I’ll admit it now: I don’t like John Steinbeck. I didn’t like anything I had read by him, including The Grapes of Wrath. “But it’s such an important book!” many might scream. Yes, and I agree whole heartedly that it’s one of the most important books ever written, and it’s portrayal of The Great Depression is gripping. Yet, you can still respect a book without liking it. That’s how I feel about most people, but I digress. Travels With Charley: In Search of America changed my perception of Steinbeck’s work completely.
The novel follows Steinbeck as he travels through the United States with his French poodle, Charley, as his only companion. He takes the roadtrip in 1960, and was moved to see his country on a personal level after writing about it his entire life. Steinbeck makes this life journey in a camper named Rocinante, named after Don Quixote’s horse. His trip, from start to finish, is about 10,000 miles. He takes this trip at a vital time of his life – he recently found out, before planning this trip, that he was dying. Steinbeck sets out to see the country he wrote about for years, and keeps in mind one question, ” what are Americans like today?”
photo via willmydoghateme
But why am I sitting here saying it’s the best travelogue written? Well, Steinbeck gives us an honest portrayal of a traveler’s curiosity. Not only is going so he can see what all of America looks like, but he wants to relate to the people that inspired his work. He looks at everything cleanly and honestly, and isn’t afraid to expose his true feeling about how America was going downhill, and that he didn’t enjoy what he was finding. I mean, think about it: the man is dying, decides to travel the country, only to find out that he didn’t exactly like what he saw in fellow Americans. I admire that he was able to be blunt about the whole thing, yet imagine the disappointment he might have felt in this realization? It’s a tough pill to swallow. Steinbeck’s disappointment was more for the fact that he was worried about America’s sustainability and future with the rate we were going back in 1960. Now, in 2013, don’t you think that he had a point?
Steinbeck’s novel is the best travelogue, mainly for its pure honesty. Yes, he romanticizes a lot seeing as he is a novelist. No, this isn’t giving an ideological stance on the wonders and good-feeling parts of travel during the entier novel, yet his point is clear, and it’s still a novel that’s fun to read and a definite must before going on any trip.