Travels With Charley - John Steinbeck

Give me any book with a dog on the cover and I’ll read it (except for Marley and Me, because I actually like my heart in one piece, thank you very much).

So when my travel writing teacher asked the class to read a travelogue, I couldn’t resist picking upTravels with Charley by John Steinbeck. I’m a fervent Steinbeck fan and the combination of his amazing writing talent with a dog is what drew me in. Added to that, I dislike travelogues and just wanted something that I knew I could at least admire for the writing.

Life is not a fairy tale and Travels with Charleydid not make me fall in love with the travel-writing genre. It is a great read, but that’s because Steinbeck is so ridiculously talented with story telling. No one can tell a story like that man and that’s what made the book great.

The plot is fairly simply; a man and his dog take a home on wheels and drive around America to satisfy the wanderlust of the man. Highlights are the first few chapters, where Steinbeck explains not just his love for travel, but the need he feels for travel. As a traveller myself, those chapters felt like he had looked inside my soul and put my thoughts into words that are far beyond my talent.

The journey is described by landscapes and people and the reaction of his dog Charley to both of those. That makes this travelogue original – it’s not just what Steinbeck is feeling, but it’s about what the dog is feeling and what this might mean. It also makes it an amazing read for dog owners, like myself, because you can recognize the reactions of Charley and it makes you want to grab your pet and cuddle him. Without giving too much of the plot away, the journey throws Steinbeck several curveballs and he experiences things that were unexpected for him – and thus are also unexpected for the reader.

Is it a life-changing journey? No, it’s not. So is the book life-changing? No, it’s not. But it’s a fun, easy read and it will help future writers develop their use of language and the building blocks of a good story.