Sunday, October 31, 2010
Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
I'm very happy to have read this book. This book has marked the beginning of my reading to better myself as an English major. Since I am such an honest man, I will gladly give thanks to fellow blogger and IRL friend SillyHats (http://thought-bulbs.blogspot.com/) who recommended I give Steinbeck a try one day at our local Borders. Although Mr. Steinbeck has never been a stranger to me, it would be untruthful to say that I've known and been familiar with him. My first--and previously only--experience with his writings was the ever so popular Of Mice and Men. It was a required reading for my high school English class, meaning roughly eighty percent of the students felt contempt and apathy towards it. I enjoyed myself and thought it was a nice book. Thus, with this reputation of John Steinbeck in my mind, I felt my friend couldn't be wrong in recommending him to me.
After skimming through his novels with their bright, orange spines, I finally settled on the autobiographical memoir, Travels with Charley. It had the most interesting to offer: A non-fiction memoir about travelling, observations about people across the country, and plenty of monologue from Steinbeck himself. As opposed to his other books, Travels with Charley is about the author pouring his thoughts straight out onto text. The book does this in a nice and orderly fashion; related passages of text are grouped together in a nameless series of "chapters." As you read, you begin to pick up on his pattern. He often starts by talking about the journey itself including the roads he travels, the cities and landscapes he passes, details about the particular state he is travelling through, etc. Eventually, one of these topics will lead John onto a tangent on something very insightful about people, our way of life, and subjects that borderline philosophical. I find it necessary to note that these rants can often be nostalgic about the past, before freeways and unnecessary luxuries, before coffee didn't suck and before everything was "tasteless." Mr. Steinbeck is an old fashioned man about those sort of things. His thoughts and conversations with the people he meets are also worthy of note.
From these monologues, I found Steinbeck to be a very admirable man. He is truly a manly man, but also a refined and well spoken gentleman. The manliest of men, in my opinion, is one who can keep his composure at all times, but isn't afraid to get stern when necessary. One of my favorite parts has to be one John explains his view on the dilema of old age, stating that the man of the house becomes a child when faced with the pain of aging and a visit from the doctor. Despite his own old age, Steinbeck is well aware of the risks involved, taking them "as a consequence, not as a punishment." In response to the older men who decide to take it easy, he says the manliest thing I've ever read: "... in my own life I am not willing to trade quality for quantity. If this projected journey should prove too much then it was time to go anyway. I see too many men delay their exits with a sickly, slow reluctance to leave the stage. It's bad theater as well as bad living. I am very fortunate in having a wife who likes being a woman, which means that she likes men, not elderly babies."
There was some other awesome stuff too, but I haven't got the drive or the patience to finish. I conclude though by saying that Travels with Charley: In Search of America is an interesting read about a manly man and his dog travelling through and attempting to discover a younger America.