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In the hot August of 2010, before global cooling began turning our summers into fall, I spent several days in the fabulous Morgan Library & Museum in downtown New York reading the original handwritten transcript of “Travels With Charley.”

My comparison of the manuscript with the published book — something no Steinbeck scholar bothered to do in 50 years — proved illuminating. Here, in this free excerpt of “Dogging Steinbeck,” is how I describe my visit to Mr. Morgan’s treasure house of art and artifacts:

 

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‘Discovering’ ‘Charley’s’ First Draft

My pre-trip research ended with a bang three weeks later in New York City when I did something no one in the world had done in four years. I went to the Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan and read the first draft of “Travels With Charley in Search of America.”

The handwritten manuscript – along with a typed and edited copy – had been stored at the Morgan like a holy relic for almost half a century. Few scholars, graduate students and critics had bothered to study it. If they had, the “‘Travels With Charley’ Myth” might have been debunked decades ago. To be fair, the manuscript is not something anybody can just pop into the Morgan Library and paw over. John Pierpont Morgan’s gift to posterity holds one of the world’s greatest collections of art, books and music. Security is Pentagon-tight, inside and out. You’ve got to first establish that you are a legitimate researcher or writer and make an appointment. Once you make it past the security checkpoint, you’re escorted to the reading room. You have to wash your hands, use pencils only and handle research material like it’s sacred nitroglycerin. You can’t take photos or make photocopies because of copyright restrictions.

For three days in late summer I sat in the Morgan’s reading room like a monk. The “Charley” manuscript, kept there since Steinbeck donated it in 1962, is broken up into five or six handwritten chunks. Written entirely in his barely decipherable scribble, with hardly a word crossed out or changed, each page is filled from top-to-bottom and edge-to-edge. It’s mostly in pencil on carefully numbered yellow or white legal pads. Taking notes in longhand, I compared the first draft of what Steinbeck had given the working title “In Quest of America” with the copy of “Travels With Charley” stored on my smart-phone’s Kindle app. According to Declan Kiely, the Morgan’s curator of literary and historical manuscripts, fewer than six people had looked at the manuscript since 2000.  I was the first since 2006.

I learned important clues that helped me fill in some blank spots about Steinbeck’s actual trip. I also saw how much the manuscript had been edited. There were dozens of minor and major edits. The most important ones entirely removed his wife Elaine’s presence from the West Coast and stripped out 99 percent of his partisan political commentary. Given what I was learning, the most ironic edit deleted Steinbeck’s thoughts about what is really real and the writer’s struggle/duty to straighten out the “chaos” of reality and make it understandable and “reasonably real” for a reader. The most justifiable edit removed a paragraph of filth and racial hatred that would have given “Travels With Charley” an X-rating, outraged the public and crippled its sales.

The manuscript was the big smoking gun – the smoking artillery piece. Reading it was shocking and exhilarating. I couldn’t believe what I had found – or that it had been just sitting there in Manhattan for 50 years waiting to be discovered. It confirmed and reinforced my suspicions about the dubious veracity of much of “Travels With Charley.”

The first draft also explained the book’s persistent vagueness about time and place. It was not due solely to Steinbeck’s aversion to writing a travelogue or his lack of note taking. It was a result of wily editing by Viking’s editors, which hid the frequently luxurious and leisurely nature of Steinbeck’s road trip and made it seem like he spent most of his time alone.

After my last day of deciphering Steinbeck’s handwriting, I left the cool quiet of the Morgan Library and popped back onto the baked streets of Manhattan. It was 4:05. I set out for Penn Station to catch a train back to Secaucus, where my car was parked and ready to take me home. New York had so much pure city packed into a small space it was hard for someone from Pittsburgh to believe. I’d never want to live in NYC. It was 40 years too late for that adventure. But it was amazing to see the crazy energy and throbbing humanity of a real city at work and play. It was nothing like the open street markets and anarchic traffic of Lima or Guatemala City, the only teeming Third World madhouses I’d ever seen. But the sidewalks were thick with commerce and hurrying streams of people of every lifestyle and color.

