I declared a quest several month back – I am reading a book by an author from each state – alphabetically of course  (you can read about my quest here).  For my selection from California, I chose John Steinbeck;  the book – Travels with Charley In Search for America.


In 1960, at the age of 58, John Steinbeck bought a truck, modified it with a camper, and drove across the United States with his  10 year old “blue” standard poodle Charley. He named the truck Rocinante, Don Quixote’s horse. According to his son, Steinbeck wanted to know what Americans were like, after all, he’d been writing about America for decades.

Starting off in Long Island, he travels up to Maine and then over to the Pacific Northwest, down into his native Salinas Valley in California, over to Texas, to New Orleans and back, covering nearly 10,000 miles. In a 50th anniversary of the book, the introduction stated:

“it would be a mistake to take this travelogue too literally, as Steinbeck was at heart a novelist.”


I don’t want to recount his entire journey, I want you to discover it yourself.  At times it is comical, as when he tried to pass into Canada and couldn’t because Charley didn’t have the proper identification.

Steinbeck made it clear he found wastefulness and technology pervasive in America. He developed a fascination with mobile homes, which allowed American’s to pick up and leave. And, he felt the government made the “people” feel small, the government just didn’t care.

Here are some quick facts about John Steinbeck:

  • Born in 1902 in Salinas California, living there most of his life, but later moved to New York City and Lake Tahoe
  • Won the Pulitzer Prize for The Grapes of Wrath in 1939
  • Won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962
  • Worked as a correspondence in WWII and injured in North Africa returning home in 1944
  • He had a very left wing political leaning, attending strikes and meetings of workers unions
  • Stood up for Arthur Miller during the “House Un-American Committee” trials
  • Traveled to Russia many times and he felt it made him an FBI target (which they continue to deny)

Here are some quotes from Travels with Charley:

  • “I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.”
  • “A sad soul can kill  you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.”
  • “I wonder why progress looks so much like destruction.”
  • “we value virtue but do not discuss it. The honest bookkeeper, the faithful wife, the earnest scholar get little of our attention compared to the embezzler, the tramp, the cheat.”
  • “A journey is like a marriage, the certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”
  • “There are two kinds of people in the world, observers and non-observers.”
  • “I suppose our capacity for self-delusion is boundless.”
  • “I find out of long experience that I admire all nations and hate all governments.”

john-steinbeck-rocinante-camperThere has been much written about the book being primarily fiction, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care that he only apparently spent a handful of nights in his truck, that his wife met him along the way several times  – I just didn’t care. I still enjoyed reading it.

Oh – I admit it – I had to make sure Charley made it through the book prior to reading it. I enjoyed it so much, I now have Cannery Row sitting in my stack to read!

Just so you know- Salinas, California, Steinbeck’s birthplace is known at the “Salad Bowl of the World” – over 30% of all the lettuce in the world is grown there. Throw that little tidbit out at your next cocktail party!

Now, on to Colorado!

10 thoughts on “MY QUEST #6 OFF TO CALIFORNIA

  1. Deborah Weber

    What a fun review Vickie. Charley was a cutie wasn’t he? As an aside, apropos to nothing relevant, the first time I saw a standard poodle when I was a very young child, I thought it was a lamb. I was so excited there was a lamb in our city neighborhood.

    I’m happy to add the Salad Bowl of the World factoid to my collection of trivia to pop out at parties, and look forward to hearing what you’ve chosen for Colorado. Happy reading.

  2. Nancy Jambor

    I read this book years ago and loved it! I found it to be a fascinating journey and I loved Charley. Thanks for sharing this with us Vickie!

  3. SKJAM!

    I spent some time in Monterey, CA studying at the Defense Language Institute; I remember going down to the touristy part of town where they hyped their Steinbeck connection.

  4. Harmony Harrison

    When I was in high school, I fell in love with Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat, both by Steinbeck. I still have my old copy of Cannery, inscribed to me by the handsome redhead in art class (who ended up dating my best friend then, and alas not me). 😉

    I was so devoted to these books that, when I tried to read others by Steinbeck, I just couldn’t get into them. The other novels felt much more serious, while the ones I loved felt like oddly-slanted love letters to a place and time.

    I’ve never read Travels with Charley, though, but now I’m thinking I might have to. It looks like it might have just a touch of the Cannery spirit.

  5. Tat

    Enjoyed your review and I loved the quotes you picked. especially the first one. Hm, maybe being found is overrated 🙂

  6. Nanette Levin

    Vickie, I’ve read Steinbeck, but honestly, have not heard of this one. Love the quotes you culled. I’ll put it on my list of future reads. After all, one of my not too distant goals is to see more of the U.S. so this read my spur me to make that country-wide our something done sooner rather than later. What a fun idea your book read and review by state is. I look forward to seeing more of what you put out there.

  7. Kelly L McKenzie

    First off, how very short sighted of my government to not allow him to enter our country. Good heavens – that was definitely our loss. I agree with Nanette. The quotes you culled are wonderful and do make me want to read the book. I’d not heard of it either. How’s Colorado coming?

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