The secondary title of John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley reads “In Search of America.” This book, however, is not a clichéd adventure story of Steinbeck’s search for the meaning of life. It is simply the world according to Steinbeck, and a fascinating world it is. The book is nonfiction, a memoir chronicling Steinbeck’s drive across America with Charley, his French Poodle, as his only companion. “A journey,” Steinbeck writes, “is a person in itself; no two are alike…We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” Through all of his witty and entertaining impressions of the people and places he and Charley encounter, we never forget that it is he who is writing, not some omnipresent voice making declarations about America. Yet, Steinbeck still seems to sneak a few words of wisdom between the lines. He has a way of maintaining a tone of nonchalance while also expressing meaningful truths. These truths, along with Steinbeck’s engaging tone, make his story timeless. For almost fifty years, Steinbeck has shared his travels not only with Charley, but also with all of us. If nothing else, this book is simply fun to read, and anyone who has not yet curled up in Steinbeck’s passenger seat should do so very soon. After all, if Steinbeck is right and no two journeys are ever the same, the only way to learn what he learned is to take his journey with him again and again.
Travels With Charley. John Steinbeck. Penguin Books. 277 pp. $10.00