Travels with Charley: In Search of America
John Steinbeck, 1962
Penguin Group USA
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, in September 1960, at the age of fifty-eight, to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years.
With Charley, his French poodle, Steinbeck drives through scenic backroads and speeds along anonymous super high-ways. This chronicle of their trip, a picaresque tale, follows the two as they meander from small towns to growing cities to glorious wilderness oases.
Travels with Charley is animated by Steinbeck’s attention to the specific details of the natural world and his sense of how the lives of people are intimately connected to the rhythms of nature—to weather, geography, the cycle of the seasons. His keen ear for the transactions among people is evident, too, as he records the interests and obsessions that preoccupy the Americans he encounters along the way. He dines with truckers, encounters bears at Yellowstone and old friends in San Francisco. And he reflects on the American character, racial hostility, on a particular form of American loneliness he finds almost everywhere, and on the unexpected kindness of strangers that is also a very real part of our national identity.
Originally published in 1962, Travels provides an intimate and personal look at one of America’s most beloved writers in the later years of his life—a self-portrait of a man who never wrote an explicit autobiography. It was written during a time of upheaval and racial tension in the South—which Steinbeck witnessed firsthand—and is a stunning evocation of America on the eve of a tumultuous decade. (Adapted from the publisher.)
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