Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck: Book Review

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Cover of Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck4 Stars

John Steinbeck and his poodle Charley take off in a modified RV for a trip around the country.

Will the real Jennifer G please stand up? I seem to have lost myself somewhere along the way.

When did I become a fan of Steinbeck? Because I now have to admit that I am. I held a grudge against him for years because of The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, both of which I was forced to read in high school. I’ve been in denial for a couple of years but I just re-read Grapes and actually liked it. And looking back through all the passages of this book that I flagged, I realized that I love the way this man writes.

I still don’t forgive him for Lennie and can’t imagine that I ever will, but if we both ignore that, we get along just fine. Better than fine.

It’s been almost two years since I read this, but I do remember that Steinbeck’s observations, conversations, and chronicles of daily left held me pretty much spellbound. I’ll even let you in on a secret: the man had a sense of humor. Steinbeck! Dark, depressing Steinbeck! I literally laughed out loud several times as I read this. I remember a passage about hunting in New England (I think) that had me in stitches. Another section I had forgotten but flagged was about introducing Charley to sequoias and redwoods. “But from the start I had withheld from him any information about the giant redwoods. It seemed to me that a Long Island poodle who had made his devoirs to Sequoia sempervirens or Sequoia gigantea might be set apart from other dogs–might even be like that Galahad who saw the Grail. The concept is staggering.”

Originally published in 1962, many of Steinbeck’s observations still hold today. I was shaking my head at how little things change in the fundamentals.

“It occurs to me that, just as the Carthaginians hired mercenaries to do their fighting for them, we Americans bring in mercenaries to do our hard and humble work. I hope we many not be overwhelmed one day by peoples not too proud or too lazy or too soft to bend to the earth and pick up the things we eat.”

“With all the polls and opinion posts, with newspapers more opinion than news so that we no longer know one from the other….”

I recommend this for a slice of American life in an earlier time and for a different look at an author who many seem to label as depressing.

I read this book but I can only find an audio excerpt, read by Gary Sinise.

Buy Travels with Charley in Search of America at

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.

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