions than answers. However, I learned a lot reading this book, not the least of which was much about Steinbeck himself as he shares his impressions of the people, places, and events he witnesses. His musings on his experiences were enlightening and reminded me of the saying “the unexamined life is not worth living.” (Wasn’t that Thoreau?) Steinbeck shows us the Good, Bad, Ugly and Beautiful of our country in 1960. This was the America of my youth which made it somewhat of a nostalgic read for me because I have been to many of the places he visited and found his observations striking chords of remembrance for me. One thing that made me smile, as long ago as 1960 Steinbeck was complaining that newspapers were more about giving us opinion than news! It’s only gotten worse!

One of the most riveting and disturbing part of the trip was near the end when he went through the Deep South. This was at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement and he gives a very good and balanced picture as an outsider observing what was happening and speaking to some of the people. I moved from California to Savannah, GA about a decade after Travels was written and observed over the next about 25 years the gradual changes that took place in the Civil Rights problems--not enough and not fast enough. However there have been gains made that give me hope for the future--but like Steinbeck it probably won't happen in my lifetime.

The Centennial Edition (2002) contains a final chapter that was left out of the original publication that is really fun.

Bottom line: Steinbeck’s account of his passage through America is interesting, thought provoking, and in the end, delightful. Highly Recommended
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LibraryThing member jnwelch
Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck provides a charming opportunity to travel across the U.S. with one of its best writers. He fitted out a pick-up truck with a camper for easier driving (and the inside of the camper can sit 6 or so around its retractable table, something he takes advantage of a
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number of times). He names it Rosinante, and sets out from New York in the fall with his telepathic poodle Charley to cross this huge country on an eccentric route. It allows him to stop at places he's heard of but never been to, and to catch the spectacular leaf-changing in Vermont and New Hampshire.

His New York license plate repeatedly causes folks to let him know they've been to New York and hated it. But they also repeatedly tell him they wish they could go with him. Not caring where he's going, just wanting to go, like him, on a journey.

He's insightful, and obviously loves to talk to people (seems like not the most common quality in an author). He could conceal his identity in 1961 probably better than he could today. He's very funny at times, including his description of how American men assume they genetically are crackshots and go out in hunting season blasting away, to the danger of everyone nearby.

Some of what he finds is predictable, like leaving New England, where people were neither "unfriendly or discourteous, but they spoke tersely and usually waited for the newcomer to open communication", and crossing the Ohio line to a friendlier, more open midwest. In his hands it's all personal, though, and as if we were sitting at the camper table with him. "The waitress in a roadside stand said good morning before I had a chance to, discussed breakfast as though she liked the idea, spoke with enthusiasm about the weather, sometimes even offered some information about herself without my delving. Strangers talked freely to one another without caution." He had forgotten how "rich and beautiful" the countryside was, and thought, "the earth was generous and outgoing here in the heartland, and perhaps the people took a cue from it."

Charley is a good travel companion, and feels quite stylish after visiting a beauty parlor in Chicago. Eventually they make it to Seattle, where Steinbeck is taken aback by all the modernization since he last was there 20 years ago. He is comforted when he gets back to the older, largely unchanged part of the city near the water. As they make their way down the coast, a tire blows out in a part of Oregon nowhere near civilization, leaving them "no recourse but to burst into tears and wait for death." I'll leave it to you to find out how they nonetheless manage to travel to his old haunts in Monterey, and to Texas.

POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT? Eventually they make it to New Orleans, where a disheartening strain of racism is on full display, as a school is desegregated and nightmarish "Cheerleaders" lead the crowd in screaming bestial "invectives" at children. White parents bringing their children to such a school suffer even worse. It makes for a disturbing, revelatory coda, as this man who loves this country and its people tries to sort out its most damaging and unsupportable flaw.