Near the corner of Madison Avenue and East 33rd Street, two miles from the apartment Steinbeck died in, a prim matron with a plastic bag in one hand and a leash in the other waited for her toy poodle to take a dump at the base of a baby tree. On 34th Street a homeless man with a wild beard and dirty white shirt suddenly lunged out of the passing throng and rammed his bony shoulder hard into mine. It was no accident, it hurt, and it taught me a lesson to keep my eye out for trouble in the oncoming flow of humanity.

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Closing in on Madison Square Garden and its basement of train tracks, I began tail-gaiting a hotshot in a blue blazer with a cell phone to his ear as he weaved through the crowd. He was young but had gray hair and carried a man bag swelling with paperwork. I didn’t know it, but like me he was hustling to Penn Station’s Track 11 to catch the 4:32 to Secaucus. On the un-crowded train I deliberately sat across the aisle from the hotshot so I could eavesdrop on his end of the conversation, which he made no effort to suppress. “At two billion dollars,” he said, as if he were talking about the price of eggs, “we’re going to make 800 k. I’m OK with one basis point…. We’d still be above two billion. Do me a favor. Check my math and fire me an email.”

I had no idea what he was talking about, but it wasn’t how tough it was to make a living on Wall Street in the Great Recession. During my brief ride to Secaucus I scrawled what I had learned from reading the Steinbeck manuscript in my Professional Reporter’s Notebook: “Charley’s a fraud. Steinbeck himself provided the details of his trip – the real ones – and betrays ‘C’ for the fraud it is.” It was the first time I had used the f-word to describe his beloved travel book. It wouldn’t be the last.

I’ve just finished reading Phil Caputo’s travel book “The Longest Road” for a future review in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and TwoAmericanRoadTrips.com, our web site that will debut soon.

Caputo, typically, had to make his token complaints against “sprawl.” He noted Miami’s “ghastly sprawl” and worried later — despite seeing the vast open spaces of middle America — that his grandchildren were going to inherit a country of sprawling metropolises with nothing in between.

Sprawl — urban or suburban — is one of America’s great evils, at least according to our elite writers and thinkers and worriers. Steinbeck whined about it way back in 1960, when he saw Seattle’s post-WWII growth spurt mowing down trees to build houses for suburban pioneers.

Sprawl is a mythical evil, a bogey man of American life probably invented by the New Yorker magazine that you’re not supposed to think about, just hate.

Here’s my sardonic definition of what sprawl really is, urban or suburban. It’ll be the first entry of my new Politically Incorrect Devil’s Dictionary:

“Sprawl: The unnecessary, cancerous growth of your city’s boundaries created by greedy people you don’t like who had the nerve to build their ugly new neighborhoods, roads and shopping districts on empty farmland after you did.”

My debut solo speaking performance on behalf of my book “Dogging Steinbeck” occurred without a hitch or a lawsuit Wednesday night in the lovely Toledo suburb of Perrysburg.

Thanks to the promotional efforts of Richard Baranowski of the Way Library, I was written up nicely beforehand by Arielle Stambler and in a local paper by Baranowski. About 60 multi-diverse humans attended, all lovely, all eager to learn about how I discovered that “Travels With Charley” was a literary fraud.

No one threw anything or even booed. And 12 people forked over real money for my book.

In the fall 2011 issue of the Steinbeck Review, Tom Barden, a smart and sensible English professor and dean at the University of Toledo, reviewed two 2010 “Travels With Charley”-centric books.

The quarterly’s editor, who edited the 2012 book “Steinbeck in Vietnam: Dispatches from the War,” looked at “Long Way Home: On the Trail of Steinbeck’s America” by Bill Barich and “Travels with Max: In Search of Steinbeck’s America Fifty Years Later” by Gregory Zeigler.

First, however, professor Barden validated my discoveries about the lack of veracity in “Charley.” He based his opinion not on my book “Dogging Steinbeck,” which did not exist yet, but on what I had revealed in my April 2011 Reason magazine article, “Sorry, Charley.” Barden also said that Steinbeck’s serial inventions were no surprise or shock to anyone, especially academics like him, since Steinbeck was a novelist.

Here’s what Barden wrote in the Review:

I was not particularly drawn to the premise of Barich’s and Zeigler’s books. Delving into 21st century America’s soul via Steinbeck’s 1961 Travels with Charley struck me as too contrived. But readers of Steinbeck Review deserve an appraisal of the resulting volumes, especially in light of Bill Steigerwald’s “Sorry, Charley” essay in the April 2011 issue of Reason magazine, so here goes.

