John Steinbeck
Travels with Charley: In Search of America
Book Review by Author/Illustrator Ross Anthony

A fellow who attended a recent signing of my newest book "Zen Repair and the Art of Riding Chili" immediately drew comparisons to Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley" and, of course, suggested I read it. I took him up on that and here's my review.

I've had mixed results with Steinbeck in the past. "Of Mice and Men" made quite an impression, but "The Pearl" bored me. Last year I decided to give him another shot when I ran across "Red Pony" at a used bookstore. I liked it. But, you're right, I'm reviewing "Travels with Charley" here.

This first person narrative reads much easier than his fiction. It's homier, more personal, and allows us to voyeur into his life. As with his fiction, though, there are a few dryer patches where the movement slows to a drag in order to paint a still picture. Or, like the chapter that broadly strokes Texas into a summary, some sections come off closer to obligatory than entertaining. But fear not, Steinbeck masterfully crafts a journey full of word passages that waft with beauty and grace right off the pages. Let him drive you in his camper/truck beyond any particular American geographic location into juicy philosophical/political quandary or better yet, the backyard of some specific American we'll have the pleasure to get to know in a brief, yet telling conversation. As intermittently as windshield wipers, he strikes points with clever thought, beautifully poetic language and metaphors as slick as a gravel road on a rainy day.

As for any sweeping conclusions, Steinbeck pretty much refuses to reduce the trip to any statement on what Americans are or America is ... though he does enjoy the challenge. And somewhere, right there in the middle of the question he breaks for a dramatic, powerful moment of American history. He eyewitnesses a desegregation protest in the South. A small "Negro" girl, escorted by local and state police, is lead to an all white school against the foul cries of a group of media-loving ladies known as the "Cheerleaders."

Despite this tense moment, most of Steinbeck's American road trip encounters are warm and friendly. You feel you're invited to the chat. As anonymously as possible, this famous author happily gets up to pour you a cup of coffee sweetened with a shot of whiskey, and leave the flask out for you.

Below are some quotes I favored. (btw, Charley is his dog.)

"Knowing they were not there made me defenseless against them and perhaps more afraid."

"The technique must be learned the way I learned it, by failures."

"It was like starting to write a novel. When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then gradually I write one page and then another. One day's work is all I can permit myself to contemplate and I eliminate the possibility of ever finishing."

Read more Book Reviews by Author/Illustrator Ross Anthony.

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Copyright © 1998-2023 Ross Anthony, Author - Speaker - Solo World Circumnavigator In addition to reviewing films and interviewing celebs at, traveling the world, composing great music, motivational speaking, Mr. Anthony also runs his own publishing company in the Los Angeles area. While traversing the circumference of the planet writing books and shooting documentaries, Mr. Anthony has taught, presented for, worked &/or played with locals in over 30 countries & 100 cities (Nairobi to Nagasaki). He's bungee-jumped from a bridge near Victoria Falls, wrestled with lions in Zimbabwe, crashed a Vespa off a high mountain road in Taiwan, and ridden a dirt bike across the States (Washington State to Washington DC). To get signed books ("Rodney Appleseed" to "Jinshirou") or schedule Ross to speak check out: or call 1-800-767-7186. Go into the world and inspire the people you meet with your love, kindness, and whatever it is you're really good at. Check out books by Ross Anthony. Rand() functions, Pho chicken soup, rollerblading, and frozen yogurt (w/ blueberries) also rock! (Btw, rand is short for random. It can also stand for "Really Awkward Nutty Dinosaurs" -- which is quite rand, isn't it?) Being alive is the miracle. Special thanks to Ken Kocanda, HAL, Jodie Keszek, Don Haderlein, Mom and Pops, my family, R. Foss, and many others by Ross Anthony. Galati-FE also deserves a shout out. And thanks to all of you for your interest and optimism. Enjoy great films, read stirring novels, grow.

Last Modified: Wednesday, 29-Feb-2012 11:20:29 PST