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Travels with Charley: In Search of America

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A quest across America, from the northernmost tip of Maine to California’s Monterey Peninsula

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 rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years.

With Charley, his French poodle, Steinbeck drives the interstates and the country roads, dines with truckers, encounters bears at Yellowstone and old friends in San Francisco. Along the way he reflects on the American character, racial hostility, the particular form of American loneliness he finds almost everywhere, and the unexpected kindness of strangers.

214 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1961

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About the author

John Steinbeck

958 books21.8k followers
John Ernst Steinbeck Jr. (1902-1968) was an American writer. He wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939, and the novella, Of Mice and Men, published in 1937. In all, he wrote twenty-five books, including sixteen novels, six non-fiction books and several collections of short stories.

In 1962, Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Steinbeck grew up in the Salinas Valley region of California, a culturally diverse place of rich migratory and immigrant history. This upbringing imparted a regionalistic flavor to his writing, giving many of his works a distinct sense of place.

Steinbeck moved briefly to New York City, but soon returned home to California to begin his career as a writer. Most of his earlier work dealt with subjects familiar to him from his formative years. An exception was his first novel Cup of Gold which concerns the pirate Henry Morgan, whose adventures had captured Steinbeck's imagination as a child.

In his subsequent novels, Steinbeck found a more authentic voice by drawing upon direct memories of his life in California. Later, he used real historical conditions and events in the first half of 20th century America, which he had experienced first-hand as a reporter.

Steinbeck often populated his stories with struggling characters; his works examined the lives of the working class and migrant workers during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. His later body of work reflected his wide range of interests, including marine biology, politics, religion, history, and mythology.

One of his last published works was Travels with Charley, a travelogue of a road trip he took in 1960 to rediscover America. He died in 1968 in New York of a heart attack, and his ashes are interred in Salinas.

Seventeen of his works, including The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Cannery Row (1945), The Pearl (1947), and East of Eden (1952), went on to become Hollywood films, and Steinbeck also achieved success as a Hollywood writer, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Story in 1944 for Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat.

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Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
November 20, 2018
“I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation- a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any HERE. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every states I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move.”

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The steed...Rocinante!

John Steinbeck was not feeling very well before he decided to take a trip across country. It wasn’t only physical, but also a general malaise about the condition of the country and his own place in it. Early in the book he makes a statement that reveals exactly his state of mind. The words betray a clairvoyance of a near future that would catch up with him in 1968.

“I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I've lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.”

Okay, that is the life philosophy that he has tried to live by, but it is what he says next that shows that he is feeling the tight grip of his impending demise.

”My wife married a man; I saw no reason why she should inherit a baby. I knew that ten or twelve thousand miles driving a truck, alone and unattended, over every kind of road, would be hard work, but to me it represented the antidote for the poison of the professional sick man. And in my own life I am not willing to trade quality for quantity. If this projected journey should prove too much then it was time to go anyway. I see too many men delay their exits with a sickly, slow reluctance to leave the stage. It’s bad theater as well as bad living. I am very fortunate in having a wife who likes being a woman, which means that she likes men, not elderly babies. Although this last foundation for the journey was never discussed I am sure she understood it.”

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Steinbeck lighting up the coffin nails that would eventually kill him with the wife he had a hard time leaving behind.

So he is on a heroic quest. He even found the loyal steed to carry him from place to place. He named her Rocinante after the horse in Don Quixote as if he’d already decided before starting that for most of the journey he was going to be tilting at windmills. Bill Steigerwald, former journalist, in 2010 decided to unravel the murky, twisting road of Steinbeck’s trip by following in his tire tracks. Instead of a GMC pickup, specially made with a deluxe cabin, Steigerwald took his Toyota Rav4 and slept in Walmart parking lots and used car lots. His goal was to try to part the curtain of pure mythology and actually determine where and what Steinbeck did.

There are discrepancies. There are holes in Steinbeck’s...lets call it a tale...so large that you could have driven Rocinante pulling the Empire State building through these gaps and still had clearance on both sides.

Bill Barich wrote in his book “Long Way Home: On the Trail of Steinbeck’s America”.

“Steinbeck was extremely depressed, in really bad health, and was discouraged by everyone from making the trip. He was trying to recapture his youth, the spirit of the knight-errant. But at that point he was probably incapable of interviewing ordinary people. He’d become a celebrity and was more interested in talking to Dag Hammarskjold and Adlai Stevenson.”

So the thinking is, that instead of this solo trip where he has cut all ties to the comforts of his life and is out among the people pressing the flesh and writing down his observations of real America, that Travels with Charley is actually a tall tale. The truth is, for most of the trip, he was in luxury hotels, motels, and only camping in Rocinante occasionally. The writing, well crap, he is a novelist. He was not spinning most of it out of whole cloth, but pretty close. The original manuscript, I’m told, has his wife Elaine as a companion through much more of the trip than what he admits in the book. In the story he has her flying out to Chicago as an emergency care package dropping in to give solace to the weary traveler.

I do find it sweet how attached to his wife he is. He had a hard time leaving her and I’m sure at some point the decision was made that if this trip is going to be any kind of success at all that he needed the care and comfort of his wife along the way. The book doesn’t have the same ring to it as Travels with Charley and Elaine.

But let’s talk about Charley.

”...I took one companion on my journey--an old French gentleman poodle known as Charley. Actually his name is Charles le Chien. He was born in Bercy on the outskirts of Paris and trained in France, and while he knows a little poodle-English, he responds quickly only to commands in French. Otherwise he has to translate, and that slows him down. He is a very big poodle, of a color called bleu, and he is blue when he is clean. Charley is a born diplomat. He prefers negotiation to fighting, and properly so, since he is very bad at fighting.”

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Charles le Chien and the author.

We learn that Charley has crooked front teeth that he makes a Ptth sound through whenever he requires Steinbeck’s attention or as a form of general commentary on the state of affairs. He mutters to himself when agitated and he does have a prostate issue on the trip that required emergency veterinarian help. Unexpected he turns into a demon dog when he catches a whiff of bear in Yellowstone. As Steinbeck refers to him as his suddenly ”Jekyll Headed Dog”. He proves to be a source of comfort to Steinbeck when the blues, which were never far away, would descend upon him.

“A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.”

The most depressing moment in the trip is when Steinbeck stops in New Orleans to go see “the cheerleaders” and to experience first hand the hatred that was blooming over desegregation of schools.

”These blowzy women with their little hats and their clippings hungered for attention. They wanted to be admired. They simpered in happy, almost innocent triumph when they were applauded. Theirs was the demented cruelty of egocentric children, and somehow this made their insensate beastliness much more heartbreaking. These were not mothers, not even women. They were crazy actors playing to a crazy audience.”

These were young, white working mothers who every day stood in front of the schools and screamed the most ”bestial and filthy and degenerate” words at little black girls trying to go to school.

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Ruby Bridges, one of four little black girls that had to be escorted to school by U.S. Marshalls.

Most white parents pulled their kids out of the schools, but those brave souls that tried to take their kids to school were met with the same vile language and threats. Soon the black girls were the only ones in the two schools.

It makes me nauseous every time I see footage from this event.

One of my favorite parts of the book was Steinbeck’s time among the Redwoods.

“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It's not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”

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If you have never seen them make sure that on any trip to California that you take the time to go walk among giants. These trees are over a thousand years old and over 95% of the original old growth have been logged for their excellent timber. They are the oldest living things on the planet. How baffling it must be to entities, that are time capsules of the activities of the planet, to find themselves being destroyed by these ants on the surface of the earth who with bits of sharp steel can wipe out a 1,000 years of life within moments.

It shakes the soul to contemplate.

So let us believe that most of this book is fabrication, that Steinbeck poured himself a cup of coffee liberally laced with Applejack and typed up a series of events that never quite happened. He could throw in a few observations about an America that he didn’t have to stray far from home to determine.

“American cities are like badger holes, ringed with trash--all of them--surrounded by piles of wrecked and rusting automobiles, and almost smothered in rubbish. Everything we use comes in boxes, cartons, bins, the so-called packaging we love so much. The mountain of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use.”

He could disguise his guile with such pithy remarks as:

”...I cannot commend this account as an America that you will find. So much there is to see, but our morning eyes describe a different world than do our afternoon eyes, and surely our wearied evening eyes can report only a weary evening world.”

I’ve taken trips with people that when we arrive back home you would think from comparing their memories to mine that we went to the same place, but possibly in a parallel universe. I feel the same way sometimes when I read a review of a person who read a book I liked. I feel as if we had read two different books.

It is because we did.

My view of life is different from everyone else’s and so is yours. We have different experiences. We bring those experiences to traveling, to reading, to conversations, and the whole kaleidoscope of it all colors our memories.

