Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck—Goodreads Book Review

Originally posted on Goodreads.com.

I’ll preface this review with two caveats: first, I did not read this book. Instead, I listened to the audiobook voiced by Gary Sinise, and it was excellent. Second, I’ve been fortunate enough to drive across the USA more than once via different routes. Both of these made me thoroughly enjoy this book, and I knew within the first few chapters that it would make me want to do several things: enjoy more work by both Steinbeck and Sinise, find a dog like Charlie, and take my own road trip across America.

Of course, much has changed since Steinbeck made his trip. Indeed (not to jump ahead), this book or portions of it could be included in any course or high school study unit on the Civil Rights movement. What I found I enjoyed most — and which I would most worry would be missing were I to take my own trip — was the consistent theme of the mid-20th century sensibility of modesty, understatement, and yet humble pride among the people Steinbeck found in his travels. I don’t doubt this still exists, and that one might still trade a cup of coffee or whiskey for a trusty conversation wherein no names are needed nor expected. However, from my own trips I’ve found the KOA campsite has replaced the corner of farmland (though the respect for coffee and whiskey, perhaps, has not depreciated).

Not only Steinbeck’s descriptions of the Northwest or the South make this book worth reading, but his reflective commentary on America, as well as on the human person. Having grown up in and traversed California several times, I found Steinbeck’s take on returning to his home of Monterey especially poignant. I’d expect people from across the US, especially those with familial connections to the mid-west, would equally find enough homage and reflection to chew on. Conversely, I could also see myself using this book in my second-language English classes and tutoring sessions to give students and friends from other cultures a more personal view of the 20th century American ethos than they would find in a history book. Also, if you’re a dog lover, this book might be for you — Charlie is appropriately included in the title, his being a prominent character and occasion for commentary in the book. Definitely worth the read — though I’d also recommend the audiobook.

Author: dustinllovell

Writing professor, literature and US history tutor, previous ESL instructor, and would-be novelist who enjoys/specializes in Shakespeare, 19th century lit, and philosophy (whether in print or via audiobook). Author of the novel Sacred Shadows and Latent Light (Wipf and Stock, Resources Imprint). Member of Heterodox Academy. Columnist for The Mallard.

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