I said coda, but there is more as he makes his way back home. He did us a real favor writing this book - there's an age-old question about what writers you'd like to have join you at a dinner party. He's done it one better by letting us all travel with him around a remarkable, imperfect, country.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
'I have never passed an unshaded window without looking in, have never closed my ears to a conversation that was none of my business. I can justify or even dignify this by protesting that in my trade I must know about people, but I suspect that I am simply curious.'
-From Travels With Charley In
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Search Of America, page 90-

John Steinbeck is best known for his fiction. So I was surprised when I learned that he had written several nonfiction books, including Travels With Charley In Search of America - a bittersweett and philosophical travel memoir. In 1960 Steinbeck felt he had lost touch with his country, and this feeling (along with what might have been a late mid-life crisis) prompted him to make a journey from New York to California and back again. He chose to take no companion with him except for his aging standard poodle, Charley. They journeyed in a truck named Rocinante which Steinbeck outfitted with a camper shell and all the supplies he would need. Steinbeck's plan was to avoid the major highways, instead following the wavy backroads of America where he could see the country and meet the people.

This book is a delight on many levels. Steinbeck's wonderful descriptions of Charley made me laugh out loud at times.

'Actually his hame is Charles le Chien. He was born in Bercy on the outskirts of Paris and trained in France, and while he knows a little poodle-English, he responds quickly only to commands in French. Otherwise he has to translate, and that slows him down.' -From Travels With Charley In Search Of America, page 7-

'In establishing contact with strange people, Charley is my ambassador. I release him, and he drifts toward the objective, or rather to whatever the objective may be preparing for dinner. I retrieve him so that he will not be a nuisance to my neighbors - et voila! A child can do the same thing, but a dog is better.' -From Travels With Charley In Search Of America, page 51-

Steinbeck is amazingly prophetic in this slim book. He expounds upon the environment ('...I do wonder whether there will come a time when we can no longer afford our wastefulness.' - page 22-), entertainment ('...what of the emotional life of the nation? Do they find their emotional fare so bland that it must be spiced with sex and sadism through the medium of the paperback?' -page 109-), migrant workers ('I hope we may not be overwhelmed one day by peoples not too proud or too lazy or too soft to bend to the earth and pick up the things we eat.' -page50-), and racism ('And I know that the solution when it arrives will not be easy or simple.' -page 207-).

In true Steinbeck style, he recreates the natural world using beautiful and simple language, and then weaves the heart of the people into the setting in which they live.

This book made me want to read more of Steinbeck's nonfiction, including a book of nearly 1000 pages of his letters to family and friends over his lifetime (Steinbeck: A Life in Letter, edited by Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten and published in 1975).

Travels With Charley In Search Of America is a must read and highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member chicklit
I have a feeling that if I had read Travels with Charley back in high school instead of The Grapes of Wrath or even Of Mice and Men, I would have actually liked Steinbeck rather than merely appreciated him.Part of my Steinbeck indifference was obviously influenced by my teenage attitude. At 15
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there were other things I'd much rather have been doing than reading novels about the great depression. Also, I had that "what does this have to do with me" attitude I saw so frequently while trying to teach my college freshmen literature from the Vietnam War. But the other half of the problem was that I was exposed to those two books by a teacher who taught these novels as The Greatest Literary Masterpieces Ever. Great Literary Masterpieces have themes and symbols and (like vegetables) are consumed for (intellectual) nutrition and not for enjoyment. The image of Steinbeck that I took away from that class one of a Very Important American Author, sitting behind a grand oak desk, pondering which Important Theme to tackle next.Reading Travels with Charley showed me that my imagination was grossly mistaken. In place of the grand desk was a pickup truck and trailer and a poodle named Charley. Steinbeck ponders road maps instead of Important Themes and I was pleased to note that while he has me licked in literary masterpieces, my directional sense is far superior to his. Also, Steinbeck is funny. Really funny. And he uses his wit and dry humor to provide a commentary on American life that is still accurate today.I have a new appreciation for Steinbeck now. He's still an Important American Author, but one that shares philosophy with his poodle in the same way that I sometimes serenade my cats with Meatloaf songs. Okay, maybe not the same thing, but the point is, the memoir humanizes Steinbeck and makes him assessable. It's a shame I didn't read this sooner.
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LibraryThing member 60GoingOn16
If any recently read book has reminded me of the importance of giving a writer and his or her words the care and attention they deserve, it is John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley: In Search of America. If you happened to have read this post (sorry, we're back to Hardy again . . .), you'll know
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that I came late to this book, just a few weeks ago. And during those weeks, I've been reading it at a gentle pace. Because that is what it demands. Yes, you could speedread it in a couple of hours but you would miss so much in the rush to reach the last page.

