Travels with Charley in Search of America
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…
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9 authors picked Travels with Charley in Search of America as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?
Leaving his wife at home, Steinbeck outfitted a camper in the 1950s and took off on an extended adventure with a large standard poodle named Charley. He was already a famous, award-winning author by this time, so it was easy for him to find people to talk to and learn what was going on across the United States. Although the book was intended for adults, I read it as a child, so I assumed that easygoing encounters with strangers were normal for everyone!
I still recall reading Of Mice and Men in one sitting in my bedroom as a teenager. It was the start of a lifelong passion for Steinbeck that has never wavered. In 1960 he set off in a camper van with his poodle Charley to re-discover his own country. He leaves his Long Island home in a raging storm and traces a circular route across to the Pacific Northwest, down to California and Salinas where he was born, and back through Texas and the south. The Nobel Prize-winning novelist pitches up at campsites and chews the fat with whoever he…
My most formative moments in life came about when I was traveling. I have always had a passion for exploring new and fascinating places. My curiosity has not always worked to my benefit, as a stint in the Foreign Legion proved, but I still live my life with a wanderlust and a mild addiction to adventure. My passion for travel and adventure stemmed from my reading habits. The best travel books open the window to novel perspectives on life, people, and attitudes. Join me.
To hear the voice of the real USA, to smell the grass and the trees, to…
John Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for literature shortly after Travels with Charley was published, and this travel narrative is almost certainly part fiction but no less interesting or valuable as a portrait of America in the 1960s. Charley, the standard poodle, is incidental to the narrative but provides a convenient listener to some of Steinbeck’s musings. This was the first book that I read when I first came to live in Boston in 1964 and I loved it. John Steinbeck is incapable of writing mundane prose.
It’s a classic. Travels with Charley may have been published in 1962, but many of Steinbeck’s observations of America, collected during his journey from Maine to California’s Monterey Peninsula, are as relevant today as they were six decades ago. And then there’s Charley, the French-born Standard Poodle who served as Steinbeck’s sidekick and sole traveling companion. “A dog,” wrote Steinbeck, “is a bond between strangers.”
In the multitude of travelogues by famous writers, this one stands out as one of the more endearing works. John Steinbeck thought he was in his last years when he hit the road with his dog, Charley, in 1960; he would go on to live another eight years. Traveling in a specially-made camper, the pair journeyed about 10,000 miles roughly along the outer border of the United States, gaining newfound perspective and appreciation for fellow Americans.
Steinbeck’s embrace of the nomadic impulse that runs through our country, our history, and ourselves, finds its fullest, most personal expression here. Who hasn’t wanted to pack the camper, hit the two-lanes, and penetrate the thickening veneer of hyperbole that threatens to mask who we truly are? And what better companion on his quest than his dog, Charley!
A modern subgenre of dog literature features people who have traveled extensive distances with dogs, often in exploration but sometimes just for the hell of it. Among the best of these is John Steinbeck’s classic Travels with Charley in Search of America, Charley being a standard poodle with roots in Paris. Steinbeck’s journey in search of America in a custom camper comes Steinbeck set out in an effort to reconnect with America. He and Charley traveled in a custom camper at the height of the Kennedy-Nixon presidential race of 1960, whose echoes reverberate to this day. In 1962 Steinbeck…
Looking through Travels with Charlie as I was putting together this list reminded me that John Steinbeck named his camper Rocinate, which is particularly germane for me as I write this because I (finally!) am almost finished reading Don Quixote. Steinbeck describes a cure for what might be ailing me, a cure I feel whenever I am behind the wheel: "The road away from Here." I particularly appreciate the uppercase "H".
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