First, I should weigh in on Steigerwald. His research into motel bills, restaurant checks, and private letters made what I found to be a thoroughly convincing case that Steinbeck’s narrative in Travels with Charley in Search of America did not reflect anything close to his actual trip. Steigerwald presented ample documentation that Steinbeck spent most of his time in posh motor hotels eating good dinners with his wife Elaine, who was with him much more than he let on. The responses to Steigerwald’s revelations varied from incensed (Steinbeck’s daughter-in-law), to defensive (Steinbeck scholars Jay Parini and Susan Shillinglaw), to sympathetic toward Steinbeck (travel writer Paul Theroux). My response was basically–so what? I was reminded of John Steinbeck IV’s comment about his father’s book in The Other Side of Eden: Life with John Steinbeck. Speaking for his brother Thom and himself, he wrote “we were convinced that he never talked to any of those people in Travels with Charley. He just sat in his camper and wrote all that shit. He was too shy. He was really frightened of people who saw through him. He couldn’t have handled that amount of interaction. So the book is actually a great novel.” (p. 151) Exactly. Oh my, he invented most of the content of Travels with Charley…zoot alors! Not only that, people, he paid for stories from Mexicans when he worked at the Spraekel’s Sugar factory in Salinas as a teenager and used them later—like that one about a nursing mother who saves a starving old man by breastfeeding him.

To me, the most interesting aspect of Steigerwald’s research and the ensuing controversy was the clear assumption by everybody concerned that Steinbeck’s book is still worth discussing after fifty years. I think Travels with Charley does still matter. But I don’t think it matters because of its veracity (or lack thereof), or its ideas, or its insights about American culture. To me, it still matters because it is packed from beginning to end with terrific and terrifically idiosyncratic writing at the sentence level. Pick it up and start reading randomly and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll run into passages like this one about the giant redwoods in Northern California—“In the redwoods nearly the whole of daylight is a quiet time. Birds move in the dim light or flash like sparks through the stripes of sun, but they make little sound.” (p. 171)

So, to return to the books under review, I used the yardstick of Steinbeck’s spectacular prose to review Barich and Zigler’s books. By that measure, one of them holds up pretty well and the other doesn’t. I’ll start with the latter. Zeigler’s little yappy-looking dog Max appears on both the front and back covers of his book and is also featured in many of the photos interspersed throughout the text. I did not take the dog or the illustrations as a good sign. Flipping through the text before I started reading, I felt as if I were about to be subjected to somebody’s boring vacation slideshow. My suspicions were confirmed when I started reading—the prose, like the dog, was too cute, the Steinbeck trope was too labored, and any intellectual or emotional stimulation was pretty much absent. Zeigler covered 15,000 miles in nine weeks, and it felt like it took that long to get through his book. He wove references to Steinbeck’s trip, his poodle, his biography, and even his family’s feud over copyright issues into his narrative, and all the while maintained a running commentary on such interesting roadside attractions as the Lion’s Den Adult Bookstore, geezer geyser gazers, a veterinary insemination operation that bragged “we do cows,” and the general beauty and/or scuzziness of the American landscape. But, for me, it never coalesced into a meaningful trip or travel narrative. The cover blurb says “Travels with Max offers a retrospective on Steinbeck and his work, as well as an insightful, humorous and upbeat perspective on modern America.” But I didn’t get the insights, the humor, or the retrospectives. For instance, here’s Zeigler’s description of a saguaro cactus that was located in too close proximity to a golf course: “Wild hitters like me had slammed drives into their green flesh. Some were studded with several balls, like buttons on a stout man’s vest.” I couldn’t help comparing that negatively with Steinbeck’s description of the giant redwoods.

Barich’s book, on the other hand, is well conceived, well written, and, fortunately, un-illustrated. Even before starting, I was impressed by the effusive cover blurbs about Barich’s writing. Jim Harrison, a Michigan-based poet and novelist for whom I have huge respect said simply “Barich is a splendid prose stylist.” And Larry McMurtry, a master storyteller by anybody’s standards, agreed. They are right. He writes with measured dignity and has a good ear for dialog and a sharp eye for telling detail.

