Travels with Charley

It’s been a few years since I read Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck. This book is a travelogue of Steinbeck’s 1960 trip with his standard poodle, Charley, as they trek across America in a pickup modified with a camper. Classified as non-fiction, some speculate as to how true the events in this book really are and how often Steinbeck stayed in hotels along the way. But that doesn’t really matter to me. This was published in 1962, just before Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize in Literature, and only 6 years before he died.

The title of this book was inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes written in 1879, which is mentioned as one of the single greatest works of English literature by a character in Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven.

Reading this made me want to run out and rent a camper and travel the country, but it would never be the same as it was at that time in America, 4 years before I was born.  Sometimes when he describes the nature around him, his writing makes me feel as if I’m there in the moment, seeing exactly what he saw.   You get an intricate understanding of his personal motivations and homesickness when he reaches California, and you also get a feel for the political and social climate of 1960 America with a poignant stop at the Ninth Ward in New Orleans.

This book is easy to read and for dog lovers, Steinbeck is tender-hearted toward his poodle, Charley.  The Carolinas are not mentioned, but by this time he was near the end of a long journey and I suspect he was ready to get home.

I recommend this book to anyone who gets restless when in one place for too long and to anyone who is a fan of John Steinbeck and his books like me. So, go to your quiet place and read or listen to this one.

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