Sunday, July 18, 2010

Travels With Charley-- John Steinbeck

Title/Author: Travels with Charley--John Steinbeck
Publisher/Year: Penguin Classics--first published in 1962
How I got this: Used book store love!
Why I read this: Um, clearly you don't know me. I'm travelogue obsessed.
Rating: 4.5 stars. Minus a half star because there were some slow parts for me.

I cannot help but read travelogues in the summer. I feel as though if I can't physically be traveling then I should probably be at least living vicariously through another traveler. I saw this at the used bookstore and figured I should give it a go even though he was "just traveling around America." The thing you have to realize about my wanderlust: It's always for everywhere outside the US. My own wanderlust has me wishing for all these exotic places and John Steinbeck took his crafty little hands and plucked me from various places around the globe and plopped me right back into my own backyard to show me that there are many places in America worthy of seeing. I've never wanted to explore America so much as I do after reading this fine travelogue.

And so begins my journey through America with John Steinbeck and his dog Charley. John Steinbeck, feeling the years slipping by, decided to trek across America in search of the American spirit and to connect with the American people and the natural world. He sheds his name and comfortable life at home for his trailer and his dog Charley and wanders through the back roads to experience and get to know America in all her various manifestations.

Incredible writing, rich insights, and the American landscape fuse together in this non-fiction work of Steinbeck's. His writing is just as breathtaking as it is in his fiction works. I mean, how he can manage to fill these pages with beautiful sentence after beautiful sentence is beyond me. The imagery that Steinbeck provides is an unparalleled experience as my senses are loaded with visions of mountains, the sounds of different American dialects, or the smell of the forests.

His insights into the American psyche and America in general are spot-on and are thought-provoking in their relevance. His disenchantment with certain American characteristics--consumerism, selfishness, lack of simplicity, rootlessness, the never ending race towards progress, the rise of a homogeneous nation- are things I think about as do many people. He mulls over these things weighing the good and the bad inherently in each. His conversations with people from state to state help give a "fly on the wall" view of ordinary American people. His reflections on current events are interesting for someone who is not familiar with the 60's.

Seeing America through the eyes of John Steinbeck was truly an experience and has taught me that there is plenty to see in my own country. You can't learn about a place and its people from somebody else, no matter how well they tell of it.
"I've always admired those reporters who can descend on an area, talk to key people, ask key questions, take samplings of opinions, and then set down an orderly report very much like a road map. I envy this technique and at the same time do not trust it as a mirror of reality. I feel that there are too many realities. What I set down here is true until someone else passes that way and rearranges the world in his own style." -page 60 of Travels with Charley
Thank you, John Steinbeck, for lighting a fire beneath me to discover my country in all its beauty and in all its ugliness, to experience nature as well as humanity, and to take the time to think critically and learn what it means to be an American.

As for you, friends, have you discovered your own country lately? I'd love to hear about your experience with traveling around your own area. What have you discovered about your country and about yourself? I'm making it my mission to start exploring just the immediate areas around me.


  1. It sounds like an interesting read. I miss living in the states. I miss road trips, you get in your car and just go. Now,I have to hop on a plane. See ya.

  2. Jamie, what a fantastic review! I have wanted to read this book for about 9 years, since my freshman year in high school. After my class I think I'm going to be more proactive about it.

  3. Oh, I need to read this! I haven't got much of a travel bug, except when it comes to the U.S. There's so much out there to see and do, I need to get out and do it all. I'm very much into nature, so traveling to different forests has always been high on my list of things to do. I need to get to Yellowstone at some point. Heck, I'm excited just to be going camping 2 hours away in NW PA just to have the chance to explore a different neck of the woods.

  4. My Grandpa had such a love for travel and took me to some of the most amazing places here in America. Yellowstone, the Redwood Forest, the ocean... Good memories. My Grandpas love for travel stuck with me and my cousins, all of us love seeing new places.

    I need to read this! It sounds like something I'd really enjoy.

    JessiKay- You've never been to Yellowstone?? You MUST go! It's one of my favorite places on Earth.

  5. I loved this book, especially because his mode of travel appealed to me so much.

    I grew up exploring my home country (Iceland) with my family. We went on camping holidays together every summer until I was 17, only going abroad twice in that time.
    Now that I have my own car and time and money to travel, I have again started exploring my country, especially the areas around the city where I live. I keep discovering something new and exciting on every trip.

  6. I'm with your Jamie, usually when I want to travel I never ever think about traveling within the US.

  7. I read this in high school and adored it! I grew up roadtripping around the US to see family whenever we lived in the country, and it's such fun. :) I'd love to explore the Deep South and New England more in the coming years.

  8. Bibliophile-- That sounds like a great time! My parents took me alot of places in the US but I feel like we didn't really explore too often. I'd love to have gone camping. That's really awesome.

    Eva--That sounds like so much fun! I wish our family was really spread out. We have family around our area and then in Florida and that is about it. lol


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