Travels with Charley

I read a lot of end of year best lists from various publishers as well as people who I follow on RSS who read a lot. Austin Kleon listed Travels with Charley in Search of America By John Steinbeck in his list as one of his favorite books of 2016. I’ve read a lot of the classic Steinbeck novels, but never this book and I found it used at Powells, so figured why not.

I’m so glad I read this book. And it was really interesting reading this book at this moment in time. Steinbeck drives from New York, up to Main, across to Seattle, down through Monterey, CA, and then over to Texas and New Orleans, before heading back home. And throughout Steinbeck isn’t trying to give the reader a blow by blow of his travels, but rather he highlights things he saw, people he met, and the things he thought about.

I also love dogs, so I loved Steinbeck’s descriptions of Charley and how they traveled together. But, in all honesty, it was the descriptions throughout the book that made it so fantastic. I don’t gush a lot over books, I read a lot and only finish what I like (I have up the feeling of obligation long ago), but this book was one that I looked forward to each day when I had time to pick it up. I chuckled in bed as I read, and I stayed up way too late reading a few nights. It was thought provoking and funny, and it made me think about the various road trips we’ve taken and the America I’ve seen.

This monster of a land, this mightiest of nations, this spawn of the future, turns out to be the macrocosm of microcosm me. If an Englishman or a Frenchman or an Italian should travel my route, see what I saw, hear what I heard, their stored pictures would be not only different from mine but equally different from one another. If other Americans reading this account should feel it true, that agreement would only mean that we are alike in our Americanness. (p. 159)