‘Travels with Charley in Search of America’ Book Review

Mount Readmore Book Review, 2017 78/100


Travels with Charley in Search of America By John Steinbeck

Paperback edition,

Finished on 10/3/2017


Description: In September 1960, John Steinbeck embarked on a journey across America. He felt that he might have lost touch with the country, with its speech, the smell of its grass and trees, its color and quality of light, the pulse of its people. To reassure himself, he set out on a voyage of rediscovery of the American identity, accompanied by a distinguished French poodle named Charley; and riding in a three-quarter-ton pickup truck named Rocinante.

Genres: America, Americana, Memoir, History

A man and his dog travel through 1960 America.

Spoiler-tastic review

As it turns out, John Steinbeck can write really well.

This is the first book of Steinbeck’s I have read. Clocking in at 214pages, this was a brisk 2 day read for me. Suggested to me by my father, I found that I really did enjoy this novel for its own sake. Written in the waning years of his life, Steinbeck was unafraid to touch upon controversial topics including Southern segregation and nuclear submarines as well as less controversial topics like birthday-pancakes for his dog Charley and laconic New Englanders.

This book’s contents are straight out of a time capsule. Discussing the events of the Kennedy Presidency and school de-segregation in the South, this novel serves as something of a first person source for yesteryear. However I found the quieter representation of history’s forgotten aspects to be more interesting. For me, his discussion of soup served via vending machine and extreme levels of pollution in American cities were straight out of a disturbing time-warp

The author’s voice was plainspoken, but also delightfully sarcastic at points. He talked about the people he met in his adventures and misadventures, including everything from Quebec field hands to Texan millionaire Thanksgiving ‘orgies.’ His uncomplicated prose reflects an uncomplicated man- he’s just driving around seeing the sights and trying to get by.

I enjoyed this book for Charley the dog. Charley, aka the dog who goes ‘Ftt,’ keeps Steinbeck sane on his adventures around America. He’s a good boy usually, with one or two notable exceptions (including a few run ins with Yellowstone Grizzlies). While Charley does suffer two medical emergencies, he not only survives them but he comes out better than ever.

I would highly recommend this book to someone wanting to savor a bit of Americana lit. In years to come I will read some more of Steinbeck’s work.

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