New Book Group Discussing Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

In early 2017, I will be Starting an In-Person and Online Book Discussion Group for Lovers of Classic 19th and 20th Century Literature. Our First In-Person Meetings will be held at the Midlothian, Virginia Library at 521 Coalfield Road in Midlothian, VA 23114 on the First Fridays, January 6 and February 3, from 10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Other meeting dates and times will be determined by the participants after those first scheduled meetings. The results of the In-Person Discussion will also be available Online on the www.Litchatte.com Website. Both, the In-Person and Online Book Club Participants will be welcome to Offer Their Comments and to Receive Feedback from Murray on this Blog. During our First Meeting, those who Attend or Participate Online will also get a chance to vote on the books they want to read and discuss during the Upcoming Year.

Our Group will be Dedicated to Discussing the Modern Relevance of Classic Works of Fiction from 19th and 20th Centuries Authors such as Poe, Twain, Melville, Hawthorne, Conan-Doyle, Tolkien, The Bronte’s, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Harper Lee, Salinger, O’Connor, Nabokov, Kerouac, Penn-Warren, Orwell, Pynchon, Bradbury, Toni Morrison, & Steinbeck. At our January 6th Meeting, we will be discussing  Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1960) by John Steinbeck (1902-1968). Nearing age 60, Steinbeck wrote Charley based on the Heroic Fourteen-Month Long Cross-Country Journey he took  in 1959 and 1960.

TTravels with Charley Book Jacket

During his epic adventure, he attempted to re-discover himself and The America he first visited when he, as a young man, was promoting his earliest and most acclaimed novels, such as, Of Mice and Men, Cannery Row, East of Eden, and The Grapes of Wrath. To help him carry out his Goals, he drove a brand-new three-quarter ton pickup camper truck, named Rocinante, equipped with a typewriter and his most basic living needs. In the book, he comments, “You will remember {Rocinante} was the name of Don Quixote’s horse.” In his 10,000-mile journey, covering thirty-four states, he was never recognized by anyone that he did not already know. His only regular travel and conversation companion during his Trek was a French Poodle named, Charley.

Although the Conclusions he reached about the America he observed in 1960 were considered by many critics and readers to be too controversial, our discussion group will have the opportunity to check them from our present-day perspective. Steinbeck’s book is unique because, though it is based on many of the real events he experienced, he used his best Nobel Prize for Literature (1962) Voice to narrate his story in a way that reads more like fiction than non-fiction. Steinbeck called the work a blend between the two genres because he employed literary license to disguise the dates, locations, and order of travel, as well as the dialogues and names of the people he met along his journey to create a deeply revealing and truthful narrative. After his adventure, he reflected, “I did not know my own country.” As a metaphor, his conclusion might suggest that his journey was as pointless as Don Quixote’s satiric romp on his horse, Rocinante. However, I contend that the reader of this valuable treasure chest of insights, which turned out to be one of Steinbeck’s last works, will gain more insight into how this seminal author thinks than from everything that we learned about him from any of his earlier books. After reading Travel With Charley, I have started to re-read some of his most classic works with much clearer insights than I had first gained reading them in the 1960’s!

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Murray Ellison received a Master’s in Education at Temple University (1973), a Master’s of Arts in English Literature at VCU (2015), and a Doctorate in Education at Virginia Tech in 1988. He is married and has three adult employed daughters. He retired as the Virginia Director of Community Corrections for the Department of Correctional Education in 2009. He is the founder and chief editor of the literary blog, www.LitChatte.com. He is an editor for the “Correctional Education Magazine,” and Co-Editor of the 2016 book of poetry, Mystic Verses, by Shambhushivananda. He also serves as a board member, volunteer tour guide, poetry judge, and all-around helper at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond Virginia. He will be teaching literature classes in OSHER Program at the University of Richmond and offering book club discussions at the Midlothian Library (Virginia) beginning in January  2017.

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2 Thoughts to “New Book Group Discussing Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck”

  1. What a wonderful idea to revisit that book. Will I sound old if I say I read it when it first came out? I’m curious how you think it might compare to his Travels in the Sea of Cortez. Good luck with your book group.

    1. Hi Marylee,
      I also read Charley near the time it came out. But, reading and discussing it again makes me think that it was dismissed too readily by critics in the 60’s. I haven’t read The Sea of Cortez yet. If you write a review of it or anything you send me, I will be glad to publish it on Litchatte.com and give you credit for the article. If you like the idea, send an MS Word or Google Doc to my email at ellisonms2@vcu.edu
      Thanks
      Murray

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