But how could one rush at a book that opens thus:

"When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked."
When Steinbeck and his standard poodle headed off in a camper van called Rocinante, (named after Don Quixote's horse) to rediscover the author's native land, the heart disease that was to end his life just a few years later had aready made its presence known. This was to be Steinbeck's last opportunity to reconnect with his roots and to note what remained and what had changed in America, especially in parts of the country he remembered from his youth and earlier life.

His travelling companion, the eponymous Charley, was "an elderly gentleman", struggling - nobly as dogs do - with the infirmities of age; Steinbeck's concern to preserve his venerable canine's dignity is poignant yet never sentimental.

But not only did Steinbeck write great opening lines, he wrote great closing lines too - and pretty well everything in between is as good as it gets. Every word counts; every sentence is carefully crafted. Nothing is superfluous. Emphasis and inflection, when needed, arise as they should from the words and the images themselves, not an exclamation mark in sight.

Here is a writer at the very height of his powers; a writer who, in just a few words, can give us the measure of a man or a woman: a lonely lake guardian in northern Michigan, who "wanted his pretty little wife and . . . . something else" and who "couldn't have both"; an equally lonely and loquacious elderly woman stuck in the Bad Lands, with her "dying vestiges of a garden", or the vagabond actor with his handwritten note from John Gielgud, which he kept "in a carefully folded piece of aluminium foil".

When I was in my teens and early twenties, I read every Steinbeck I could get my hands on; landmark novels, such as The Grapes of Wrath informed my political thinking, as well as my thoughts on writing. But, somehow, this one book had passed me by. I'm grateful, however, to have discovered and read it at more or less the same age as Steinbeck was when he wrote it. Perhaps one needs to be this age to understand why he noticed the things that he did and the responses that they evoked in him.

And he was such a perceptive observer of the human condition; as readers, we marvel at his ability to translate his thoughts and reflections into words that speak to us all. Read Travels with Charley and you will know what it is to write from the heart, as well as from the head. If you've not yet had the good fortune to sit down with this wise, compassionate and exquisitely written book, buy or borrow a copy as soon as you can, take it slowly and know what it is to read from the heart.
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LibraryThing member NickConstantine
John Steinbeck is probably my favorite writer. I love his style, I love his ideals, I love his stories. Travels with Charley in Search of America is probably my favorite book by John Steinbeck. It is a partial biography of a trip John actually took with his poodle. In it, there are heartwarming
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stories of human interaction, surprising observations about life and the world, and the personal opinions of a literary great. It has been revealed recently that a lot of the story, which takes place as a three month journey from New York to California and back, was partly a tall tale. It is still considered by many to be an amazing work, but there is an interesting debate about where it rests in relation to fiction or non-fiction. Is it a semi-biographical tale based on new events and creatively told in a non-fiction format, or is it another of his amazing novels? This is especially interesting because after his credits as a writer of fiction were scrutinized in the wake of The Grapes of Wrath, he vowed never to write fiction again.
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LibraryThing member DeweyDecimaul
This is my most favorite book on the planet.
LibraryThing member JosephKing6602
Wonderful book - great writing; and a 'travel-book' that really captures the experience of driving across America. Steinbeck doesn't attempt to log every stop, but rather, he selects colorful and meaningful instances of sincere contact with individuals. I loved his insertions of 'philosophical'
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insights along with the great colorful characterizations. This book prompts me to go back and read Steinbeck's other classics.
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LibraryThing member jlelliott
In Travels with Charley, Steinbeck is on a journey to discover if he still knows the country he memorializes in almost all of his other works. Steinbeck manages to express in this memoir of his journey through America a whole host of emotions that many of us still feel today, a conflicting love for
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our country and disgust with our countrymen, appreciation for our past and worries about what we have become. Like all of his best works, the writing is natural, warm, and often funny. This is a beautiful book that captures America, both the good and the bad, in it’s pages.
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LibraryThing member MerryMary
A fascinating journey. The chapter about the southern school integrations are just as searing to read now as it was when new.
LibraryThing member co_coyote
One of the abiding pleasures of renting a beach house, over and above the obvious one of slouching on the hammock with your feet up and a book in your hands for a week straight, is the opportunity to poke around the house and see what manner of people live there by examining the books they have
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left behind on the shelves. I've only been disappointed once, when we were the first occupants of a newly-built beach house in Virginia Beach. There were books, of course. But you needed about five seconds of browsing to know that whoever put the damns things there was not a reader. They were probably an interior designer, because the books looked inviting. They just didn't have the least bit of character or personality. I spent that vacation curled up with my Kindle or playing Hearts.

