As the amazing author John Steinbeck sees himself getting along in years, he realizes that it has been decades since he truly spent any time getting to know the people in the nation he writes about. His desire to reconnect with America and see it again with his own eyes leads to something I personally love: a massive road trip. He gets a truck that he turns into a camper and he names it after Don Quiote's horse, Rocinante. And then he leaves his New York home and embarks on a cross-continental journey.
I chose this book because I was personally embarking on an 18 journey from Maryland to Las Vegas and back, I wanted something to inspire me and get me excited. This did that - to an extent. It's obviously a very different journey than the one I took, he took his in 1960 and instead of traveling with five children like I did, John's companion was his standard poodle, Charley. Charley is a main character in this story - he is John's confidant and his muse. And other than Charley, almost everyone else we meet in this story is a stranger, a snippet of a life that John is able to glean from a few minutes or hours of conversation over a bottle of whiskey.
I really, really liked it. I liked it because he painted a portait of 1960 for me - the ferocious pace of progress, the rise of the city and the freeway and the rest stop. I loved, particularly, his thoughts on traveling and how it changes us. There are parts that are hard to read, especially when he gets to the South and encounters all the tensions and hatred that were constantly boiling over. But in true Steinbeck fashion, he is a MASTER of our language. His prose is so fluid, his images so perceptive that I love his writing for its own sake. I have been told to be wary of considering this a literal travelogue - that it is far more "novel" than "true." But I think I am choosing not to let that bother me - I found truth in his words and ideas, not from whether or not he really stopped at a particular truck stop or not.
I want to mention that I listened to the audiobook version of this book, narrated by Gary Sinise, and he was INCREDIBLE. His accents were wonderful, his tone was so smooth and dreamy to listen to. I loved having him in my headphones.