As to content, Barich follows Steinbeck’s lead in avoiding major cities and typical tourist attractions. Although he visits Washington, D.C. and passes through St. Louis on Interstate 70 (where the drivers’ aggression terrified him), he focuses mostly on small towns like Culpeper, Virginia, Chillicothe, Ohio and Florence, Kansas. There’s humor in Barich’s book, but it is not of the corny variety Zeigler indulged and it is more connected to ideas and thoughtful observations. In Shenandoah National Park, for example, he notices that “Americans used to travel to beautiful spots to get away from it all, but now they bring it all with them.” Unlike Steinbeck’s, Barich’s road trip is one-way–east to west. He arrives in California via Needles and makes his way to Monterey on the coast, where he muses at length on “The Grapes of Wrath” and “East of Eden,” both of which he loves and respects. Finally, he pulls in to San Francisco – a city he lived in for many years – just in time for Election Day, 2008.

That election looms large over Long Way Home. The book ends in a mood buoyed by the fact that America, for all its historical racism and injustice, has just elected the young, smart and eloquent Barack Hussein Obama. All through the book, but especially at the end, he rejects the world-weariness and gloom that hung over Steinbeck’s trip with Charley. Where Steinbeck found moral and spiritual malaise, Barich found America renewing itself after eight years of George W. Bush. It is a thrill to feel, but that buoyancy seems pretty raveled and frayed now. Bigotry, ignorance and fear-mongering didn’t fade away; in fact, they seem to have gotten stronger in response to Obama’s cerebral calmness. The wrenching ending of Steinbeck’s book stands in contrast to Barich’s optimistic finale, but the venom of those “cheerleaders” who screamed profanities at little African American girls as they walked to school in Civil Rights Era Mississippi is on daily display now on Fox News, on talk radio, and in much of the Republican Party. On finishing Barich’s book, I felt a strong surge of missing John Steinbeck. I think he would be more effective than most of our current progressive voices in confronting and refuting today’s Rush Limbaughs, Pat Robertsons and Glenn Becks head-on.

Make fun of Rush Limbaugh all you want.

But this rant of his about government snooping and what he calls “the Obama Coup”  was spoken, not written, and it’s impressive.

Too bad Rushbo didn’t/doesn’t realize the government snooping problem is not just an Obama thing or a liberal Democrat thing.

It’s the result of the incredible power conservatives and liberals have given to the federal government and the way the federal government can be used by either party of assholes to do all kinds of bad stuff to individuals.

Too bad Rush and the other conservatives were in the tank for Bush for eight years.

And too bad Rush (and the NY Times and Fox and the WSJ and all the other media fucks who have no balls or brains) bought into the post-9/11 terrorism hysteria that has given the creeps in Washington the excuse to stomp on the Constitution and turn the country into a security state.

This bipartisan snooping by the assholes in DC is not new, just bigger and computerized.

Super-star best-selling author and Kennedy-family expert Laurence Leamer  and his new book “The Price of Justice” are being tortured by the brain-dead legacy publishing industry and the low-info dolts who run TV.

Below are two emails Leamer sent out to his friends and fellows describing what is and is not happening with his latest book.

“The Price of Justice,” which is almost guaranteed to become a movie some day, is about a pair of nobody Pittsburgh lawyers who went to court to challenge the nasty business practices of Don Blankenship, the former West Virginia coal baron and CEO of Massey Energy.

Leamer is a major best-selling dude.

Here’s how Wikipedia describes him:

Leamer is … regarded as an expert on the Kennedy family[2] and has … also written best-selling biographies of other American icons, including Johnny Carson, the Reagan family, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Here’s what Leamer wrote about his recent publishing experience in two emails sent May 15:

Subject: How is this possibly happening?

I’ve had a hell of a time with The Price of Justice, my new book.  Seventeen publishers rejected it.  They said the same thing.  The proposal was excellent, the story compelling and important but it was set in West Virginia and was about the coal industry and nobody would read it.  The Price of Justice has gotten the best reviews of my career, but when my publicist tries to pitch the book to national television as soon as she mentions West Virginia and coal, the bookers turn off.  So I’ve gotten no national publicity and no national reviews.  It’s key to have books up front at Barnes &  Noble.  The publishers pay for this.  Barnes & Noble had the same reaction as the bookers and they have refused to give us national coop.  In most of America, you have to walk to the back of the store and find maybe one or two copies in the legal section.  When I asked my agent if she had ever heard of a book succeed with such distribution, she said no.  Yet an amazing thing is happening.  The book is taking off.  It’s 223 on Amazon now and about the same on the Barnes & Noble website.  That’s New York Times bestseller list territory.  I’m just shaking my head and wondering how this is possibly happening.

