Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

Title: Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Author: John Steinbeck

# pages: 214

Date published: 1961

Genre: non-fiction (travel)

Challenge(s): Book Awards II, What an Animal


(one of my favorites)

First Sentence(s):

“When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job.”

What Is It All About? This is a story about the summer of 1960 when Steinbeck outfits a pickup truck camper shell (which he promptly dubs Rocinante—the name of Don Quixote’s horse)—complete with typewriter, dictionary, and reference books—and sets off alone, with the exception of Charley, his French poodle, to reassess the country he had been writing about for a quarter of a century.

Random Thoughts: This is a wonderful book. I really enjoyed reading about how Steinbeck thought and worked, and how he interacted with himself, other people, and Charley. The language is at times reflective and at others fun and witty. His descriptions of Charley are a hoot (see below)!

Favorite scene: Peace-loving, laid-back Charley’s reaction to the bears in Yosemite:

“Less that a mile from the entrance I saw a bear beside the road, and it ambled out as though to flag me down. Instantly a change came over Charley. He shrieked with rage. His lips flared, showing wicked teeth that have some trouble with a dog biscuit…A little further along two bears showed up, and the effect was doubled. Charley became a maniac…Bears simply brought out the Hyde in my Jekyll-headed dog.” (p. 124-125)

Favorite quote(s):

“…suddenly the United States became huge beyond belief and impossible ever to cross. I wondered how in hell I’d got myself mixed up in a project that couldn’t be carried out. It was like starting to write a novel. When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then gradually I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate and I eliminate the possibility of ever finishing. So it was now, as I looked at the bright-colored projection of monster America.” (p. 20)

“Charley likes to get up early, and he likes me to get up early too. And why shouldn’t he? Right after his breakfast he goes back to sleep. Over the years he has developed a number of innocent-appearing ways to get me up. He can shake himself and his collar loud enough to wake the dead. If that doesn’t work he gets a sneezing fit. But perhaps his most irritating method is to sit quietly beside the bed and stare into my face with a sweet and forgiving look on his face; I come out of deep sleep with the felling of being looked at.” (p. 27)

“The sun was up when I awakened and the world was remade and shining. There are as many worlds as there are kinds of days, and as an opal changes its colors and its fire to match the nature of a day, so do I. The night fears and loneliness were so far gone that I could hardly remember them.” (p. 49)


Beth F said...

Thanks for this review. I read Travels years ago. I had totally forgotten about it and how much I like Steinbeck.

Jeane said...

I've been wanting to read this book. Thanks for sharing some quotes from it!

DeSeRt RoSe said...

You have been tagged with the bookwork award by me :)

Now it's your turn to tag someone else ;)

Charley said...

I enjoyed this book, too, so much that I named my cat partly after Steinbeck's Charley. I didn't feel as though Steinbeck was trying to impress the reader with his independence of going on the road. Reading it felt like traveling with a familiar friend.