Steinbeck’s ‘Travels With Charley’ Gets a Fact-Checking - NYTimes.com
Steinbeck’s book-length account of his journey, “Travels With Charley: In Search of America,” published in 1962, was generally well reviewed and became a best-seller. It remains in print, regarded by some as a classic of American travel writing. Almost from the beginning, though, a few readers pointed out that many of the conversations in the book had a stagey, wooden quality, not unlike the dialogue in Steinbeck’s fiction.
Early on in the book, for example, Steinbeck has a New England farmer talking in folksy terms about Nikita S. Khrushchev’s shoe-pounding (or -brandishing, depending on whom you ask) speech at the United Nations weeks before Khrushchev actually visited the United Nations. A particularly unlikely encounter occurs at a campsite near Alice, N.D., where a Shakespearean actor, mistaking Steinbeck for a fellow thespian, greets him with a sweeping bow, saying, “I see you are of the profession,” and then proceeds to talk about John Gielgud.
Even Steinbeck’s son John said he was convinced that his father never talked to many of the people he wrote about, and added, “He just sat in his camper and wrote all that [expletive].”The whole article is quite interesting. Something I took away from it, more like reminded about again, is how subjective readers are. Especially the so-called scholars. From my own experience, people want fiction to be real. One fan and Facebook friend thought Suki II: Sunshine Returns (free online) was autobiographical and asked if I was an escaped heroine sex slave. Trust me, it is fiction, every word, and I did not get to help on that one as much as I did the others. In the case of Travels With Charlie, people wanted to believe it to be real because the writer said so.
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