His follow-up email offered more detail:

My book agent is Joy Harris.  She’s not only one of the best in the business but one of the most thoughtful.  If anyone should be concerned with the fact that I haven’t been able to get any national publicity for The Price of Justice, she should be.  But she put it in perspective for me this morning.  The problem, she suggests, is that when 29 miners at killed at Upper Big Branch or when 26 people are massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the media are there.  But within days the journalists fold up their tents and wait until the next tragic circus.  They have no time or intention of exploring the underlying causes.  When Leslie Brandon, my publicist at Henry Holt, tries to book me to talk about The Price of Justice on national television, the producers want a news hook.  If Don Blankenship, the villain of my book, is indicted they will happily have me on.  But they don’t have the time, the space, the intention of exploring the underlying problems of a region like West Virginia.  It’s a small state and the people are disregarded or caricatured.  But the wonderful thing is that people are hungry for what I have to say in this book, hungry to read about the battle of two ordinary lawyers against the most powerful coal baron in American history.  Amazon is running out of books, and in West Virginia there is a groundswell not simply of interest but excitement that finally somebody has told the truth about the corruption of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, the corruption of the political system, the corruption of Don Blankenship and Massey.

If Leamer has this much trouble getting a serious book published and promoted and covered by TV, what chance do no-name rookies have?

Maybe Jon Stewart or Brian Lamb will come to the rescue.

As of today, here are the Amazon sales rankings for “The Price of Justice,” which hopefully will be a success that makes the legacy publishing industry look bad:

 

The 1980s was the Golden Age of newspapers.

In that greedy decade the Los Angeles Times, where I thoroughly enjoyed working as a copy editor and freelance writer/reviewer, was a major national media power.

Its profits were obscene. It still had about 1.1 million readers and more international bureaus than the CIA.

It could afford to pay top writers $50k a year to write three mega-stories per annum that were too long to read, or assign two investigative reporters to the Scientology beat for years without them ever printing a word. It had about 1,100 editorial employees then, more than twice what it has now.

Today the Times is like most dinosauric daily newspapers in the post-Digital Age. It’s shriveled and sickly and still unable and/or unwilling to adapt to the Internet and its culture of openness.

It’s too late. Culturally and politically, the L.A. Times is nationally irrelevant and cloutless. Worse than Time or Newsweek.

The Times and its bankrupt corporate daddy the Tribune Company are up for sale for about $600 million — a fire-sale price.

As a libertarian, and as the only open libertarian I knew working at the Times in the 1980s, I hope the fabulously rich libertarian Koch brothers buy the paper with their pocket change and give some of my few surviving liberal friends there a taste of their own medicine.

It’ll be interesting to see how my fellow journalists react to having bosses — i.e., devout libertarian/conservative publishers and the non-liberal editors they will certainly hire — who don’t have the same political biases they have (and don’t know they have).

The Times, as any non-Obama-loving reader or non-liberal journalist knows, desperately needs some more ideological diversity (ID) — on its editorial pages but primarily among its subeditors and reporters. It needed ID in the 1980s. I’m sure it still does. All big-city papers always did and still do.

Meanwhile, rooting through my Los Angeles Times archives the other day I found shocking evidence of just how far the mighty L.A. Times, aka the Daily Titanic, has sunk in terms of what it once spent on the gathering and spinning of news and opinion.

Two nicely typed pages detail the Times’ enormous 1982 editorial budget (which included my paltry $30,000 a year salary as a part-time copy editor in Calendar, the arts & entertainment section).

 

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A lousy $45 million isn’t much in an age of $3.5 trillion federal budgets. But it’s about $105 million in 2012 dollars, which is almost enough to buy what’s left of the L.A. Times itself and about a sixth of the price the whole Tribune Company and its eight papers is expected to go for.

The 1982 budget report looks like just a bunch of big boring numbers to civilians.