Regardless of the level of truth that this book represents I was able to spend 246 pages with the man John Steinbeck. No biographer can ignore the personal philosophies that sprinkle the pages of this book. This is a weary soul that still occasionally finds moments of brightness. He is not a note taker, because he confessed he generally loses them anyway. He lets what he sees percolate through the stratosphere to the core of his brain until the purest of thoughts lands on his tongue. Some of his “observations” were gems, some feel wooden and maybe needed the deft touch of a healthier man. I took his journey, maybe not the physical one he presents, but the journey of the mind of a writer trying to share a few last thoughts with the readers he felt destined to lose.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
June 26, 2018
dude, steinbeck is so much better than kerouac.

and i know that is a totally obvious statement, but if i want to read a story about a man traveling across america and describing his findings, it is going to be a man with a varied vocabulary, a keen eye for detail, and some powers of interpreting his experiences. john, i am listening...

this is my first nonfiction from steinbeck, and i am impressed with how conversational it reads. he has a real skill in making his experiences near-visible to the reader,in both his physical descriptions and his musings about what an "american" is. i feel like he would be a fantastic road-trip companion, and i envy charley.

and that is another thing. when it comes to dogs, i am completely breed-ist. there are dogs that i love, and then there are dogs i think should be banned from breeding, so i don't have to see them ever again. poodles are among these breeds. they are the silliest of all dogs, and how a man's man like steinbeck could travel across the country with one of them baffles me.

this is not a dog, it is an aberration:

but, for steinbeck's sake, i can read about a poodle for a little while, and it is sweet how they bond with each other. but i still think they are ugly and not "real" dogs.

steinbeck misses out on an investment opportunity:

if i were a good businessman, and cared a tittle for my unborn great-grandchildren, which i do not, i would gather all the junk and the wrecked automobiles, comb the city dumps, and pile these gleanings in mountains and spray the whole thing with that stuff the navy uses to mothball ships. at the end of a hundred years my descendants would be permitted to open this treasure trove and would be the antique kings of the world. if the battered, cracked, and broken stuff our ancestors tried to get rid of now brings so much money, think what a 1954 oldsmobile, or a 1960 toastmaster will bring - and a vintage waring mixer - lord, the possibilities are endless! things we have to pay to have hauled away could bring fortunes.

of course he is being facetious here, but i for one would kill for some vintage appliances - in another life - in a better apartment - i would have a fantastic kitchen filled with these old timey kitchen things, and i curse steinbeck for not giving a tittle.

steinbeck does not get sucked into revisionist nostalgia:

even while i protest the assembly-line production of our food, our songs, our language, and eventually our souls, i know that it was a rare home that baked good bread in the old days. mother's cooking was with rare exceptions poor, that good unpasteurized milk touched only by flies and bits of manure crawled with bacteria, the healthy old-time life was riddled with aches, sudden death from unknown causes, and that sweet local speech i mourn was the child of illiteracy and ignorance. it is the nature of a man as he grows older, a small bridge in time, to protest against change, particularly change for the better. but it is true that we have exchanged corpulence for starvation, and either one will kill us.

i am so glad my real-world book club finally chose something i can review on here instead of just a short story or an essay or a poem...and this time, i will have something to add! they are all european intellectual types, with their tales of berlin and ukraine and their war stories (as both witness and participant) and i just sit there and drink my wine and play the role of "very good young listener". thank you, steinbeck for giving america some street cred and fodder for booktalks!

come to my blog!
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
965 reviews6,842 followers
March 26, 2023
He came.
He saw.
He brought a poodle. Good boy, Charley.
Charley with Nobel Winning author John Steinbeck

If you are like me, you will recognize the impulse of wanderlust. John Steinbeck felt this too, opening his book Travels With Charley with a humorous reflection on how people always told him his wanderlust would be cured with old age but, at 58 when he set out with his dog, Charley, this hadn’t seemed to abate even a little. ‘Perhaps my greatest wisdom is the knowledge that I do not know,’ he writes, and so he sets off to see what he does not yet know of the land and the people in it. While the book is usually thought of as a travelog, Steinbeck’s thoughts and reflections on his journey through the ‘new America of the 1960’s becomes more an intimate portrait of the writer himself and his thoughts on loneliness, travel, the country in a state of change and, ultimately, himself. It is a lovely little book, full of Steinbeck’s signature charm and wit, and while it is a gaze at an era now gone, it is still a meaningful and beautifully introspective read.

I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.

For those with the traveling spirit, this is practically a book of meditations with hardly a page that goes by without one sentence worth underlining or committing to memory. When I first read this, I was going through a huge Steinbeck phase in college and getting out on the road was something always on my mind. And itinerary whenever the opportunity presented itself. There are some gorgeous reflections on taking journeys to be found here:
Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.

Through the book we ride along shotgun with Charley on our lap (good boy) and experience the states with him as he passes through. ‘I find out of long experience that I admire all nations and hate all governments,’ he says in typical old-Steinbeck fashion, ‘and nowhere is my natural anarchism more aroused than at national borders.’ Steinbeck longs for freedom and while he admits the natural impulse at an older age is to resist change, he has set out to see it and meet it. Unfortunately it has been discovered that some details are fabricated, or embellished, and some of the people he meets along the way are caricatures or composites, but the story is ‘true enough’ and if you feel it in your heart, it might as well be true. I came to Steinbeck through his fiction that always felt like a truer understanding of life than most things I’d known anyways, so whatever.

One goes, not so much to see but to tell afterward.

Whether you have a love for travel, an appreciate of Steinbeck, or just need a good book that will make you feel nice inside, Travels for Charley is a winner.


People don’t take trips—trips take people.
Profile Image for Terrie  Robinson.
444 reviews718 followers
January 15, 2022
"Travels with Charley: In Search of America" by John Steinbeck is a travelogue of his 1960 camping trip across America!

This is my last read and review of 2021! It's also the December '21 selection for the community book club I belong to and I'm so glad we picked it. It was the perfect book for a great end of year discussion!

John Steinbeck! Yes, that is a complete sentence. He's an author who writes stories about our country and its people, but at the age of fifty-eight, he felt he had lost touch with what he writes about and wanted to experience America and its people first hand.

There is debate over this book being non-fiction versus fiction, that Mr. Steinbeck did not travel and camp across America with his pooch. But, let's face it, this man is a novelist. He's creative, he imagines, he makes stories up, that's what he does. So why is it so shocking that this trek across America didn't actually happen?

To me, it doesn't matter. I don't feel snookered, it makes me smile. This story is creative and I was enthralled and entertained by each chapter. A book written by John Steinbeck, traveling America in his truck with a camper top and his dog by his side, talking to the 'folks' he met along the way, what's not to love?

What I discovered while listening to this audiobook was how much Mr. Steinbeck cared about our county, the people, and how in touch he was with what was happening during the 1960's and how insightful he was about our future. He spoke of the environment, loss of regional differences and uniqueness throughout our country. As a lifelong observer, he clearly understood the progression of things to come.

John Steinbeck is driving, I'm a passenger with Charley between us. He's sharing his thoughts, I'm listening and fascinated while Charley, his standard poodle, sleeps most of the way and most likely takes up most of the seat! The audiobook felt that real and was expertly narrated by Gary Sinise.

After I finished listening it occurred to me that perhaps John Steinbeck wasn't 'in search of America' as much as he was searching for himself. It is said that he was depressed, in poor health and you can feel the low points in his writing, especially towards the end.

This book was published in 1962 the same year he won a Nobel Prize for Literature. Sadly, John Steinbeck died of heart failure in 1968 at the age of sixty-six.

It's exciting to end 2021 on such a high note with a 5 star read! I highly recommend this creative and entertaining book!
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
January 5, 2023
John Steinbeck put a house on a pickup, left the wife behind in their Long Island home and traveled the nation for several months. This is his tale of that experience. I found many quotables here, and I guess one should expect that when the traveler’s name is Steinbeck. In a book of about two hundred pages, one can hardly expect a detailed look at all of America. Steinbeck picks his spots. Sometimes they work, sometimes not. It was, of necessity, merely a sketch of some parts of the country. But some of those sketches should hang in the Louvres. Two in particular grabbed me. His description of “The Cheerleaders,” a group of women who gathered every day at a newly integrated southern elementary school to taunt and threaten the black kids and Steinbeck’s look at the culture surrounding that was chilling, a close portrait of an incendiary place at an incendiary time, and is, alone, a reason to read this book. The other was his depiction of a redwood forest in northern California, where the massive trees alter dawn and blot out the night sky.

