Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck

I know that John Steinbeck is a great author, he wrote classic novels. I have only read one, The Grapes of Wrath. I have thought about reading some of his others, specifically Of Mice and Men, but I have never gotten around to it.

While reading the Higdon Chronicles, he mentioned a few books that inspired him. One of them was Travels with Charley. When I finished Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, I decided to take a look a Steinbeck’s travel book.

Unlike Steinbeck’s classics, Travels With Charley is a documentary of his search for America. This was written in the early 1960s, before the interstate system was as prominent as it is today. He spent some time on the interstate and turnpikes, but most of his travel was along what is now considered back roads.

He starts with having a trusty stead, Rocinante, named for Don Quixote’s horse. He had ordered a pick-up truck which he had converted into a camper. He tells of his preparations and goal for the trip.

I liked his interactions with people along his path, and his stories of the areas. There are times I feel that I am riding with him, and I can see myself in some of the places. This makes me want to be out riding even more. He travels from the east coast to Salinas, CA, then back. Once he gets to Salinas, he shares that “you can’t go home again.” He tells of his home town and friends and family still there.

He leaves California and makes his way to visit friends in Texas for Thanksgiving. He has now realized that people are not what they always seem. He makes his way to New Orleans during some racial tensions. He tells of parking Rocinante a few miles from where there has been a protest outside a school where a protest, the Cheerleaders, was being held daily to show disagreement with racial integration.

Once he leaves New Orleans, the last chapter is an editorial on racial discrimination in the South. He then takes a direct trip back to New York City and his home. He briefly mentions two hitch-hikers who he picks up, one extremely prejudiced who is dropped off at the side of the road, and the other a young black man on his way back to college.

Without the closing editorial, I enjoyed the book. His own prejudices were expected, but I think he went a little too far. He seemed to just change when he made the turn into New York City.

I will now give Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand an attempt.

Gary

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