But, a recent visit to another beach house in Hawaii has made the world right again. Travels with Charlie! Oh, my goodness. It's been at least 40 years since I read that book, and I still remember it fondly. And, 40 years on, it was just as good--maybe better, because I had forgotten how funny it was. What a joy to read about the America of my youth. A time when a camper pick-up truck was a big deal, and the small towns of Steinbeck's youth were growing up and becoming cities. I guess one of the pleasures of growing older is that you get to revisit your youth every once in awhile. This was a most pleasant two-day read and has me looking on every book shelf I meet for a copy of East of Eden, one of the books that made me a life-long reader.
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LibraryThing member kkbbcc
When I said that I found Steinbeck depressing, a wonderful librarian responded, "Read Travels with Charley." My mind is changed. Listening to the audio book consistently put a smile on my face. What a treasure.
LibraryThing member andyray
A journey story is the easiest kind of story because the beginning, middle, and end are all set for the writer. But the sense of the country that Steinbeck filled the pages between the beginning and end with are fire-star material. Remember it was 1962 when this was published. Kennedy was in the
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White House and the school desegration fight was happening in the South. All is believable. I was there just four years later and it is very believable.I believe there are very few books where you can sense America throiugh a traveller's eyes, but this surely in one of them. It is, really, historial fiction. I like the humorous way he makes Charlie a character in the story, attributing human emotions to him. I have two poodles and they DO smile and have emotions.
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LibraryThing member Elainedav
In 1960, Steinbeck undertook a journey around America, in a custom made vechicle which we would describe as a camper van or RV these days and his dog Charley was along for the ride! He heads north to Maine initially and then west all the way to Washington state, south to California and then back
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across the states, through the South to New York. What a fantastic, fabulous trip that should be......but that doesn't always come across. By his own admission, he largely avoids the large cities, but he also seems to avoid the national parks and other places of interest. Instead the commentary focusses on the people he meets and also the larger issues of the recent history, which dominate his fictional works. So, for instance, in Washington he talks about mass migration and how the city of Seattle has changed dramatically since his last visit and that made me think of the themes in The Grapes of Wrath.
By Virginia, he is fed up of travelling and says the 'journey' has ended for him. From that point onwards, you get the sense that he is in a hurry to get home and is just driving, driving, driving. Anyone who has done a long trip in an RV can probably relate to that!
His relationship with Charley comes across very strongly and is lovely to read about, There are health worries for Charley along the way and a sense throughout that owner and dog are able to communicate with one another, 'ftt' being a well used phrase! The passage describing the approach to the giant redwoods, anticipating Charley's reaction and the disappointment at the actual reaction were very amusing. But the funniest part is the ending, when having driven all around the states, Steinbeck has to pull over in Manhatten rush hour traffic because he is lost!
Great read, slightly disappointing as a travelogue, but great as a memoir.
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LibraryThing member mattries37315
In the fall and early winter of 1960, John Steinbeck packed up a camper-converted pickup truck and along with his dog went in search of America. Travels with Charley finds Steinbeck making a round trip around the United States with his dog, the titular Charley, looking to rediscover the voice,
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attitude, and personality of the characters he peoples his fictional work with. Yet like all journeys this one takes unexpected turns that the author doesn’t see coming.

