Thursday, April 14, 2011

Travels with Charlie in Search of America, John Steinbeck

If you have ever dreamed of having an open ended road trip, then this is the book for you.  I have also read another Steinbeck novel, namely The Winter of Our Discontent, and that would certainly be a separate and worthy blog entry.   This novel was also a literary masterpiece (well, it is Steinbeck!) but lighter and a lot more fun to read than the former.

Written as true memoir of Steinbeck's open ended road trip across the United States with his full size poodle Charlie and his camper, Rocinante, Steinbeck's goal was of a lofty sort.   He wanted to understand what America was all about.   His focus was on meeting people and experiencing the varied experience of America the Beautiful.  His misadventures with Charlie were very entertaining (I just love dog stories). 

I choose this book to blog about because I was reminded how great a book it was when I saw it on a local Reading Club list this last week.  The year that I read it, I bought some copies for friends, though neglected to procure a copy for myself.  I believe I will correct that error this week.

A few years back, I was traveling through Salinas California (Steinbeck's home town) and stopped at the National Steinbeck Center.  Much to my delight, they had exhibits dedicated to his books, and there, in the museum, was Rocinante (or perhaps a Rocinante impostor) with a big fake curly white haired poodle in the front seat.  This is embracing life!

For an interesting historical review check out this excellent review (Atlantic Monthly) written in 1962, when this book was new.

I found this book inspirational in its goals, but at some point Steinbeck had enough of the experience, and just headed back home. I felt that the book left me wanting more.  Why did he have to go home already?  But you know, if Steinbeck is finished, than that is the end.  It is not to me, a poor hapless reader, to ask for dessert.  I've already had a feast.