Steinbeck and Charley - from the NY Times

The subtitle of the book is “In Search of America.” What travel books are really about, particularly when undertaken by a literary person, is self-discovery. It works the same as in literature. The road, the quest, the journey all exist in an interior landscape and lead to an inner destination. I did not feel that this was much at work here, and was disappointed. Steinbeck kept his eyes on the external road. Sometimes his snapshots of early 1960s America were uninteresting. Sometimes they were compelling. The compelling parts made the trip one worth taking.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Apparently, there is some thought that not all the material in this book was actually...um...real. GR friend Jim sent along a link to a site by a guy named Bill Steigerwald, who writes about Steinbeck. Looks like he did a fair bit of research and concluded that Steinbeck's journey may have been more of an internal one than we believed. check it out.
Profile Image for Lori.
308 reviews99 followers
October 19, 2017
I usually enjoy fiction, but a mite cheated when I learn that a travelogue isn't. I'm sure some people enjoy the writing regardless of the misleading content. Steinbeck never went to some of the places in the book, he made up the folks that he never met and the hotels and resorts he and his wife stayed in are a bit more luxurious than the camper top on his GMC pick-up.

On the plus side, he did purchase a pick-up truck and add a camper top to it. His wife did have a poodle named Charley.

Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,991 followers
June 19, 2019
4 to 4.5 stars

It seems like lately I have been reading a lot of books about road trips. This is just fine with me as I love the open road! Getting some perspective on others' experiences on the highway combines road trips with my other favorite hobby . . . reading, of course!

Travels With Charlie is mid 20th century America in the words of one of the most American authors that ever was. Just a truck, a dog, and the open road. It is poetic and beautiful. It is dark and mysterious. It funny and infuriating. Don't go in expecting a smooth ride, because 1960s America was full of pot holes and speed traps!

Steinbeck is viewing post WWII America before new technology takes over and shrinks the country down. When each region still each had a strong unique mystique of their own. Where prejudices still ran high in some places if you were not a local or not the right color (and, yes, I know this is still an issue today, but what Steinbeck describes is extreme). And when vending machines at rest stops could still blow Steinbeck's mind as the most cutting edge retail technology. He pulls no punches when it comes to telling the reader how much he loved or loathed his experiences. Because of this, some people may have a hard time reading this without getting upset.

I think works like this are so important. We have plenty of books preserving information on major historical events, but day to day life needs it's time in the sun as well. To be able to read something like this about life in my country around the time my parents were teenagers has the potential to impact me a lot more than learning about the major news events of the time period. I am not sure how much an impact this book might have on non-Americans, but I think everyone who grew up in the United States will be captivated.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews606 followers
April 10, 2020
Audiobook.... narrated by the wonderful Gary Sinise

Wow!!!! Okay..... I am fully satisfied!!!!!
This book calmed the anxiousness of my mind, and really moved me!

While listening to Gary Sinise read John Steinbeck’s book...(Gary’s voice was a perfect match for Steinbeck),
I was aware of how grateful this ‘book-companion’, was warming my heart....
[thanks to our Public library/overdrive].
It was just what I needed!

Steinbeck’s cross-country-road-trip-companion—[his loyal-French-immigrant- poodle] was named *Charley*.
Steinbeck & Charley set out to reconnect with people from all walks of life in America....
during the 1960’s.
Steinbeck never used his real name so he could be an ordinary old chum ( without any ‘aw’-concerns to deal with).

Given Steinbeck wrote many books about America— he was ready to explore more intimately. What better way to experience the country than with a faithful dog and a reliable working RV?

Honestly- traveling in an RV has never been my desire—but with days like these—
it’s sounds rather nice!
Also, having visited the Steinbeck museum and his house, in Salinas several times, I can easily visualize the truck, photos, and paraphernalia displays from his journey adventures.

It’s been 4 weeks of house-bound for those of us living in the SFBay area—longer and short times for others across the globe— (due to the social distancing coronavirus lifestyle), and a Nationwide road trip touched on the freedom than I can ‘almost’ remember!
I was happy to travel with Steinbeck on his adventures across America. ( and dream a little myself).

What was so fascinating to me was reading about this great author’s awareness of needing to replenish his own ‘America-appreciation-tank’.
I mean — isn’t that something many of us American’s are itching to do ourselves these days? Refill our American-appreciation-tanks?

Steinbeck was one of the greatest American authors.
His writing was masterful and eloquent.
”Travels With Charley in Search of America.... crossing state lines...was absolutely witty & wonderful...
...fabulous descriptions & imagery from New York to California and back again.....
....unforgettable charming funny and grumping characters!
The dialogue was hilarious at times -
It was also heartbreaking when faced with racial issues in the South.

While hibernating here at home in my own little world .... during these tempestuous - and down right scary unsettling times, I was reminded that we ‘are’ UNITED states.

Steinbeck said it clearly:
“I admire all nations and hate all governments”.
Profile Image for PorshaJo.
467 reviews672 followers
August 8, 2020
Loved it! A favorite of the year. For years I wanted to read this one. Always interested in hearing about people and their travels. But to be honest, wasn't sure I was a Steinbeck fan. Read his big ones earlier and just kinda eh, not my thing. I got this one a few times for the library and would return thinking he's probably not for me. But something this time pushed me and I started in still being a naysayer (not for me) but I was soon sucked into the story and just didn't want it to end.

In the 1960's, Steinbeck decides he wants to travel the states, meet people, talk with them, and just learn about his surroundings. He gets his wheels, where he sleeps and dines, which he names Rocinante and brings along his travelling companion, Charley. His French poodle who frequently says 'ffftt' to him and gets his meaning across. Steinbeck travels and meets many different types of people or characters, telling you the story, the interactions, and all about what he sees as he travels all over the place. Who doesn't love a travel story of someone just getting in their car, taking the dog, and travelling the open road.

I grabbed the audio and LOVED IT! Gary Sinise narrated and it was awesome and he added so much to it. Would it had been a 5 star for me without the narration....really can't say as the two were just a perfect marriage. I enjoyed the story and would love to read it again, in print. But it was one of the better narrations I've listened to. In my overall top 5 ever. I will have to say, Steinbeck's observations in the 60's are sometime relevant now (funny how things don't change) but also towards the end, think might be an issue for what is going on in the world these days. But if you want a good story, hear about the open road, and want to be drawn into an amazing narration....I highly suggest this one! I'm off to look for another Steinbeck. Maybe he is for me now.
Profile Image for Luís.
1,945 reviews610 followers
July 25, 2022
This work is a very different story from other Steinbeck books I have read so far (Of Mice and Men, The Pearl). This one is another genre our author is tackling here. It is no longer a matter of fiction in which many elements had linked to his life, but rather his daily life — a daily in a particular context, of course, but a daily all the same.
I like travel reports, especially for their hectic and unexpected things. The pace here is a bit slower than I expected at the start. But let's put it in context: this isn't about many raving youngsters going on an adventure to accomplish the 400 moves. This travel is the quiet journey of a man who is no longer very young and does not go on an adventure but to meet his contemporary fellow citizens to understand them better.
Profile Image for Julie G.
897 reviews2,930 followers
January 2, 2021
I came across this dusty hardcover at an estate sale last month. This particular edition from 1962 offered a crisp, weathered cover and an inviting sketch of a man, a dog and a truck.

I hopped on board.

This is Steinbeck, but not the Steinbeck of fiction, the one who stands behind his creations and his delicious use of silence and space. This is Steinbeck the man.

Turns out that Steinbeck the man, here recorded for all time, in his late fifties was a bit depressed, recently diagnosed as being on his way toward heart trouble, and a little weary of the world. He was also worried he was becoming "soft."

So, he planned an extensive road trip, had a vehicle designed for it, and hit the road with Charley, his dog, circa 1960.

This is a travelogue, but an unexpected one. Yes, the reader is taken throughout the regions of America the Beautiful. But, it is more impressive as a philosophical journey. And, even though it is sometimes dated in its fifty-year-old observations, most of what he experiences here could stand the test of time.

I can think of plenty of friends who would love this book, and plenty who would set it down, bored.

All I can tell you is that I cried through most of it. Not sobs, but fat, messy tears. I related to his thoughts to the point of wondering if I'm him, reincarnated. I had no idea I had so much in common with John Steinbeck.

And, after all, who doesn't love a good road trip?
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,798 reviews2,391 followers
June 7, 2007
My father bought me this book when I was probably about eight years old, and I read it quickly and fell in love with it. One day (now that I've thought of it, probably sooner than later) I'll reread it, but for now I'm content believing I would still find it a good read.

Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,719 followers
June 12, 2014
I first read this book in high school, and it's what made me fall in love with travelogues. In 1960, John Steinbeck drove a small camper around the United States with his dog, Charley. He wrote that he wanted to get to know his country again, to learn more about this "new America."

