BookReview: Travels With Charley: In Search of America
by John Steinbeck, Penguin Books, 1986, 0 14 00.5320 4

Excellent book about life in America. Steinbeck took a three month trip across America in his camper with his standard poodle Charley. He describes the scenary and people.

[p4] A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. I feel better now, having said this, although only those who have experienced it will understand it.

[p6] Furthermore, two or more people disturb the ecologic complex of an area.

[p7] A projected journey spawns advisers in schools.

[p9] A man who seeing his mother starving to death on a path kicks her in the stomach to clear the way, will cheerfuly devote several hours of his time giving wrong directions to a total stranger who claims to be lost.

[p10] They spoke about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every state I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move.

[p11] Also I laid in a hundred and fifty pounds of those books one hasn't got around to reading--and of course those are the books one isn't ever going to get around to reading.

[p21] I wish I could like submarines, for then I might find them beautiful, but they are designed for destruction, and while they may explore and chart the sea bottom, and draw new trade lines under the Arctic ice, their main purpose is threat. And I remember too well crossing the Atlantic on a troop ship and knowing that somewhere on the way the dark things lurked searching for us with their single-stalk eyes. Somehow the light goes bleak for me when I see them and remember burned men pulled from the oil-slicked sea. And now sumbarines are armed with mass murder, our sill, only way of deterring mass murder.

[p34] Early-rising men not only do not talk much to strangers, they barely talk to one another. Breakfast conversation is limited to a series of laconic grunts. The natural New England taciturnity reaches its glorious perfection at breakfast.

[p39] [I]n our time a beard is the one thing a woman cannot do better than a man, or if she can her success is assured only in a circus.

[p43] I can never get used to the thousands of antique shops along the roads, all bulging with authentic and attested trash from an earlier time. I believe the population of the thirteen colonies was less than four million souls, and every one of them must have been frantically turning out tables, chairs, china, glass, candle molds, and oddly shaped bits of iron, copper, and brass for future sale to twentieth-century tourists.

[p46] Strange how one person can saturate a room with vitality, with excitement. Then there are others, and this dame was one of them, who can drain off energy and joy, can suck pleasure dry and get no sustenance from it.

[p84] I find out of long experience that I admire all nations and hate all governments, and nowhere is my natural anarchism more aroused than at national borders where pationt and efficient public servants carry out their duties in matters on immigration and customs.

[p90] When we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.

[p106] I who love words and the endless possibility of words am saddened by [the uniformity of speech across th nation] this inevitability. For with local accent will disappear local tempo. The idioms, the figures of speech that make language rich and full of the poetry of place and time must go. And in their place will be a national speech, wrapped and packaged, standard and tasteless. Localness is not gon. but it is going.

[p107] It is the nature of a man as he grows older, a small brindge in time, to protest against change, particularly change for the better. But it is true that we have exchanged corpulence for starvation, and either one will kill us. [...] Perhaps my greatest wisdom is the knowledge that I do not know. The sad ones are those who waste their energy in trying to hold it back, for they can only feel bitterness in loss and no joy in gain.

[p137] Having a companion fixes you in time and that the present, but when the quality of aloneness settles down, past, present, and future all flow together. A memory, a present event, and a forecast all equally present.

[p182] When a city begins to grow and spread outward, from the edges, the center which was once its glory is in a sense abandoned to time. [...] And then one day perhaps the city returns and rips out the sore and builds a monument to its past.

[p197] It is obvious that within a very short time a whole new method of taxation will have to be devised, else the burden on real estate will be so great that no one will be able to afford it; far from being a source of profit, ownership will be a penalty, and this will be the apex of a pyramid of paradoxes.

[p210] California Chinese, Boston Irish, Wisconsin German, yes, and Alabama Negroes, have more in common than they have apart. And this is the more remarkable because it has happened so quickly. It is a fact that Americans from all sections and of all racial extractions are more alike than the Welsh are like the English, the Lancashireman like the Cockney, or for that matter the Lowland Scot like the Highlander. It is astonishing that this has happened in less than two hundred years and most of it in the last fifty. The American identity is an exact and provable thing.

Via Rob 1990