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Arbie's Unoriginally Titled Book Blog

It's a blog! Mainly of book reviews.

Currently reading

Station Zero
Philip Reeve
Progress: 220/282 pages
The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition
Ursula K. Le Guin, Charles Vess
Progress: 749/997 pages
The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry
Robert Chandler
The Uncertain Land and Other Poems
Patrick O'Brian
Progress: 8/160 pages
The Heptameron (Penguin Classics)
Marguerite de Navarre
Progress: 152/544 pages
The Poems and Plays of John Masefield
John Masefield
Progress: 78/534 pages
Poems Selected
Emily Dickinson, Ted Hughes
Progress: 4/50 pages
Selected Poems
U A Fanthorpe
Progress: 18/160 pages
The Penguin Book of Scottish Verse
Mick Imlah, Robert Crawford
Hainish Novels & Stories, Vol. 2
Ursula K. Le Guin
Progress: 133/789 pages

Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck

Travels With Charley - John Steinbeck

I haven't read many travelogues; off-hand I can only think of three prior to this one. Two of those were pleasant enough but unspectacular and the other was so dull I did not finish. But this is Steinbeck! Travelogue by a Nobel Prize winning writer - surely it's got to be good? After all I'm a big fan of his fiction - surely I would like this!

And I did. It's 1962 and Steinbeck has decided he's out of touch with his own country so he's going to go on a road trip in a camper van, taking his dog, Charley the elderly French Poodle, with him and leaving his wife behind...interesting choice there, John! But before he can leave a hurricane hits Long Island and he has to heroically rescue his boat. This tale of adventure before the trip even starts reminds me that Steinbeck was a fully paid up member of the WAMS - that is the White American Macho School (of writers). The founding father of this school was Jack London and the epitome was Earnest Hemingway. Note that what they wrote is irrelevant; membership is determined by their character and actions. Steinbeck's macho tendencies seem to be somewhat mellowed by age at the point of embarking on this trip - but not if his beloved boat is at stake!

So Macho John goes off to explore 40 of the lower 48 States in the space of a few months, decrying "progress" as he goes; insufficiently macho nature of the new generation, rampant comsumerism (you ain't seen nothin' yet, John!), inner city decay, enormous population growth, consequent environmental degradation... But this is no litany of complaints, most of it involves high quality description of the landscape and poking gentle fun at all and sundry (including himself and Charley) in various amusing anecdotes - reminding me that when he wanted to, Steinbeck could write humour as well as despair, something I find easy to forget.

Towards the end he arrives in the Deep South which is going through the throes of Desegregation and we are treated for the first and only time, to Steinbeck's anger, outrage and contempt; he can't figure out why anybody thinks Black people are different from White people in any meaningful way, you see...

Well worth a look if you're a Steinbeck fan; if you aren't, well, it's still worth a look!