Travels Without Charley
Poor John Steinbeck.
Forty-four years after his death, America’s most widely read author is taking some lumps.
First I proved his 1962 “nonfiction” book “Travels With Charley” was a literary fraud filled with fiction and lies.
Now the Nobel prize people in Sweden have opened their archives and Steinbeck’s reputation has taken another hit.
It turns out Steinbeck, who had been nominated eight times before for the Noble Prize for literature, was a compromise choice for the award in 1962 and he only won because the competition was so weak.
Steinbeck didn’t get much respect from the critics in his later years. Everyone but him wanted him to write “The Grapes of Wrath” over and over.
Even when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature on Oct. 25, 1962, the literary mafia at the New York Times and Time magazine quickly dissed him, saying he didn’t really deserve it because he hadn’t written anything of value in decades.
Meanwhile, there’s a “Travels With Charley” connection to Steinbeck’s Nobel.
As part of its decision, the Nobel selection committee took into account the roaring commercial and critical success of “Charley” in the late summer and fall of 1962.
When Steinbeck was given the prize in Stockholm, here is what the presentation speech said about “Travels With Charley,” the supposedly nonfiction account of his 1960 road trip that had hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestselling nonfiction list on Oct. 21, 1962.
“Steinbeck’s latest book is an account of his experiences during a three-month tour of forty American states Travels with Charley, (1962). He travelled in a small truck equipped with a cabin where he slept and kept his stores. He travelled incognito, his only companion being a black poodle. We see here what a very experienced observer and raisonneur he is. In a series of admirable explorations into local colour, he rediscovers his country and its people. In its informal way this book is also a forceful criticism of society. The traveller in Rosinante – the name which he gave his truck – shows a slight tendency to praise the old at the expense of the new, even though it is quite obvious that he is on guard against the temptation. ‘I wonder why progress so often looks like destruction,’ he says in one place when he sees the bulldozers flattening out the verdant forest of Seattle to make room for the feverishly expanding residential areas and the skyscrapers. It is, in any case, a most topical reflection, valid also outside America.”
Of course, nearly everything the committee assumed was true about Steinbeck’s road trip and his book was not true. But no one would know that for half a century.
Not everyone will like my e-book "Dogging Steinbeck," what I say about John Steinbeck or the literary crimes he committed in "Travels With Charley," or what I say about America and what/who ails it.
The great travel writer Paul Theroux, who doesn’t dig it when famous travel writers lie about their trips, hasn’t read the book. But he encouraged me to write it and has credited me for my findings of Steinbeck’s literary fraud.
“I compared his published letters with his travels and saw great discrepancies,” the author of “The Tao of Travel” told me in an email. “These facts have been public for years, but no one cared to mention them. … Steinbeck falsified his trip. I am delighted that you went deep into this.”
Curt Gentry, whose dozen books including “Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders” (with Vincent Bugliosi), did read “Dogging Steinbeck.” He’s also a “character” in it — a mini-hero, actually.
Here’s what Gentry wrote about my book in his Amazon blurb:
“I still believe John Steinbeck is one of America’s greatest writers and I still love ‘Travels With Charley,’ be it fact or fiction or, as Bill Steigerwald doggedly proved, both. While I disagree with a number of Steigerwald’s conclusions, I don’t dispute his facts. He greatly broadened my understanding of Steinbeck the man and the author, particularly during his last years. And, whether Steigerwald intended it or not, in tracking down the original draft of ‘Travels With Charley’ he made a significant contribution to Steinbeck’s legacy. “Dogging Steinbeck” is a good honest book.”
For the latest breaking news about my attempts to sell a book to help repay me for the time and money I've spent chasing Steinbeck, see the web site The Truth About Travels With Charley.
Writing, promoting and selling a book without an editor, a copy editor, a marketing expert, an advertising budget or a PR staff that knows how to get the New York Times to review it is tough.
But so far so good.
"Dogging Steinbeck" is on Amazon.com and a print-on-demand book is coming soon. Amazon gets its knocks, but it has democratized and disintermediated the book publishing business. Thanks to its smooth, Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace divisions, any idiot can assemble a book and put it for sale before the whole world.
I've proved that.
My adventure cost me a ton of time and money and lost opportunities.
Who knows how many Pulitizers I might have won had I not spent the last 2.6 years trapped on Steinbeck World.
I discovered two important and surprising truths in the fall of 2010 when I retraced the route John Steinbeck took around the country in 1960 and turned into "Travels With Charley in Search of America."
I found out the great author’s iconic “nonfiction” road book was a deceptive, dishonest and highly fictionalized account of his actual 10,000-mile road trip.
And I found out that despite the Great Recession and national headlines dripping with gloom and doom, America was still a big, beautiful, empty, healthy, rich, safe, clean, prosperous and friendly country.
“Dogging Steinbeck” is the true story of my adventures on and off the road with John Steinbeck’s ghost. It’s about the dozens of good Americans I met and the great places I saw on my high-speed drive from Maine to Monterey along what’s left of the Old Steinbeck Highway.
And it tells how I stumbled onto a literary scoop that forced a major book publisher to finally confess the truth about “Travels With Charley” after 50 years.
Part literary detective story, part travel book, part book review, part primer in drive-by journalism, part commentary on what a libertarian newspaperman thinks is right and wrong about America, my book is subjective as hell. But it’s entirely nonfiction."Dogging Steinbeck" is on sale on Amazon.com for $6.99 -- only $2.04 more than what Steinbeck's hardback sold for in 1962. Anyone who's interested in John Steinbeck, the truth about "Travels With Charley" and how much America has changed in the last half century should read it -- and help me recover the costs of my 2.6-year adventure in entrepreneurial journalism.
It's taken 50 years, but the publishers of "Travels With Charley" have finally admitted that the classic road book -- which has been passed off as a work of nonfiction since 1962 -- contains so much fiction it should not be taken literally.
On Oct. 2, the Penguin Group published a new edition of “Charley” to mark its 50th birthday and to co-celebrate the 50th anniversary of Steinbeck’s Nobel Prize.
The introduction of the book, first written in 1997 for a paperback edition by Middlebury College English professor, author and Steinbeck biographer Jay Parini, was quietly updated by Parini -- at the behest of Penguin -- in response to the "controversy" started by yours truly.
Parini inserted a few new sentences and parenthetical disclaimers into his introduction that all but warns readers that they are about to read a work of fiction.
You can read what he wrote and how I reacted at TruthAboutCharley.com, my new web site.