"For many years I have traveled in many parts of the world. In America I live in New York, or dip into Chicago, or San Francisco. But New York is no more America than Paris is France or London is England. Thus I discovered that I did not know my own country. I, an American writer, writing about America, was working from memory, and the memory is at best a faulty, warpy reservoir. I had not heard the speech of America, smelled the grass and trees and sewage, seen its hills and water, its color and quality of light. I knew the changes only from books and newspapers. But more than this, I had not felt the country for twenty-five years. In short, I was writing of something I did not know about, and it seems to me that in a so-called writer this is criminal. My memories were distorted by twenty-five intervening years."

"Travels with Charley" was published in 1962, and Steinbeck, who had been in poor health, died just six years later.

I remember loving this book. I loved Steinbeck's stories about the people he met and the places he visited, and even the details of how he organized the camper and his trip. I have recommended this book to countless friends over the years, gushing about how good it was.

So you can imagine my UTTER HEARTBREAK because I found out that parts of the story were fabricated or fictionalized. Reporters have verified that some details in the narrative could not have been true, and that Steinbeck made up a lot of the conversations he supposedly had with people along the road. (This news first broke in 2011, but I didn't learn it until I saw it mentioned in John Waters' book about hitchhiking, "Carsick.")

When the 50th anniversary edition of "Travels with Charley" was published in 2012, it came with a disclaimer: "Indeed, it would be a mistake to take this travelogue too literally, as Steinbeck was at heart a novelist, and he added countless touches – changing the sequence of events, elaborating on scenes, inventing dialogue – that one associates more with fiction than nonfiction."

So here is my conundrum: Knowing that parts of it have been fictionalized, should I continue to recommend it to others? If the book is as good as I remember, doesn't that outweigh its dubious origin?

Or I could just live in denial and remember the joy I felt when I first read it.

Update June 2014:
I was so upset to learn that Steinbeck had embellished his stories that I decided to reread the book to see how it holds up. It was great! It was glorious! I will even say that I think it's one of the best travelogues written about America, ever. "Travels with Charley" is beautifully written - it is so quotable and insightful that I had dozens of pages marked.

"It would be pleasant to be able to say of my travels with Charley, 'I went out to find the truth about my country and I found it.' And then it would be such a simple matter to set down my findings and lean back comfortably with a fine sense of having discovered truths and taught them to my readers. I wish it were that easy... 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... For all of our enormous geographic range, for all of our sectionalism, for all of our interwoven breeds drawn from every part of the ethnic world, we are a nation, a new breed. Americans are much more American than they are Northerns, Southerners, Westerners, or Easterners... The American identity is an exact and provable thing."

Because it had been criticized by modern reporters, on this reread I paid more attention to Steinbecks' "conversations" with folks around the country, and yes, the dialogue was so smooth and concise that it had to have been finessed. But after considering the issue, I've relaxed on this point because I bet every writer does that. Every writer is going to streamline speech so that it reads well. Steinbeck even talks about writers who can quickly take measure of a place:

"I've always admired those reporters who can descend on an area, talk to key people, ask key questions, take samplings of opinions, and then set down an orderly report very like a road map. I envy this technique and at the same time do not trust it as a mirror of reality. I feel that there are too many realities. What I set down here is true until someone else passes that way and rearranges the world in his own style."

I do think Steinbeck got at the spirit of what was going on in America in 1960: it was a big election year between Kennedy and Nixon; racial tensions were high in the South because schools had been desegregated; and there was heightened anxiety about Russia and the threat of the atomic bomb. He even wrote about environmentalism and his concerns for how much waste America was producing, and he contemplated how the new cross-country interstate system would change the country. The guy was prescient, I tell you.

Some of my favorite parts were when Steinbeck tried to cross into Canada with his dog and ran into a bureaucratic snafu regarding Charley's vaccination paperwork (very amusing); a warm conversation he had with a family of immigrants while they shared a drink in his camper; and when he drove through a forest of massive Redwood trees out West.

"The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It's not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time. They have the mystery of ferns that disappeared a million years ago into the coal of the carboniferous era. They carry their own light and shade. The vainest, most slap-happy and irreverent of men, in the presence of redwoods, goes under a spell of wonder and respect."

Another theme Steinbeck returns to often is the wanderlust that seems to pervade Americans everywhere. He mentions how many families had started buying mobile homes so they can move more freely about, and how many others gazed at his camper and said they wished they could travel across the country.

"I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation -- a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every state I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move."

I so enjoyed rereading this book that I will definitely continue to recommend it to friends. I even upgraded my original 4-star rating to 5, because of how gorgeous Steinbeck's writing was. I just wish I could give Charley a biscuit and a belly rub for being such a good traveling companion.
Profile Image for Kim.
426 reviews512 followers
August 17, 2012

In 1960, when John Steinbeck was 58 years old, ill with the heart disease which was to kill him eight years later and rather discontented with life, he decided to embark on a road trip around the United States in a fitted-out pick-up truck, accompanied by his standard French poodle, Charley. Steinbeck’s plan was to re-connect with the America which had informed his fiction and to assess how much it had changed over the years.

This book is the result of that trip: part memoir, part travelogue, part philosophical treatise … and part fiction. Just how much of the narrative is fiction rather than fact has been the subject of investigation and discussion in recent years, much of it instigated by the work of journalist Bill Steigerwald, who recreated Steinbeck’s trip and exposed what he argues to be the fallacies in the narrative. This article in the New York Times summarises Steigerwald’s findings and typing Steigerwald’s name into any reliable search engine will locate a range of Steigerwald’s writings on the issue, as well as some responses to his position on the book.

While I've read Steigerwald’s conclusions about Steinbeck’s journey with interest, it matters little to me that the work has been edited in such a way as to make it look like Steinbeck and Charley were travelling alone almost all the time, whereas Steinbeck’s original manuscript (held at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City) shows that Steinbeck’s wife Elaine was with him for much of the time and that he probably spent more than half the nights he was away sleeping in hotels rather than in the truck. Likewise, it matters little to me that Steinbeck’s reported conversations with people he meets on the way are fiction rather than reportage.

In relation to this, the fact that Steinbeck preserved and then donated his manuscript indicates that he was not concerned that readers might discover that there was more (or possibly less) to the journey than appears in the book. Further, the narrative itself is full of disclaimers. Steinbeck does not claim that the book is a day-by-day, diary-style account of his journey. Rather, what he conveys is a range of impressions on a number of topics, some insights into issues he considered important and some at times painful self-reflection, all conveyed in Steinbeck’s powerful yet accessible prose. On some matters Steinbeck was ahead of his time. For example, what he wrote about the destruction of the environment and the overuse of packaging products (“The mountain of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use.”), expressed what I doubt was a matter of widespread public concern as early as 1960.

Other parts of the narrative are much more personal. Steinbeck’s encounter with old Latino drinking buddies in a bar in Monterey is particularly poignant. As Steinbeck’s friend tries to persuade the New York resident to come “home”, Steinbeck names all of their friends who have died and concludes that Thomas Wolfe was right: “You can't go home again because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory."

Possibly the most powerful incident in the book is Steinbeck’s witnessing of the “cheerleaders” in New Orleans – a group of women who stood across the street from William Frantz Elementary school and yelled obscenities at Ruby Bridges - the first black child to attend the all-white school - and at the few white parents who did not comply with the white boycott of the school. Ruby, who had started at the school only a week or two before Steinbeck was in New Orleans, was escorted to school by federal marshalls. Her ordeal is recorded in this painting by Norman Rockwell.

Shortly after witnessing the behaviour of the cheerleaders, Steinbeck decided to cut his journey short and head straight back to New York City. The narrative gives the strong impression that the incident left him heart-sick and distressed.

Overall, whatever may be this book’s shortcomings as a piece of travel reportage, it's a moving and engaging piece of writing. Steinbeck had become rather a cranky old man by the time he embarked on the journey, and was an even crankier old man by time he finished it. He was certainly no longer the novelist at the peak of his powers. But there’s still passion, warmth and humour in his words and plenty for the reader who loves Steinbeck’s writing to engage with. And there's Charley. Charley is wonderful.
Profile Image for Susan Budd.
Author 6 books225 followers
July 4, 2021
The United States is more divided than ever and I wonder how we will survive this national crisis. We are red or blue. Trump or Biden. Fox News or The New York Times. We tear down Confederate statues or wave the rebel flag.

Have we nothing in common? Do we share no hopes and dreams? Have talking points completely replaced dialogue? Do we even speak the same language?

Enter Rocinante. Steinbeck’s Travels With Charlie has the three things all Americans love: freedom, the open road, and a dog. There is nothing more American than a road trip, nothing that revives us like that endless white line on the black asphalt, for we are all explorers, adventurers, pioneers in our star-spangled hearts.