But it’s a real shocker for the survivors of the Great Daily Newspaper Crash. They will scream and cry and remember the good old days before blogs and tweets democratized journalism and made everyone with a thumb an amateur George Will.

Almost $15 million spent for the Metro desk (local news) is impressive, even in 2013 dollars, but not as impressive as almost half a million for a stand-alone Sunday book section. Today there’s hardly a book section still alive in a North American newspaper.

A cool $1.1 million for the Times in-house library. A million bucks worth of editorial writers.  More than $700,000 for copy messengers, transcribers and the Times newswire.

Email, the Internet and PCs put many of those people out of their jobs and should have saved the Times a ton of money,  if only the paper had been managed well. But by the beginning of the reign of Bush II, the Times had upwards of 1,300 well-paid editorial employees and was about to hit the iceberg.

In the 1980s, the Times  was known as “The Velvet Coffin,” and for good reason. No one ever left it until they died, landed a job at the New York Times or got themselves hired by big Hollywood producers, which movie reporters Michael London, Dale Pollock and David Friendly did during my time there.

The L.A. Times paid everyone New York Times/Washington Post salaries and nobody ever had a heart attack from overwork. A lot of money was spent on good journalism, but a lot of money also was wasted. I remember Picasso prints in the mid-level editors’ glass offices.

I don’t remember where or how I acquired my copy of the 1982 budget report, and even if I did I’d go to jail to protect my sources.

But truth be told, I probably swiped it off the desk of the Times’ late, great and under-appreciated Sunday Calendar editor, Irv Letofsky. Or I fished it out of his trash basket when I was emptying it for him.

All I know for sure about the budget is that it’s authentic. And it’s a sad document from a happy newspaper era we will never see again.

Bill Steigerwald, whose columns and commentaries are archived at CagleCartoons.com, worked at the Los Angeles Times in the 1980s, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in the 1990s and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in the ’00s. He is the proud author of the Amazon ebook “Dogging Steinbeck,” which exposes the truth about john Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley” and celebrates Flyover America and its people. Many book details at TruthAboutCharley.com  or go to C-SPAN for his “Q&A” appearance with Brian Lamb.

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The 27th review of my book on Amazon.com — by a woman named Judy who grew up in Montana — is perfect. Nicely written, smart and sensible, it’s a fair and balanced assessment by a Steinbeck fan who wasn’t blinded by her love of “Travels With Charley.”

 

4.0 out of 5 stars Valuable Addition to American Road Trip Literature, April 8, 2013
Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)

I read just about every American travelogue and “Travels with Charley” was my first and favorite. I was a believer through the first couple of readings, but after decades of long road trips I began to be suspicious. Dogging Steinbeck confirmed my doubts. I never learned much during days spent just rocketing over highways except that this is a vast country sparsely populated with mostly kind, helpful people. The best conversations, comparable to the ones Steinbeck apparently enjoyed daily, generally occur only in hostels or while soaking nude in remote hot springs.

I believe Steinbeck did not set out to perpetrate a fraud. He could not have known that he couldn’t learn much in his mode of travel over just 11 weeks. Finding knowledge, adventure, and joy in a road trip takes skill and a propensity to dawdle.

Just as Steinbeck’s fraudulent account was not premeditated, Bill Steigerwald’s book was not motivated by the desire to unmask Steinbeck. No experienced road-tripper could miss the fictional aspects, especially armed with Steinbeck documents detailing the actual trip as was Steigerwald. One critical reviewer who obviously has not read Dogging Steinbeck called it a hatchet job. It is most certainly not. The author’s respect for both the truth and Steinbeck is obvious.

I wish John Steinbeck had been healthy and free enough to apply his wonderful literary skill to the kind of trip he needed to take to write the book that he initially envisioned. But if the book we got was the only one he could write, I forgive him. Because of Travels with Charley my life has been richer, happier, and, while travelling, I have attended Sunday services from cathedrals to adobe missions to inner-city converted store fronts. Still, Charley is the only fictionalized travelogue I will forgive. A travel book is only one perspective of one journey, and Steigerwald is right to insist that readers are owed a true account.

I felt that Steigerwald’s account of his trip and his research was as honest as he could make it. His political opinions do not detract from the book: although he did not make his book about himself, he did tell us who he is and that can only help readers to understand his perspective. I recommend this book to all who enjoy American road trip literature.