Monday, 14 December 2015

TRAVELS WITH CHARLIE by John Steinbeck

The title tells it all. Basically this old man drives around with his dog. Not much happens. Steinbeck has written some really great books, but this is not one of them. We are very much in late-life-crisis country, with Steinbeck banging on about what it means to be a man, and somewhat pointlessly embarking on a voyage of discovery in a homemade camper van.

He does not discover too much. He has some small talk with strangers, which he reports verbatim. His dog needs to pee a lot. He is deeply impressed by vending machines.
Suppose you want a soft drink; you pick your kind – Sugargrape or Cooly Cola – press a button, insert the coin, and stand back. A paper cup drops into place, the drink pours out and stops a quarter of an inch from the brim . . . . Coffee is even more interesting, for when the hot black fluid has ceased, a squirt of milk comes down and an envelope of sugar drops beside the cup.
It’s like going on holiday with your Grandpa. If your grandpa had written Of Mice And Men. Because some bits are quite well observed. In a cafĂ©:
The customers were folded over their coffee cups like ferns.
Or on turkeys:
To know them is not to admire them, for they are vain and hysterical. They gather in vulnerable groups and then panic at rumours. They are subject to all the sicknesses of other fowl, together with some they have invented. Turkeys seem to be manic-depressive types, gobbling with blushing wattles, spread tails, and scraping wings in amorous bravado at one moment and huddled in craven cowardice the next.
But that’s about it. There you go, you can skip it. I’ve read it for you and picked out the best bits.


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