Reading a Classic
John Steinbeck with his traveling companion, Charley.
I love to read lists about books that I should have read before I graduated from high school, or lists of books that every well-read person has on their shelves, or lists of classics that I must read before I die.
This week the Morning Book Discussion Club at Cook Park discussed a book that I probably should have read in high school and probably should have on my shelf at home. I’m glad that I did read it before I…well, I’m glad I finally read it.
Travels with Charley In Search of America by John Steinbeck is a travelogue of Steinbeck’s three-month trip back in 1960 across America in his trailer “Rocinante” with his faithful, aging French poodle, Charley. Steinbeck plans to see a cross section of America, talk to strangers, listen to political views, enjoy the view and write about his experiences and what he learned. His trip didn’t exactly go the way he planned.
I laughed at his personification of Charley and his interactions with characters along the way. I marveled at the beautiful country he was describing. He went back to Salinas, California, where he was born and raised and realized that “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Toward the end of his journey, Steinbeck was traveling along the Deep South at the beginning of school integration and saw a side of America that discouraged and disgusted him.
I can see that this is a small memoir that I will want to re-read. Many of Steinbeck’s observations and impressions are still true after 50 years. There are layers of insight and emotion that I haven’t unearthed which is a sign of a classic and the work of a great writer.