The Classics Club: August Response

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Lately I haven’t been the best at commenting on blogs and visiting all you lovely people. A big reason why is the wonderful Classics Club Blog which is now up and running. I am so excited that we have so many new members and reviews up, but it’s also been pretty time consuming keeping everything up to date, so I’m sorry! But on the plus side, here’s one of the wonderful new bits, the club is hosting a monthly meme question and here’s the first one…

"What is your favorite classic book? Why?"

There are so many books that have found their way into my heart over the years; To Kill a Mockingbird, Great Expectations, Rebecca, Little Women, A Moveable Feast, Jane Eyre and so many more. So it’s difficult to answer which one is my absolute favorite, but here’s what I came up with:
 
Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

Unlike much of his other work, Travels with Charley is not fiction and it’s not depressing. Let’s face it, Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden and Of Mice and Men might be powerful books, but they’re also serious downers. Over the decades Steinbeck's books have been lauded by critics and readers alike and he has written some truly remarkable books, but "Travels with Charley" hit me on a completely new level. 

It’s different from almost any other classic I’ve read and I think that’s why it has stayed with me for so long. 

It's a nonfiction book written later in Steinbeck's life. After having written about the underdogs in America for years he realizes he has grown out of touch with his beloved country. He decides to take his dog Charley and travel across the United States in a camper. The book is about the people he meets and the thoughts he has along the way. The book combines so many things that I love; great writing, travel memoirs, a deep love for pets.

It’s also a beautiful look at connecting with the place you’re from and the people who live there. It’s easy to reduce a country, (even your own) to a clichĂ©. Traveling through it reminds you of both the good and the bad, but in my experience it’s usually the good that stands out. I think this book where my love of road trips was born. When you fly from one city to the other you miss so much along the way. Steinbeck captures the feeling of really connecting with a place and the unexpected friendships you can form along the way.

Image from here.

18 comments:

Jillian said...

This sounds so good! I definitely intend to read it. :-)

annieb said...

Well, have you ever posted a review on Sunday? I came here looking for a review on Neil Gaiman's American Gods which I just read and liked very much and here you are with Travels with Charley. I read this years ago and now think I should reread it. Still have to find the Gaiman review.

Cat said...

I have a problem liking American literature but not having ever read JS I added East of Eden to my CC list. I'm thinking it might be better to start with this one - great writing, travel and pets sounds appealing.

theclassicsclubblog said...

It's been a really long time since I read this one, though I remember that I enjoyed it immensely. I should probably reread it, as my life has changed so much (and I have taken a long cross country trip myself) that I can hardly imagine all that I would get out of the book now! - Sarah

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jillian - It's the perfect book to read before a road trip.

annieb - Ha, I have not. I usually avoid posting on the weekends, but I knew I really needed to get my post for the Classics Club question up and so I just scheduled it for this weekend. I actually don't have a review up of American Gods because I read it before I was blogging, but I would love to hear your thoughts on it!

Also, you should read Anansi Boys next. It has some of the same characters from American Gods, but it's much more entertaining.

Cat - Oh man, East of Eden is great, but it's also incredibly intense. Maybe ease yourself into Steinbeck with Cannery Row or this one if you're not a huge fan of American Lit.

Sarah - I've been wanting to reread this for quite awhile. It meant so much to me when I first read it, but like you said, you change so much over the years.

Kristen said...

I might have to take a look at Travels with Charley. I don't typically see eye to eye with Steinbeck. Actually, he usually makes me want to poke my eyes out with a stick. But if this one is different than his fiction, it might be worth a whirl.

bibliophilica said...

I share your love for Travels with Charley. I've long wanted to take off on a similar road trip myself someday. I refer to it as my next "between jobs vacation." (I also want to someday follow the paths of Kerouac and Lewis and Clark. I just need more time and money) :-)
-Jay

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Kristen - Bahaha, I definitely have authors that make me want to do that. I will say that this one and Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday are quite different from his more popular work. Maybe try one of those.

bibliophilica - I would love to take a Kerouac and Lewis and Clark trip! Those would be awesome. The Huz and I are doing a big huge road trip out to Glacier Park in Montana next month, so I'm in that road trip frame of mind right now.

Carl V. said...

I listened to the audio version of Travels with Charley last year and thought it was fantastic. The reader was excellent, which of course added something special to it, but it was also just a great book. Took me back to a different time and allowed me to see that time differently. I wouldn't say it wasn't depressing, the whole part about the South and desegregation was pretty darn depressing. But overall it was a good read. Made me want to go on a road trip.

Jenna said...

It has been a long time since I read Travels with Charley, but I remember liking it. I need to read more Steinbeck either way. I didn't like Of Mice and Men, but that could have been because I HAD TO read it in high school, and oftentimes I enjoyed the book more when reading it later on my own time. I guess we'll see how Steinbeck goes in my future, but you picked a good one with Charley. :)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Carl - I've never listened to it on audio! I'm have to check that out. It's such a fun way to re-read your favorites. There are some disheartening parts, but it's a very true reflection of what the country was like at that time.

Jenna - It has a very different feel from his other work. I think many people dismiss it because they didn't like Of Mice of Men or Grapes of Wrath, but it's nothing like those.

Carl V. said...

Yes, very much so. And for some reason despite knowing those stories, hearing it from Steinbeck's point of view, as told by the narrator, it seemed even more shocking and sad.

Bex said...

This has been on my wishlist FOREVER. I avoided Steinbeck for years after trying to read The Grapes of Wrath way too young (when I was about twelve) and hating it, but last year I read East of Eden and totally fell in love with it. I'm hoping to get to The Grapes of Wrath this year, but this one might be gentler...

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Bex - I think you're right, this one would be a bit gentler. Grapes is heartbreaking.

Dragonfly Daydreams said...

I enjoy Steinbeck, particularly East of Eden, but you have to be in the right mood, otherwise you might take to jumping out windows! This sounds right up my alley - thanks for putting me onto a great sounding book that I've never heard of before...I love this club to bits!

Fanda said...

Oh, I just found out about this title of Steinbeck. I've read Of Mice and Men, and did not really enjoy it. Perhaps I should try this one! I have Cannery Row and East of Eden too on my list.

Lit Hitchhiker said...

Oh yes, one of my teachers praised this book by Steinbeck too. I loved Grapes of Wrath and liked The Winter of Our Discontent, so I should give this one a try too :)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Dragonfly Daydreams - He does tend to be that way, but this one is kind of an exception to that rule.

Fanda - I would recommend all three of those!

Lit Hitchhiker - It seems to get overlooked when people talk about Steinbeck's work, but it's wonderful.