Sunday, May 16, 2010

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

I'm searching my memory for a book more pleasurable to read than Travels with Charley and I'm coming up empty. Traveling the country with Steinbeck and Charley, the poodle, is pure joy.

Steinbeck is a gifted writer, somehow making every sentence quotable and something to linger over. I found myself going back and re-reading just to get the feel of the words again. Steinbeck sets out on a journey of America, in the 1960s, in order to get a feel of the people and how America has changed. Since he is a prolific writer of America, he feels he needs to reacquaint himself with it. Because you can't faithfully write about that which you don't know.

Steinbeck gets a custom truck with a camper attached to live in on his travels. He takes along Charley, his distinguished French poodle, for company. Their travels take them to Maine, through the midwest, the Dakotas, California, Texas, Deep South and back again. He talked to as many people as he could, without identifying himself, and tried to answer his own question of "What are Americans like today?" Try as he might, I don't think he found himself a sufficient answer.

We get to experience everything along with John and Charley. The giant Redwoods, the Badlands, Charley vs the bears of Yellowstone, and desegregation in New Orleans (and we get to be nauseous along with him at the violence and hatred).

Travels with Charley is worth lingering over, taking your time and being present every word along the way.
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