John Steinbeck is most famous for his fictional books;
particularly ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ or ‘Of mice and men’ which many of you were
likely introduced to for a piece of English coursework. This is a different a
book. A book about Steinbeck’s own travels and one travel in particular which
he, alongside his French poodle Charley, took -driving across the USA.
Being a successful author Steinbeck was able to get his hands
on a pick up with a camping cab attached kitted out to be comfortable for 4
months on the road. He set off on the journey in September 1960 with the
intention of re-discovering his country. In his later life Steinbeck had become
somewhat disillusioned with the consumerism, greed and loss of community values
running rampant in the United States. He describes how after spending time in
Europe he needed to "re-knowledge" his own country, hearing its views, attitudes and
seeing any changes first-hand.
The book is beautifully written as you would expect from a
winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. Steinbeck’s ability to paint a
landscape into your mind’s eye is so natural, subtle and unparalleled. His
journey took him across every terrain going and into the lives of many ‘characters’,
some of whom he suggests showed perfectly the kindness of strangers and others
who challenge his own quite vocal ideals. It is really is a warm, descriptive, humurous and
charming account. You get sucked into learning his travelling routines and hear
about his view of a 1960’s USA, all told exquisitely.
I picked this book up because I’d enjoyed a few of Steinbeck’s
classics (‘Tortilla Flat’ being my favourite), this is obviously an altogether
different beast and a really good opportunity to learn a bit about the man
behind the author (and his dog). But not only this, you are treated to the
diary of a man having a thoroughly genuine adventure and one of the purest
going, getting himself from ‘A’ to ‘B’ without a formulated plan, just stopping
where suits and picking up stories on route.
This book will always remain a favourite in my collection
and deserves to sit on your shelf amongst the classics. ‘Travels with Charley’ - the ultimate ‘one
man and his dog’ tale.