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Tag Archives: travel

Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck

To break up the research books, I am reposting my review of Travels with Charley.  We road tripped to Richmond to get Reeses, and she and I will be headed back next week (so we can complete the adoption!)  Planning our drive south reminded me of this book.

When my friend decided to organize a summer book club, I was excited to join.  I hadn’t had a chance to be in a book club since I moved to DC.  The theme of the book club is road trip memoirs, and Travels with Charley was the book for June.  I was initially hesitant, since I had read several of Steinbeck’s novels for English class assignments and, to say the least, he is not my favorite author.  Fortunately for me, this memoir feels very different than Steinbeck’s novels.  It was written late in the author’s career, and for the most part it is less serious than his other work.

In 1962, John Steinbeck decided to take a road trip around America.  He traveled in a camper truck and took one of his dogs, a poodle named Charley, for company.  Starting from his home in New York, he travelled up to Maine, and then across the northern states.  He continued through his former home state, California, and then back through the south.  Steinbeck had already achieved a lot of success by this point in his career and was considered a quintessentially “American” author, but he was concerned that he was falling out of touch with the “real” America, partly because he had been living in New York for a long time and partly because of all the social changes that were taking place at that time in our history.  The point of his road trip was to rediscover the country he had made a career of writing about.

I particularly admired Steinbeck’s prose, especially the descriptions of some of the places he visited.  Thanks to this book, I definitely want to see Wisconsin and Montana someday soon.  As a Californian, I also enjoyed his descriptions of the Redwoods.  Another thing that stands out about the book is that he records very specific interactions with individuals that he met in his travels and then reflects on them, instead of trying to give the reader a more generalized picture.  I appreciated that.  A book like this could easily have become a series of generalizations about Americans and the states they live in, but by writing down small slices of experience, Steinbeck made this book a lot more honest and enjoyable to read.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is planning a road trip (or maybe just daydreaming about one).  I would also recommend it to people who are fans of Steinbeck’s novels, because you get a chance to see a completely different side of the author.  And if you are interested in the civil rights movement during the 1960’s, pay special attention to the last part of the book, where Steinbeck and Charley travelled through the American South.

Personally, I would give this book three and a half stars.  I would probably reread it if I was ever planning a road trip, and I would definitely recommend it to a friend!  ★★★1/2

I borrowed Travels with Charley from my local library, but you can also find it here.

-Elizabeth

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The House of Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts

While visiting my in-laws over Thanksgiving, I had a chance to go to Salem, Massachusetts, where we saw the house that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The House of Seven Gables.  Unfortunately, I was not able to take pictures inside the house.  The volunteers had just finished decorating it for Christmas, and the parlor in particular was really beautiful.

The real House of Seven Gables

The real House of Seven Gables

The house has an interesting history, and it has been added to and rebuilt several times.  During Nathaniel Hawthorne’s childhood, the house did not actually have seven gables.  (It had been remodeled/modernized, and there were only three gables.)  He would visit his cousin, Susannah Ingersoll,  the current owner of the house, and she would tell him stories of how the house used to look.  Her stories and his family’s history later served as the inspiration for his famous novel, The House of Seven Gables.

Later, the house was purchased by Caroline Emmerton, who restored it to the way it had looked in colonial times.  She also added some details to make the house more like the one in the novel: specifically, a small shop like the one the main character opens to keep the family finances afloat and a secret staircase, like the one used by Clifford in the book.  During the tour, we actually got to climb the secret staircase to get to the upper floor.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s childhood home has been moved to the same site, so we visited that as well.  (Really, this is the house where he was born-the family moved several times during his childhood.)  They had one of his writing desks and some other family memorabilia on display.

Hawthorne's childhood home

Hawthorne’s childhood home

I also enjoyed getting to see a little of Salem.  It is a very charming town, with lots of beautiful old houses.  I felt like I could easily recognize modern Salem after reading Brunonia Berry’s The Lace Reader-it really is just as she describes it in the book!