Save prearranged meetings with his wife in Chicago and then in Texas for Thanksgiving, Steinbeck and his loyal canine Charley traverse various sections looking to get back in-touch with other Americans that he’s missed by flying over or traveling abroad. Quickly though Steinbeck learns that the uniqueness of speech and language was beginning to disappear into a standardize English in many sections of the country. He finds the Interstate and Superhighway system a gray ribbon with no color in comparison to state roads that show color and local character of the area. And his amazement about how towns and cities have begun to sprawl losing local character as they became mini-versions of New York or Los Angeles which includes his own home town in the Salinas valley, highlighting the changes the country had occurred to the nation during his life time alone by 1960.

Yet Travels with Charley isn’t gloom or despair, Steinbeck writes about the national treasure that is the various landscapes around the country that help give locals their own personality even in the face of “standardizing”. His interactions with people throughout his trip, whether friendly or hostile, give the reader a sense of how things remain the same yet are changing in the United States at the time of Steinbeck’s trip. But Steinbeck’s interactions and observations of this travel companion Charley are what make this book something that is hard to put down. Whether it’s Charley’s excitement to explore that night’s rest stop or Steinbeck’s amazement at Charley’s nonchalance at seeing a towering redwood or Steinbeck’s concern over Charley’s health or Charley’s own assessment of people, Steinbeck’s prose gives Charley character and lets the reader imagine the old dog by their side wherever they’re reading this book.

Written later in the author’s career, the reader is given throughout the entire book the elegance of Steinbeck’s prose that embeds what he his writing about deep into one’s subconscious. Though there is debate about how much of Travels with Charleyy is fiction or if an individual is a composite of several others or even if events are ordered correctly, what the reader learns is that Steinbeck’s journey is unique to himself as theirs would be unique for them as well.

Written almost 60 years ago Travels with Charley details a changing America through the eyes of one of its greatest authors, even today some of Steinbeck’s passages resonate with us in today’s cultural and political climate. But if like me you wanted a book by Steinbeck to get to know his style and prose than this is the book to do so.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
5722. Travels with Charley In Search of America, by John Steinbeck (read 3 Dec 2020) This is the 10th Steinbeck book I have read. Steinbeck was born in Salinas, Cal, in 1902, when the population of Salinas was less than 4000, when he died it was about 80,000, and now it is some 180,000. This book,
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published first in 1962, tells of a trip Steinbeck made in 1960 with his dog Charley from his home in New York, up into New England and then through Buffalo, Pennsylvania, Ohio, through Wisconsin, Minnesota (where he made a point of going to Sauk Center, made famous by Sinclair Lewis's Main Street), then to Montana, the Pacific Northwest, down to California, Texas, Louisiana, and through the South and essentially ends his commentary in Virginia , and drives back to his New York home. He tells of his adventures and troubles, (Charley gets sick, twice, and he has trouble with the tires on his vehicle, etc. Probably the most interesting event is when in the South hehe sees some women screaming at a little Negro girl who goes to a school and at a white father who takes his daughter to the school which is ending its segregation. After that he picks up a white guy and they get to talking and the guy he picks up lauds the screaming women and Steinbeck dumps him out of his truck and is berated as a n----- lover. The trip was in 1960--sixty years ago now and one sees progress in human relations which Steinbeck did not foresee. In retrospect, the book seems more interesting than I found it as I was reading it.
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LibraryThing member -Cee-
Although Steinbeck's travels in his camper truck around America happens in fits and starts, follows a vague plan, and covers only portions of this expansive, diversified country - he does not disappoint. His usual superb writing engages and delights. A thoughtful assessment of regional differences
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and national cohesiveness, this book is entertaining and philosophical.

Steinbeck gathers impressions of people, places and cultural differences. His companion Charley is a peaceable poodle attracting attention, breaking the ice with strangers, and serving as a sounding board for Steinbeck's ponderings along the way. Events of humor intertwine with those reflecting hard truths.

