Friday, November 30, 2012

steinbeck's travels with charley

You would think that I'd have long ago read John Steinbeck's Travels With Charley: In Search of America, but I had not, which oversight I swiftly corrected this week. What a great book! Like many books I mention-which is why I don't often discuss the books I read, though I am always reading- there are a boatload of blog posts about it already, but sometimes I just want to say a quick word. Next month I'll post my (second-annual) list of what I've read this year, and likely go on a while about all the ones I didn't get to.
Anyway, I loved Steinbeck's account of his road trip across America in 1960, accompanied by his poodle (that would be Charley) in a green GMC truck outfitted with a camper top. Apparently he took the trip to reinvigorate his writing, to get back in touch with the country he'd spent years writing about, planning to talk to people along the way. I Googled a picture of his camper (named Rocinante, after Quixote's horse) and in the process turned up all sorts of articles on how the story was not as non-fiction as it was purported to be, plenty of inaccuracies, but I didn't care, it was absorbing and well-evoked and captured my imagination. Driving across America in 1960. That's the year some of my old road maps are from, so I've already previously gone on at length about the slightly inexplicable inspiration I get from the subject. I dip into the travel-writing genre periodically, and this is now one of my favorites. Fifty years later and there is still so much truth in his (occasionally wry and) prescient observations, almost startlingly so... a portrayal of America to get you thinking about what has and hasn't changed since then. So there's a humor and 'romance' of the road along with a kind of weary crankiness.

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