I recently finished reading Travels With Charley – In Search of America, by John Steinbeck. Though I’d read many of his novels and short stories, this was the first time I’d read any non-fiction by him, and I was pleasantly impressed with his humor and easy-to-read, friendly writing style.
Travels With Charley is a travel narrative. He wrote it while taking a three-month cross-country trip in 1960. He and his black poodle, Charley, toured the United States in a truck with a camper built onto it. Steinbeck couldn’t see everything but he wrote about his experiences in Maine, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana, Oregon, California, Texas, Louisiana, and his home state, New York.
Although he took the trip to reconnect with common Americans, he spent a lot of time writing about his dog, Charley. I loved reading about his trials with the dog because I’ve got one of my own.
Steinbeck concealed his true identity from most people he met along the way so they would act naturally around him. By then he was a famous author; this was his last book. He felt out of touch with the people he was famous for writing about, and believed this was the way to revitalize his outlook on American life.
Along the way he met Canadian farm workers, motel owners, some old friends in Monterey County, California, rich Texans, and many others. He had a bit to say about politics, and provided heartfelt comments about racial unrest in the deep south. While waiting to connect with his wife who flew to Chicago to spend a few days with him, he unraveled the mystery life of a former hotel guest by examining clues left in an upscale hotel room he’d been given access to. And he spared the lives of two coyotes in the Mojave Desert.
I’m glad I took the time to read Steinbeck’s last book. I can never get enough of his writing.