Whether this work is one of non-fiction or fabrication - or a mix - may be controversial but really not important for this work. Steinbeck's experiences are real enough to teach us all a bit about ourselves.
Highly recommended. Enjoyable read.
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LibraryThing member OscarWilde87
What is America like? And what makes an American American? In 1960 John Steinbeck set out to find answers to these questions by traveling through his country. He had a truck custom-made so that he could sleep and cook in it and was independent on the road. So as not to travel alone he took his dog
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Charley with him on a journey that would eventually take him through 38 states before he arrived at home again. As an allusion to Don Quixote, Cervantes' knight-errant, he called his truck the Rocinante. As he says himself, Steinbeck's intention for taking this trip was to listen to his fellow Americans, see what they are like, what opinions they have about their country and current issues. While he found some of that on the road, oftentimes people were not too talkative at all, especially considering the upcoming presidential election between Kennedy and Nixon.

There is a lot to say about the impressions that Steinbeck shares, both about the United States of America and the act of traveling itself. For instance, the feeling that right before you start traveling your bed feels the most comfortable and you are actually questioning on why to leave at all, is something that I can really relate to. You spend all this time planning a trip and really looking forward to eventually leaving - Steinbeck diligently packed his Rocinante and took much more with him than he needed, something that many of us are also familiar with - only to have second thoughts right when it is time to leave. Once you overcome those second thoughts the journey can be delightful. Starting out in New York City, Steinbeck wanted to go west, but he started going east and then north up the coast until the northernmost point of Maine. Only then did he slowly make his way west. Eventually he arrives 'home', in Monterey, California, where he grew up and where many of his novels are set. When he sees his home, he sees many differences and finds it altogether changed from what he remembered, concluding that you should never return home expecting it to have remained the same over all those years. Rather, you should just keep the fond memories you have.

Taking a closer look at how the book is written, I find Steinbeck's writing to be just as perfect as in his fictional works. His descriptions of nature, landscapes and surroundings are superb and really add to his experiences on the journey. The encounters with strangers that the author describes make for a vivid portrayal of the journey and the time it was written in. I find his experience in New Orleans and his commentary on watching the so-called "Cheerleaders" insult a black girl going to school highly remarkable. When Steinbeck is asked shortly after seeing this whether he was traveling for pleasure, he simply answers: "I was until today." Quite frequently Steinbeck compares human behavior and interaction with the behavior of his dog and comes away with the conclusion that many things would be a lot easier if people were not constantly fighting each other for something they do not want to have anyway, if people listened to each other more, if opinion and facts were not as blurred in the media as they have become. Especially this last observation could not be more accurate today, when ever more frequently personal opinion becomes fact through sheer repetition and sharing.

