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.