Under the spacious skies of this great country, the American spirit awakens within us. On the road, we shed all that is extraneous to this spirit. Who among us does not long to see this land? There are many indeed who do not long for the hardship, the expense, the monotony of a road trip, but there are none whose eyes do not sparkle at the idea of a road trip.

And that’s just what I need right now: a road trip to restore my faith in America and my fellow Americans, a road trip to remind me what I really am, for I am so much more than a cog in the machine. But a road trip is the last thing any of us will be doing for some time.

There will be no strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hand. No roadside diner breakfasts with hash browns instead of home fries. (I know I’m far from home when my potatoes are shredded instead of sliced.) No glimpses into the lives of people from different walks of life. No friendly conversations with the folks who voted for the other guy.

Are we still one nation under God? Or are we fractured into many babbling tribes? In our grocery stores we are all surgeons and bandits. We long for teeth: white teeth, yellow teeth, false teeth, crooked teeth. We want to smile, smile, smile. We need to tip our different colored hats to our neighbors. This land was not made for you or me. This land was made for you and me.

So here I sit with my pink slip and my U.S. Blues wondering if we will save this grand and noble political experiment that we call the United States of America. And I find myself wishing to see the country. To see it and hear it and smell it from a moving vehicle. To go from sea to shining sea and back.

I have barely even seen the east coast, so I wonder what life is like in Wisconsin and Nebraska and Kansas. Is it really very hot in Texas and New Mexico? I want to know. I love hot weather. I want to stop for a bit in Colorado. Then if I don’t forget where the car is parked, I want to go further west until I see a different ocean than the one we have here.

We all want the same thing. We’re just setting out from different starting points so our journeys don’t look quite the same. But we’re all travelling the same road and we meet on that road. We sleep in the same motels, eat in the same diners, pee at the same rest stops. We have a cigarette or a donut or a coffee and talk road talk to our fellow travelers.

Steinbeck says his camper evoked the same response from nearly everyone who saw it: a desire “to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something” (10). This is what we all have in common. It is a shared dream and when we talk about it we speak the same language.

If only all of America could hit the road right now, just drive and drive without any destination except the next farm stand or the world’s largest ball of string.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book563 followers
December 17, 2017
A nice way to travel 1960s America again is to hop into a camper truck with John Steinbeck and his dog, Charley. Plagued by a chronic disease and probably feeling like it was now or never, Mr. Steinbeck hit the road from his home in Sag Harbor and traveled across the states and back again, making astute observations as he went and sharing a bit of the flavor of America in this moment of great upheaval and change.

I was afraid this might be boring, like watching someone else’s home movies (no matter how stunning the scenery, we just don’t want to see you posed in front of it over and over again). I should have had no fear, since this was not your everyday traveler, this was John Steinbeck. His powers of observation are acute and he knows how to render them into a free-flowing conversation with his reader. I felt he was pretty even-handed in his observations as well, even though his trek through the 1960s south made me cringe with shame. He notes that as an outsider his encounters might not be a true representation of the people, and I think he is right because he intentionally sought out the ugliest kind of setting to observe them in, but then he didn’t make up the setting or the people he saw, they were there and, while not speaking for everyone, they certainly spoke for far too many.

One of my favorite parts of the book was his visit to his own home turf around Salinas, California. As he prepared to leave, he says, ”I printed it once more on my eyes, south, west, and north, and then we hurried away from the permanent and changeless past where my mother is always shooting a wildcat and my father is always burning his name with his love.”

I know this feeling all too well. You can hardly visit the place of your youth with a clear and unprejudiced eye, for the past is always there coloring it a much rosier color than it actually is. That is alright, that is part of life. We are meant to feel it.

I am glad I finally got around to making this trip with one of my favorite authors. It made me feel that I would have liked the man as much as I like his work.
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,256 followers
June 21, 2013
Goddamn it! I've driven coast to coast across the U.S. fives times already and yet, thanks to Travels with Charley I'm ready to go again!

During the mid-century period, discovering America and/or oneself through the medium of the road-trip came into vogue. While other prominent authors, such as Kerouac and Thompson, were publishing their own, more heralded versions, I prefer Steinbeck's. It lacks the hedonism of the others and I love him for that. And furthermore, these journals often get offtrack, forgetting the road for some favored topic that the writer expounds upon until it becomes a journey of its own and the original path fades from memory. Steinbeck veers off now and then, but it's always for a good cause and it never lasts too long.

Here's a few of my personal favorite highlights from his trip:

:) Charley. Before I began I had no idea who this Charley was, but he's a lovable guy and he made the whole thing all the more enjoyable to read.

:o I love Steinbeck's super sleuthing in the Chicago hotel room, where he adeptly pieces together a clandestine romance in a way that would impress Sherlock Holmes.

:) The book gets extra marks for a visit, description and kind words for Deer Isle, Maine, where from my grandmother's kin hail.

:O Discovering that what I thought were imagined characters - outrageously colorful characters - from his novel Tortilla Flat were actually real people.

While Grapes of Wrath will go down as a lasting work of genius, it carries with it the weight of moral baggage and an oppressive sadness. Maybe Travels with Charley is not the same sort of classic literature masterpiece that will survive the ages, but I found it to be a pure joy to read from start to finish.
Profile Image for Karen.
1,420 reviews202 followers
July 27, 2023
I read this with my Library book discussion group back in the day.

I am now bringing my review to Goodreads.

We read and discussed a lot of Steinbeck.

This one was published in 1962.

The book described a despondent Steinbeck as he trekked across the U.S. with his poodle, Charley.

What was particularly enjoyable was getting a great sense of his thoughts and emotions.

Steinbeck highlighted and discussed a variety of subjects as they appeared in different states or cities. He even talked about the environment along his trip. We were also treated to flowery descriptions of the landscapes and weather.

It was like you and I were along with him and Charley on this roadtrip.

Sometimes there might be some interesting discussions about history, or war, or politics, or community.

You and I were still sitting in the backseat being apart of that discussion. It just felt nice to be apart of these personal reflections from Steinbeck...in this way. 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Ron.
394 reviews97 followers
November 29, 2020
Early into my reading of Travels with Charley, I stopped to fix the point in time John traversed our country with a dog by his side. Published in 1962. It's not that the time of writing truly matters, or changes the nature of what is told. A town and a city will change in appearance or size (as Steinbeck would encounter as he enters into his birthplace of Salinas, CA). Demographics definitely change as people move or wander – also something duly noted here during his travels: Like the total strangers who would gaze upon Mr Steinbeck's traveling camper and say the words, “I sure wish I could go with you”. America is a nation of wanderlust. People who want to move or simply traverse the country, whether it be permanent, or two week vacation. Maybe they do it to encounter each State that is a little (or a lot) different from the one next to it, or because it has something else to offer that can't be quantified. Or it's just become the nature of the whole. By traveling we see what we have not seen.
That is hardly an American trait. Those invisible boundaries that divide our states have not changed in the sixty years since this book was conceived. Twice, he and his dog cross the Continental Divide, once going and once coming back, each crossing very different in look (one being in the north, the other in the south), but they have not changed since then either. Only the roads that crosses them have changed.

I'd initially fixated on the time of Steinbeck's travel because of his unexpected humor. I laughed within the first chapter, as he describes the hurricane that would send him off from New York. His comical look at the nature of people, things and how he sees them is a great attribute to this book. Obviously, his humor had been there all along. It had not magically developed sometime after the writing of The Grapes of Wrath. Same man, two different books, but now I know him better.

These humorous traits, found in the first half of his travels, are replaced by melancholy and displeasure as he bends out of California turning east and south. The racial unrest of 1960 shouldn't have been unexpected by me, but it was. Steinbeck's own thoughts are clearly conveyed through graceful wording and so are those of a few other people he encounters on his homeward leg (on both sides of the argument). It is as valuable today as it was then.
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews927 followers
April 27, 2018
In Travels with Charley: In Search of America, John Steinbeck provides an entertaining and wry account of his observations as he road trips with his poodle in what essentially becomes his house on wheels, Rocinante. I'm a big fan of Steinbeck's work (I really like what I see as his sympathetic treatment of quirky and damaged characters in novels like Cannery Row and Tortilla Flats). I also remember enjoying Travels with Charley (at least the few chapters of it which I read while I was in high school). That said, despite frequent protestations that he wasn't upset about changes/progress, I was irritated both by Steinbeck's defensiveness and by all the time he spent complaining about change.