Overall, I really enjoyed Travels With Charley immensely. 5 stars for an insightful and witty travelogue.
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LibraryThing member larryerick
This is rather difficult book for me to review. For one, this is my second time reading it. The first time was back between my sophomore and junior years in high school, about five years after it was first published. Upon re-reading it, some things were easily brought back to mind while others
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seemed brand new. Regardless, I found myself thinking, "Wow, how things have changed," but also "Wow, how things have stayed the same." Observations about gentrification, urban blight, and the rest were every bit as true today as back then, despite Twitter, Uber, GPS and the like, that are so embedded in our American fabric today. On the other hand, sprinkled through out are many references to things long gone. At one point, there's an oh-so subtle reference to 1911-established Wildroot hair tonic, which I guess is still available today, but which I haven't seen advertised in decades. A second difficulty in reviewing this book is the fact that less than a decade ago a reporter discovered much of the book was made up, fiction, and the publisher basically admitted to that fact, while not admitting exactly to what degree that was true. The book itself shifts gear enough times that, even without knowing it's a fiction/non-fiction hybrid, the end result is uneven. On one extreme, the author has highly entertaining dialogue that hints strongly of fictional writing at its best, Nobel Prize in Literature best. At the other extreme, the author can meander into philosophical ramblings that barely make any sense. In between is the type of narrative I think most people expect from a travelogue, lucid, descriptive. His forays into fiction also seemed to come out especially with reports of getting lost in environments one would think would not overcome him at all, given where he lived in a major metropolitan area when he started out, and then later, he finds his way around without any trouble whatsoever. I would be very interested in the reaction a much younger person would have in reading this book. This re-reading by me was prompted by the book being on a list of books for a Books on Tap event sponsored by a public library and a local cidery. The librarian that shepherds that event was born well after this book was first published. While I think she, too, saw in the book many things, especially in the Deep South, were as true today in Trump America as in JFK 1960, and maybe that prompted her to add it to her events list, I will be asking her what she saw in it that she noticed had disappeared in the meantime.
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LibraryThing member Crazymamie
I loved this. Such a colorful glimpse at a moment in history. The writing and observations would be stunning all by themselves, but the narration of Gary Sinise elevates this memoir another notch. Definitely one I will read again. I can identify with a man who can get lost in his own backyard and
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who names his vehicle Rocinante, after Don Quixote's horse. I liked that he traveled incognito and took the backroads when he could. That he sought out ordinary people in the midst of their daily routine. His America is not my America, but it still has the same ugliness, the same beauty. It reeks of possibility.

"In my flurry of nostalgic spite, I have done the Monterey Peninsula a disservice. It is a beautiful place, clean, well run, and progressive. The beaches are clean where once they festered with fish guts and flies. The canneries which once put up a sickening stench are gone, their places filled with restaurants, antique shops, and the like. They fish for tourists now, not pilchards, and that species they are not likely to wipe out. And Carmel, begun by starveling writers and unwanted painters, is now a community of the well-to-do and the retired. If Carmel's founders should return, they could not afford to live there, but it wouldn't go that far. They would be instantly picked up as suspicious characters and deported over the city line. The place of my origin had changed, and having gone away I had not changed with it. In my memory it stood as it once did and its outward appearance confused and angered me....Tom Wolfe was right. You can't go home again because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory."
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LibraryThing member Oreillynsf
This was one of the first travelogues I ever read, and it's fair to say that it hooked me on the genre. The Steinbeck you get to know in this book is more human, yet remarkably observant in his understanding and compassion for all of the people he meets. There is a wry sense of humor to this book
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that makes his travels, and the history he highlights, so inviting and powerful.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
For the very first segment may I present "Travels With Charley" by John Steinbeck. Over the decades Steinbeck's books have been lauded by critics and readers alike. Classics like "Grapes of Wrather," "Of Mice and Men," and "East of Eden" all poured from his pen. All of which are truly remarkable
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books, but "Travels With Charley" hit me on a completely different level.

It's a nonfiction book written later in Steinbeck's life. He decides that after having written about the underdogs in America for years he has grown out of touch with his beloved country. He decides to take his dog Charley and travel across the United States. The book is about the people he meets and the thoughts he has along the way. The book combines so many things that I love; great writing, travel memoirs, a deep love for pets.
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LibraryThing member jcbrunner
The old man and the road. In 1960, aging John Steinbeck took a road trip around the United States to convince himself that his frail old body was still young. With his not-quite mobile home truck Rosinante, two shotguns, one rifle, a huge amount of alcohol bought on the road and his frail dog
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Charley, the cranky old man set out to discover ... something? His trip through from New York to Vermont to Detroit to Chicago to Seattle down to California and to Texas is mostly uneventful. After a long drive, he settled down in a quiet place, spiked his coffee and let his dog do his business. The real trip was even more pedestrian as his wife paid him company during nearly half the trip and they stayed in hotels instead of slumming it out in his truck.

There are a few good stories wrapped in his travel account, most notably his description of the vile Southern white women screeching about brave little six-year-old Ruby Bridges going to school escorted by US marshals in New Orleans, later immortalized by Norman Rockwell's painting. Steinbeck unfortunately ruins his observation by a string of cardboard stereotype encounters of Southerners. Overall, a rather boring and grumpy book.
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