Travels With Charley

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Awhile back I read Travels with Charley – In Search of America by John Steinbeck. I was not expecting much since I’ve not been a fan of Steinbeck’s works of fiction but I really fell in love with his writing in this book. It helps of course that it’s about travel.

Travels with Charley is a nonfiction account of Steinbeck’s 1960 road trip across the United States with his dog Charley as his only continuous companion. As a road-tripper and a dog-lover I had much to love from the beginning. Of course much of the US and the nature of travel has changed in nearly 60 years but there were many parts that still rang true for me.

In talking about the experience of planning a trip he talks about each travel experience as having its own personality. He writes, “We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” Indeed.

Steinbeck writes about the people and places he encounters but also about internal discoveries, his relationships – especially with his dog Charley, and his observations about life.

One of Steinbeck’s observations is about the restlessness of Americans descended from immigrants. “The pioneers, the immigrants who peopled the continent, were the restless ones in Europe. The steady rooted ones stayed home and are still there. But every one of us, except the Negroes forced here as slaves, are descended from the restless ones, the wayward ones who were not content to stay at home. Wouldn’t it be unusual if we had not inherited this tendency?”

John Steinbeck and the United States of the 1960s were both gone long before my time but I could still see myself in Steinbeck’s camper with my dogs subbed in for Charley. I’m glad I gave this book a chance as it gave me a much greater appreciation of John Steinbeck and of travel in general.

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