I did like Steinbeck's assessment of Americans as a people on the move, but I didn't see him building toward anything in this travelogue. I know that's the nature of travel writing, but I wanted more from Steinbeck. When he climbs out of Rocinante and explores a new town, does he see characters from his novels? Does he see material for books? Or only this specific travelogue? I wasn't sure how he grew during this trip, just that he (and Charley) seemed to intuitively know when the journey was over. I guess I was looking for something that wasn't there.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,738 reviews476 followers
May 30, 2022
I enjoyed my reread of "Travels with Charley" for a library book discussion. John Steinbeck took a road trip around the United States in the fall of 1960 "to try to rediscover this monster land." He bought a pick-up truck with a camper top, and named it Rocinante (after Don Quixote's horse). Charley, an older large French poodle, was Steinbeck's traveling companion. Charley served as an ice-breaker, making it easier for Steinbeck to meet strangers. Steinbeck had a chronic illness at the time of his trip, and Charley had his own set of veterinary problems, but they offered emotional support to each other. Charley also added some humor to the story, such as when he turned into a vicious barking beast when he spotted and smelled the bears in Yellowstone Park.

Steinbeck tried to talk to the "everyman" during his journey--farmers, migrant workers, and waitresses--to take the pulse of the country. Although Steinbeck has associated with many famous people, he has never forgotten his humble roots as a dock worker. As one who has lived through the 1960s, I felt that he gave a true sense of the era. He traveled through the Northeast, then took a northern route to the west coast, then headed home by taking a southern route eastward.

The most awe-inspiring stop on his journey was at a forest of majestic redwoods. The most upsetting incident was in New Orleans where a group of women (called the Cheerleaders) shouted racist comments at small black children walking to their recently integrated school. His visit to a bar in his hometown in California showed that you really can't go home again after an absence of many years--people change and the town changes.

Steinbeck got lost quite often during his trip. He seemed to suggest that America was also getting lost as the population moved from the country to the city to work in industry. He was concerned about damage to the environment as factories, garbage dumps, and interstate highways ringed the cities.

There has been some controversy about the accuracy of Steinbeck's tale, especially in journalist Bill Steigerwald's book, "Dogging Steinbeck". Steinbeck did not camp out as often as his book relates, his wife flew out to meet him quite often during the trip, and his conversations with people seem to often be composites of several people. That really did not bother me since I find that most travel books give the flavor of a location, and are not a day-to-day diary. I can also understand why Steinbeck would be spending many nights in motels, considering his poor health. The hours I spent with Steinbeck and Charley on the road were very entertaining.
Profile Image for Sharon Orlopp.
Author 1 book528 followers
October 17, 2022
John Steinbeck sets off across America with his camper on top of his truck named Rocinante, after Don Quixote's horse. His French poodle, Charley, joins him on this cross-country tour.

This book was initially published in 1962 but the sense of adventure that calls to each of us is alive no matter which decade or century.

Steinbeck accurately notes that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. He shares his virus of restlessness and the common theme of the desire to move and explore with everyone he meets across the US.

As he casually meets people at each stop on his journey, he shares his insights. He noticed how one person can saturate a room with vitality and excitement while others drain a room of energy and joy.
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
September 23, 2011
Six years before he died, John Steinbeck (1902-1968) had a lonesome trip aboard a camper named Rocinante (after Don Quixote’s horse) around the USA. He said that he would like to see this country on a personal level before he died as he made a good living writing about it. Considering his heart condition, such trip alone could have been disastrous to his health but he insisted. The main question that he would like to be answered was “What are Americans like today?” and after travelling with his poodle Charley for around 10,000 miles for 3 months, he did not like the answer that he got.

He saw the wastefulness of the people. He got worried about excessive packaging that consumers liked. He noticed the ambiguity of culture brought about my mass media technologies. Advancement in technologies, though giving people instant gratification, could alienate members of the families from each other. He met people who could not be trusted even by giving the right direction. He met poor migrant potato pickers from Canada (that reminded me of the Joads family in his opus, The Grapes of Wrath). He finally saw Niagara Falls that made him happy because finally we could say we saw it already. He met unreasonable and illogical border authorities. He saw how people in different states differ on how they talk to one another and treat other people. For example, in New England people spoke very little and waited for him to come over while in Midwestern cities, people were more outgoing and did not hesitate approaching him. He got amazed on how fast the population grew in those states that he had visited before. When he visited Sauk Centre because he would like to see the birthplace of his favorite writer, Sinclair Lewis he got disheartened. A waitress in the restaurant did not know who Lewis was. In fact, ignorance, according to him, was prevalent in most people he encountered particularly in politics, economics and culture. In Texas, he despised the so-called “Cheerleaders” who were protesting the integration of black children in a school in New Orleans. In New Orleans, he learned that racism of the South was not confined with those towards blacks but also towards Jews. The trip ended with Steinbeck missing a U-turn and telling the policeman: “Officer, I’ve driven this thing all over the country – mountains, plains, deserts. And now I’m back in my own town, where I live – and I’m lost.”

This is my 3rd book by Steinbeck and for me this is the most down-to-earth. Although I have only been to California, Philadelphia, Texas and Ohio, visualizing those places he visited and conversations that he had with the people he met was not a problem. I used to enjoy watching American movies in the 50’s and 60’s and I was able to picture those scenes in my mind. Also, I think Steinbeck wanted to have a last hand long look with the people he wrote about in his novels that made him who he was – one of the greatest American authors (and certainly one of my favorite novelists of all times). So what if he had a heart problem? So what if he was alone with just a dog to talk to? So what if there was a raging snow storm outside? So what if he might be killed by dangerous mad men in the forests and highways? The thought of Steinbeck risking his life to be able to see the country for the last time and talk to the people who patronized his novels was a marked of a good artist or, simply, a good humble man.

And oh yes, if you love reading about dogs, read this because Charley could even talk. Steinbeck imagined words being said by his dog in one of the scenes and their dialogues were so clever and amusing. Steinbeck could write anything. He could make any scenario believable. Enough for me to gasp for air as his words were always outrageously breathtaking.
Profile Image for Kushagri.
59 reviews
June 6, 2023
4.5 stars

For those who have read this book,
I think I can end the review here. It says it all, doesn’t it?

I've seen a look in dogs' eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts.

John Steinbeck travels through America and the by product is a profound, humorous, delightful, and at times poignant literary treat.

I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation - a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go some day, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every state I visited.

It is an exploration of people and places, where Mr Steinbeck leaves trail of cattle and moose with broken hearts.

Charley is the best travel partner, who is a companion in loneliness, icebreaker when meeting new people, and best of all, he doesn’t fight over routes and playlists! 😉

Charley is a born diplomat. He prefers negotiation to fighting, and properly so, since he is very bad at fighting. Only once in his ten years has he been in trouble - when he met a dog who refused to negotiate. Charley lost a piece of his right ear that time. But he is a good watch dog - has a roar like a lion, designed to conceal from night-wandering strangers the fact that he couldn't bite his way out of a cornet de papier. He is a good friend and traveling companion, and vould rather travel about than anything he can imagine. If he occurs at length in this account, it is because he contributed much to the trip. A dog, particularly an exotic like Charley, is a bond between strangers. Many conversations en route began with 'What degree of a dog is that?'

The overall tone of the book was generally humorous and full of amusing anecdotes. Mr Steinbeck navigates his way through bizarre and odd situations.

The last part of the journey in New Orleans was particularly impactful and profound!

The author explores that one way to learn about life or crack the code to life is to see new places and meet strange new people and listen to their life experiences! Howsoever bizarre or amusing they may be.

The writing was captivating and deeply introspective. Mr Steinbeck tries to explore the character and identity of America through this journey. He understands that by engaging in conversations with people he meets along the way, learning their life experiences, and trying to relate with their place as Americans within the society. Through his interactions with people, Steinbeck also emphasises on the differences in backgrounds and cultures of people from different states of America. He also contemplates on the consequences of rapid urbanisation and industrialisation he witnesses in his travels, and how it’s causing the loss of identity of culture of local communities.

Through his journey, Steinbeck engages in deep self reflection, and contemplation, and tries to understand himself and the intricacies of life itself.

A number of years ago I had some experience with being alone.
For two succeeding years I was alone each winter for eight months at a stretch in the Sierra Nevada mountains on Lake Tahoe. I was a caretaker on a summer estate during the winter months when it was snowed in. And I made some observations then. As the time went on I found that my reactions thickened. Ordinarily I am a whistler. I stopped whistling. I stopped conversing with my dogs, and I believe that subtleties of feeling began to disappear until finally I was on a pleasure-pain basis. Then it occurred to me that the delicate shades of feeling, of reaction, are the result of communication, and without such communication they tend to disappear. A man with nothing to say has no words. Can its reverse be true - a man who has no one to say anything to has no words as he has no need for words?

I knew beyond all doubt that the dark things crowding in on me either did not exist or were not dangerous to me, and still I was afraid. I thought how terrible the nights must have been in a time when men knew the things were there and were deadly. But no, that's wrong. If I knew they were there, I would have weapons against them, charms, prayers, some kind of alliance with forces equally strong but on my side. Knowing they were not there made me defenseless against them and perhaps more afraid.

