Book group – Travels with Charley

John Steinbeck has been my favorite author for a long time so I’m not sure why it has taken me until now to read this gem. Especially as an American living abroad, I was moved by Steinbeck’s impressions of my country as he encountered people from all walks of life. I can’t say that he paints a flattering picture, but his honest reflections remind us about the issues the nation struggles with even now.

  1. What role did Charley play in Steinbeck’s travels and the stories he told? How would the memoir have been different if Steinbeck had traveled alone or had not written about his canine companion?
  2. What were the most memorable scenes in the journey for you? Mine was the depiction of Wisconsin, the dairy state. Steinbeck’s recollection that ‘Cheese was everywhere’ rang very true.
  3. Did Steinbeck show us aspects of America’s regions and people in ways we might miss if we visited? How did he elicit so much from each person he spoke with on his journey?
  4. Steinbeck states a few times in the book that he started the journey the find out about America. Do you think he went on the trip with pre-conceived attitudes and opinions about the nation and its people? Was he trying to prove or disprove any particular theories?
  5. What identifying characteristics of Americans did Steinbeck encounter across the regions he visited? Do you agree that Americans display these traits wherever they live, even outside of America?
  6. This memoir of Steinbeck’s journey around America focuses more on the Northeast, Midwest and West. Toward the end of his trip, he writes only a little about the South. What impression does this leave with the reader about this region?
  7. Have you ever thought about or felt a desire to travel the way Steinbeck does across a country? I admired his self-contained vehicle, Rocinante, but wondered if I would miss room service!
  8. Much has been written about Steinbeck as an author and, in particular, about this book. Did ‘Travels with Charley’ make you want to read more of his work, or read more about his travels?

Travels with Charley