Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

Travels with Charley: In Search of AmericaTravels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a travelogue by the Nobel-winning novelist. I first read this book when I was in high school, several decades ago. I remember being disappointed in it. It seemed like a pompous old man pontificating arrogantly about a hard-drinking macho lifestyle I found repulsive. It was also rather boring, talking mostly about mundane things like stopping at gas stations and hassling with border officials.

This time around, mandated by my book club, I reread it. I found it quite enjoyable, perhaps because I’ve become a pontificating old man. Don’t get me wrong. Steinbeck is shamelessly egotistical and wedded to a male-dominated anachronistic reality that no longer exists, if it did even then. But I picked up on many more of his mostly astute observations about people in this reading. Steinbeck clearly was a hearty drinker and could be pompous, but he didn’t display a mean streak that I somehow falsely remembered. He showed considerable tact and tolerance and was successful in bringing out both the good and bad in the people he met along the way. The writing was a lot better than I remembered, too. It’s a craft I have come to appreciate much more now. His devotion to his dog, Charley, was mostly touching, although should have been toned down a notch, but the devotion to his truck/camper Rocinante was truly over-the-top. Steinbeck’s choice of the name was eerily fitting since in the end he came across as very much like Don Quixote, an unintentional parody of a wandering knight of bygone days.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Ron McLarty and the reader was outstanding, perfect for the role, all the way down to the regional accents.

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