Visiting Massachusetts has been a great way to see places I have read about and learn more about famous authors who lived in the area.  I am hoping that I will be able to visit more places on the East Coast in 2014!

-Elizabeth

 

Orchard House, Home of Louisa May Alcott

Orchard House

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, the home of one of my favorite authors: Louisa May Alcott. You can find their website here.  This is the home where she wrote many of her books, including Little Women.  The house has been beautifully restored to look the way it would have towards the end of Miss Alcott’s life, when she was a famous and successful author.  I was able to take a guided tour of the house, but unfortunately they did not allow photography inside.

In addition to being the home of the Alcott family, this house is the setting for the fictional March family in Little Women.  The tour guide told us how the wedding scene in the book where the oldest sister Meg marries John Brooke is a very accurate representation of the wedding of Louisa Alcott’s oldest sister Anna.  The first floor windows on the right side belong to the parlor that she was married in.  The youngest sister, May Alcott, was an artist (the inspiration for the character Amy.)  The real May actually seems to have been more talented than the fictional version, and you can see several of her paintings and drawings if you visit the house.  The Alcott parents actively encouraged their daughters to use their talents, which included allowing May to actually draw on the walls of her bedroom and studio and having a writing desk built in Louisa’s room.  It is a little desk sitting between two windows, and apparently it was unusual if not unheard of for a woman to have her own writing desk in that time period.

If you happen to be in Concord, this house is a great place to visit.  The volunteer docents were very knowledgeable, both about the architecture and history of the house and also about the Alcott family.  Concord is a great destination for travelling readers, since there have been quite a few other authors from the area (e.g. Emerson and Thoreau).

-Elizabeth

Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck

Hello everyone, and happy belated fourth of July from the nation’s capital!  I’m Elizabeth, and in honor of the holiday, I thought I would choose something a little patriotic for my first book review: John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley: In Search of America.

When my friend decided to organize a summer book club, I was excited to join.  I hadn’t had a chance to be in a book club since I moved to DC.  The theme of the book club is road trip memoirs, and Travels with Charley was the book for June.  I was initially hesitant, since I had read several of Steinbeck’s novels for English class assignments and, to say the least, he is not my favorite author.  Fortunately for me, this memoir feels very different than Steinbeck’s novels.  It was written late in the author’s career, and for the most part it is less serious than his other work.

In 1962, John Steinbeck decided to take a road trip around America.  He traveled in a camper truck and took one of his dogs, a poodle named Charley, for company.  Starting from his home in New York, he travelled up to Maine, and then across the northern states.  He continued through his former home state, California, and then back through the south.  Steinbeck had already achieved a lot of success by this point in his career and was considered a quintessentially “American” author, but he was concerned that he was falling out of touch with the “real” America, partly because he had been living in New York for a long time and partly because of all the social changes that were taking place at that time in our history.  The point of his road trip was to rediscover the country he had made a career of writing about.

I particularly admired Steinbeck’s prose, especially the descriptions of some of the places he visited.  Thanks to this book, I definitely want to see Wisconsin and Montana someday soon.  As a Californian, I also enjoyed his descriptions of the Redwoods.  Another thing that stands out about the book is that he records very specific interactions with individuals that he met in his travels and then reflects on them, instead of trying to give the reader a more generalized picture.  I appreciated that.  A book like this could easily have become a series of generalizations about Americans and the states they live in, but by writing down small slices of experience, Steinbeck made this book a lot more honest and enjoyable to read.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is planning a road trip (or maybe just daydreaming about one).  I would also recommend it to people who are fans of Steinbeck’s novels, because you get a chance to see a completely different side of the author.  And if you are interested in the civil rights movement during the 1960’s, pay special attention to the last part of the book, where Steinbeck and Charley travelled through the American South.

Personally, I would give this book three and a half stars.  I would probably reread it if I was ever planning a road trip, and I would definitely recommend it to a friend!  ★★★1/2

I borrowed Travels with Charley from my local library, but you can also find it here.