She wasn't happy, but then she wasn't unhappy. She wasn't anything. But I don't believe anyone is a nothing. There has to be something inside, if only to keep the skin from collapsing.

We are there travelling with Steinbeck in Rocinante, and from his stories trying to derive our own meanings from this muddle called life.

Very crisply, this book is awesome!
Please read it.
I loved it.
Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Lori  Keeton.
485 reviews121 followers
October 25, 2022
September 23, 1960, Steinbeck sets out from his home in Sag Harbor, New York with his friendly French poodle, Charley as his companion. He was only 58 years old, but had had a few health concerns that left his wife a bit worried about letting him go on his own. Steinbeck was intent on taking a journey across America and doing it all on his own. He had this need, according to his wife in the preface, to prove that he wasn’t an old man and that he was capable. This is certainly a concept that most, if not all of us come to contend with in our lives. He had finished his final novel in 1960, The Winter of our Discontent, and the tumultuousness of this decade was at the forefront of his mind since writing about America and its people was at the center of his craft.

So in an effort to get back the flavor of the United States that he felt he had lost and to gain what he called a reknowledge of my own country, of its speeches, it’s views, its attitudes and its changes, Steinbeck prepared for his 3 month journey very attentively bringing with him in his truck outfitted with a camper, everything he would need and more. His plan was to stay away from highways and cities and take the back roads and going at a pace that would allow him to actually see the country. From east coast to west, back to his home where he grew up in California, down through the southwest, Texas and Louisiana, Steinbeck observed and soaked up all that he could as he crossed the roads and by-ways of his country he wanted to become acquainted with once again.

I was right there with him as he travelled along and enjoyed the trip very much. It was enlightening and Steinbeck’s storytelling and descriptions of the beauty of the country was what made this a memorable read. This could have been boring and dull but it was quite the opposite. I wanted to keep reading to see what he would write about next. He left many little tidbits to think about along the way, bits of wisdom or thoughtfulness about something as simple as taking a trip. There are soooo many good quotes here that it’s hard to choose just a few.

A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.

A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we not take a trip; a trip takes us.

So much there is to see, but our morning eyes describe a different world than do our afternoon eyes, and surely our wearied evening eyes can report only a weary evening world.

I think today if we forbade our illiterate children to touch the wonderful things of our literature, perhaps they might steal them and find secret joy.

I wonder why it is that when I plan a route too carefully, it goes to pieces, whereas if I blunder along in blissful ignorance aimed in a fancied direction I get through with no trouble.

A dog...is a bond between strangers.

You can't go home again because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory.
Profile Image for Майя Ставитская.
1,450 reviews142 followers
January 12, 2022
"Traveling with Charlie in search of America" took. already knowing that he is extraordinarily good, he is a Master and he knows how to play my soul strings so that they sound in unison with his word. What is a "Journey"? This is a collection of essays, road impressions from a lonely journey of a writer who is under sixty and has serious heart problems (not a word is mentioned in the book about this, it's from another source) across America in a pickup truck equipped for road housing, in the company of a poodle named Charlie.

In a calm, respectful, independent manner, this is very similar to Vladimir Pozner's "One-Story America" and "Tour de France". With the difference that in addition to Urgant in the satellites, a crowd of people from the film crew followed him, and Steinbeck rode alone. And my admiration for a man who decided on such a journey, being very middle-aged, well-known, well-off and having no other prerequisites than the need to breathe fresh energy into his, stagnant in a well-fed stall, Pegasus - my admiration is immeasurable.

Looking ahead, "Journey" became a super-bestseller and led the lists for a short time (until it was pushed by another book). However, it coincided with the award of the literary Nobel, so I would not be surprised if the reason was not the merits of the book, but the inevitable surge of interest. But the book is a miracle, how good it is and reading it was a pleasure from beginning to end. I, nourished by the milk of King's novels, was interested in a look at the state of Maine from the outside and the amazing discovery was that it exactly coincided with what I read about the state and its inhabitants in King. Although I didn't know anything about potatoes for three and a half decades of love for the Master's books. Well, about the fact that Maine is such an American Belarus and that seasonal Canadians illegally cross the border during the collection, which the customs looks through their fingers.

Он был первым англоязычным писателем, которого взялась читать в оригинале. Хотя, если совсем точно, то была адаптация по методу Ильи Франка. Потому и выбрала "О мышах и людях" С одной стороны, признанный мастер; с другой, повесть небольшая по объему и как-нибудь уж осилю; но главное - адаптированное издание. Взять и начать читать на иностранном - как нырять на глубину: если перевод можно сравнить с батискафом, обеспечивающим безопасное погружение, хотя без непосредственного контакта; а просто чтение - с ощущениями ныряльщика, не имеющего между собой и средой ничего, кроме плавок; то адаптация - это легкий скафандр: ты еще не совсем в среде и не можешь почувствовать ее кожей, но уже двигаешься внутри свободно, выбираешь направление взгляда, можешь увидеть в разы больше. чем в перископ.
Итак, я выбрала тогда, четыре года назад "Мышей и людей", маялась, как водится, две трети от книги (радость - да. но и большой труд, преодоление, переламывание стереотипов), но в момент, когда Джордж рассказывает об их с Ленни мечте, о ферме, где в очаге горит огонь, испытала потрясение - особый род читательского катарсиса, полное отождествление с героем; просто стала им. И это было даже не нырять с аквалангом, а стать рыбой - ради таких мгновений волшебства преображения мы и читаем. И я полюбила Стейнбека.
Потому "Путешествие с Чарли в поисках Америки" брала. уже зная - он хорош необычайно, он Мастер и он умеет так играть на моих душевных струнах, чтобы звучали в унисон с его словом. Что такое "Путешествие"? Это сборник эссэ, дорожные впечатления от одинокого путешествия писателя, которому под шестьдесят и у него серьезные проблемы с сердцем (в книге об этом ни словом не упоминается, это из другого источника) через всю Америку на грузовичке-пикапе, оборудованном под дорожное жилье, в обществе пуделя по имени Чарли.
Спокойной, уважительной, независимой манерой это очень похоже на "Одноэтажную Америку" и "Тур де Франс" Владимира Познера. С той разницей, что кроме Урганта в спутниках, за ним колесила толпа народу из съемочной группы, а Стейнбек ехал один. И мое восхищение человеком, решившимся на такое путешествие, будучи весьма немолодым, известным, обеспеченным и не имеющим других предпосылок, кроме необходимости вдохнуть свежие силы в своего, застоявшегося в сытом стойле, Пегаса - мое восхищение безмерно.
Забегая вперед, "Путешествие" стало супербестселлером и лидировало недолгое время в списках (пока не было потеснено другой книгой). Однако по времени это совпало с присуждением литературного Нобеля, потому не удивлюсь, если причиной не достоинства книги, а неизбежный всплеск интереса. Но книга чудо, как хороша и читать ее было наслаждением от начала и до конца. Мне, вскормленной молоком кинговых романов, интересен был взгляд на штат Мэн со стороны и удивительным открытием стало, что он в точности совпал с тем, что читала о штате и его жителях у Кинга. Хотя о картошке ничего не знала за три с половиной десятка лет любви к книгам Мастера. Ну, о том, что Мэн - это такая американская Белоруссия и что через границу нелегально переходят канадцы-сезонники во время сбора, на что таможня смотрит сквозь пальцы.
Хорошо, ярко, остроумно но без злобы все. Читаешь, как едешь сам-третий с двумя путешественниками. Меняется пейзаж, сменяют друг друга времена года и климатические пояса. Меняется ментальность, в чем-то оставаясь общей, американской, в чем-то азительно отличаясь от штата к штату. Страшно, больно и непонятно в Нью-Орлеане, однако, по сути, Стейнбек ворохнул осинное гнездо, которое и не думает еще успокаиваться. И сколько еще будет всего в Америке с расовыми проблемами. Хорошо, что наша имперская экспансия двигалась иным путем.
Чудесная книга, почитайте - она того стоит.
Profile Image for Antoinette.
782 reviews61 followers
November 13, 2022
John Steinbeck, age 58, decides to take an extensive road trip to rediscover his America. His companion on this trip is Charley, his French poodle, whom I fell in love with.
During his travels, he discovers the good- kind people, beautiful scenery; the bad- miserable people, poverty, racism, waste; and the ugly- the “cheer ladies” in New Orleans, the outright hatred towards the “Negroes”.
Does he go home renewed, refreshed and reinvigorated? He goes home happy to be back with his wife, his home, his bed.
This book gave me much to reflect on. I now admire John Steinbeck, the man, as much as I admire John Steinbeck, the author.

“I wonder why progress looks so much like destruction.”

