Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Travels with Charley: In Search of America - John Steinbeck....an RV book and a Nobel Prize for literature all at once? How can you go wrong? Where did I go wrong in not reading this 1961 masterpiece long before now? Maybe it was a good thing because at this stage in my life I can really enjoy and appreciate the content.
The content gives you the hilarious and the soul searching cultural introspection all in a relatively short 210 pages. Steinbeck was in his late fifties when he began a cross country trip with his dog Charley and a three quarter ton truck and camper. The camper was named "Rocinante" which was the name of Don Quitoxe's steadfast horse. After many years of international travel and the high life of an important author, Steinbeck felt he may have lost touch with his countrymen. This trip was an effort to reconnect. Early on in the trip Steinbeck states that "We do not take a trip: the trip takes us.", and so it is he travels across the country recording his travels and observations. Most are not planned by him, they are controlled by the trip.
The two constants are his steed Rocinante and his standard poodle, Charley. Steinbeck waxes eloquent and hilarious when describing the character and foibles of his very French poodle. I was in literal stitches as he described showing his companion a redwood forest for the first time.
"Now there is not any question that Charley was rapidly becoming a tree expert of enormous background. He could probably get a job as a consultant with the Davies people. But from the first I had withheld from him any information about the giant redwoods."
"After this experience he might be translated mystically to another plane of existence, to anther dimension, just as the redwoods seem to be out of time and out of our ordinary thinking. The experience might even drive him mad."
In the true French manner however, Charley barely acknowledged these giants at all and Steinbeck mused that if he thought Charley did it to make a joke he would kill him.
About his own ability to navigate he was also eloquent in his lack of ability...
"I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found..."
It's not all lighthearted travel commentary however. Steinbeck visits New Orleans in the midst of a particularly nasty episode in the desegregation of the public schools in that area. In this arena his writing becomes darker. It is equally as eloquent, but darker. He states his opinions and beliefs but steers clear of offering solutions to society's problems.
This was a delightful read, totally deserving of the praise of the many people and institutions that have done so.
Thanks for visiting.