Published: 1961
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,157 followers
July 17, 2014
REALLY enjoyed this eventful journey thru 40 States with Mr. Steinbeck and his dog Charley. The adventure begins in September 1960 with Hurricane Donna before he even leaves home and ends with a historic snowstorm, but everything in the middle is pretty darn good too!

The story is written with humor, but with a profound sadness to it (perhaps due to Mr. Steinbeck's declining health) and whether the novel is truly fact or just fiction is unimportant to me as I found it an insightful and entertaining ride during a tumultuous time in America.

Profile Image for Jessaka.
902 reviews138 followers
April 28, 2020
Sharing Anecdotes with Steinbeck

Steinbeck has been one of my favorite authors beginning in the 1970s, but even before that, because when I was a child I had read “The Red Pony.” I read most of “Travels with Charley
ie” years ago, but I left it on a table somewhere when I was traveling and didn’t pick it up again in order to finish it until now. And now there is some controversy about its being fiction or non-fiction. I don’t care one way or another except to say that he could have made up better dialogues than those he presented.

Steinbeck bought a pickup truck and had a camper shell made for it. I suppose you couldn’t buy them back in the 60s. Then he got his dog Charley and put him in the seat next to him and headed out of New York City to parts unknown with the intention of driving across America. His dog was a poodle, so now I was stuck on his choice of a dog, so I decided that he was really his wife’s dog, because I can’t see Steinbeck as a poodle kind of guy. Yet, I couldn’t see him with my favorite breed of dog, an Australian shepherd. My mind drew a blank as to the type of dog I could see him owning. So, I asked my husband, who is also a Steinbeck fan:
“What kind of dog do you think that Steinbeck would have owned?”
“I don’t know.” He thought about it and finally said, “A mutt. An all-American unidentifiable mutt.”
“That sounds right,” I replied to my brilliant husband.
“Why? What kind did he own?”
“A poodle. I don’t see him with a poodle, well, not unless he never gave it a poodle cut.”
And then I saw the dog he would like in my mind’s eye. It was the Tramp dog in “Lady and the Tramp.” Yes!

I picked up the book again and began reading about his trip. He spent one night at a campground and let his mutt out of the truck so he could find some campers with whom he, Steinbeck, could get acquainted. He later went out to find him, and he was at someone’s camp site, “Is my dog bothering you?” he asked a camper. Bad idea. Never allow your dog to roam alone at a campground. When we were camping in California, a man left his dog tied up outside during the day, and two coyotes surrounded him. He was lucky that a neighbor saw this happening. You just don’t know what is out there. But for Steinbeck, it worked. He made friends, invited them to dinner, served them canned beans, and just enjoyed their company.

We were in another campground with our Aussie/border collie mix, and I had gone to the rest room. It was getting dark, and after I left the building, my husband saw me wandering around lost, so he sent our dog, Megan, out to get me. Megan found me, and I told her to go to him, and she did. We had taught her this years ago. But this just goes to show that you should never allow your wife to wander free in a campground either.

On another night, he parked on the side of a gravel road and tried to get to sleep when he heard crunching sounds on the gravel. He got up, grabbed a large flashlight and his gun and opened the door. Again, bad idea. It amazed me how a mundane story could become suspenseful, but I couldn’t imagine opening the door. I would have looked out the window or waited until the sound went away. He may have an advantage with his gun and flashlight if it had been a man, but what if it had been a bear? Of course, there may have been no bears where he had spent the night.

And now he had a cow horn on his pickup, so he drove near some moose and honked the cow horn. The moose came running to him, and he sped away. Hopefully, his truck was faster than a moose, and hopefully, he wouldn’t get stuck. I know this was fun because my stepdad had a cow horn on his pickup. One day he took a drive to Creston, CA with us kids. (Creston was a cow town with under 200 people living there. My husband and I had lived there in the late 80s.) Well, my dad knew every rancher in the area. On this day, he drove onto a rancher’s land, found his herd of cattle and blew his cow horn at them. They came running, but unlike the dangerous moose, cows are nothing to fear. If my dad got stuck, the cattle would have just stopped at the pickup and stared at us. A moose would charge, I believe. Anyway, we all thought that it was fun and began laughing. My dad just knew how to have fun, just as Steinbeck had.

Steinbeck saw Montana and believed it to be the most beautiful State in America. I agree, but so is Wyoming. He then made it to the Redwoods without saying much about the other pitstops he had visited. He was awe inspired by the tall redwood trees and became philosophical, almost religious at seeing them. It was now that I began to learn about him, and he was interesting, even a good person, I believe.

Then he headed to his hometown of Salinas. Still philosophizing, he lamented, “You can’t go home again.” Salinas had grown. It was not the same as when he was a child. Well, the same happened to my home of Paso Robles, a town just south of Salinas. And Creston, instead of cattle grazing in pastures, grape vineyards cover the land. Our house had been plowed under. I walked out to where our house once stood, dug a hole and came up with the lucky horseshoe that was once on the door entering our house. Lucky, it was not. (This part about the horseshoe was not true.)

The last part of his trip took him through the South, and he dreaded this part of his trip because the South is racist. He met a man who wasn’t a racist and who claimed that there were others like him. I know this to be true. Then he gave a black man a ride, and the man was so afraid of his questioning him that he wanted out of his truck. He gave a white man a lift, and he finally asked him to get out of his truck, just as I had asked some of my friends to get out of my life, racist comments.

Last of all, he hit me hard: He caused Charley to lose his mutthood by taking him to a groomer to get a poodle cut. Contrary to his belief, Charley wasn’t happy about this, he was humiliated. And contrary to the public’s belief, poodles are not dainty if they are not groomed.
Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
499 reviews855 followers
September 29, 2014
My dip into the fiction of John Steinbeck turned into a journey, with East of Eden, Cannery Row, Tortilla Flat, The Winter of Our Discontent, The Grapes of Wrath and Sweet Thursday. It seemed appropriate to end my tour on Travels with Charley, the author's memoir of a circuitous road trip of the United States he began in September 1960 with his French poodle, Charley.

Steinbeck's account begins at his home on Long Island, New York. Getting on in years, he realizes he's been writing about a country he hasn't actually seen in a quarter century. To remedy this, Steinbeck obtains a customized three-quarter ton pickup truck with a camper on top. Its features include a double bed, stove, refrigerator and chemical toilet. Steinbeck dubs the truck "Rocinante" after Don Quixote's horse and after weeks of planning, pries himself away from his wife, checks for stowaways and heads northeast for Maine.

So as not to distress anyone with the truth behind his rambling, Steinbeck racks a shotgun, two rifles and a couple of fishing rods in Rocinante, " ... for it is my experience that if a man is going hunting or fishing his purpose is understood and even applauded." He notes a certain look in the eyes of those he talks to about his trip, whether neighbors or strangers, and the longing they express to join him, to break free, go somewhere, anywhere, as long as it's not here.

Many have retraced Steinbeck's famous route, which passes through New England, Michigan, Illinois, Montana, the West Coast, the Southwest, Texas and New Orleans. Travels with Charley is not a comprehensive study of those areas and anyone expecting chapters to have the sizzle of a travel magazine article might be disappointed, although as a Texan, I found Steinbeck's account of the mystique of the Lone Star State to be on the money and worthy of reprint in Texas Monthly.

The journey has some ups and downs for me as a reader. His visit to off-season Maine, where a motor court's management office is completely deserted when Steinbeck arrives and completely empty when he pulls out of the parking lot the next morning, has the eerie distance of a Stephen King short story. On the other hand, Steinbeck's return to his hometown of Monterey seems cast with characters from Tortilla Flat or some other book.

Steinbeck's trip culminates in New Orleans, where he witnesses vile protests outside a desegregated school. The racist asides thrown in Steinbeck's direction from one white man to another are sickening, but what's even more revealing is the body language of a black man the author insists on giving a ride, briefly, before the passenger decides he's safer walking the roadside than riding with a white man with New York plates asking questions about the civil rights movement.

One of the revelations of Travels with Charley is how little the news cycle of the United States has really changed in fifty years. Substitute disillusionment toward FDR for disillusionment toward Obama. Substitute Russians for Al Qaeda. Substitute the debate between Kennedy/ Nixon with any political horse race going on today. Congestion, pollution, inflation are on the rise. The simplicity of our childhoods seems to be on the wane. None of this is novel to our time at all.

My love for this book, however bumpy the account, is the spell it placed over me. Who hasn't wanted to lease a truck, stock up on supplies, call the dog and light out for the road? I would never follow the route that Steinbeck chose, and I think that those who've retracted his journey in an attempt to fact check truth from fiction are missing the point. Steinbeck makes a statement for resisting the comforts of what he refers to as "a professional sick person" and living out what life you have in a rocking chair. When we surrender our curiosity, we mind as well surrender our life.
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