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Bill Steigerwald hit the road on Sept. 23 to follow the 10,000-mile trail blazed by John Steinbeck in the fall of 1960 for his bestseller "Travels With Charley." Bill traveled without a dog and did not camp under the stars. But the former Post-Gazette staffer used the "Charley" book, research from Steinbeck archives and his best drive-by journalism skills to compare the author's actual journey with the one he depicted in his best-selling road book. Steigerwald’s 11,276-mile road trip, which also documented some of the ways the America Steinbeck saw has – or has not – changed, took 43 days and ended Nov. 7.

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The National Steinbeck Center is the most accessible place to enter the fictional and nonfictional world of John Steinbeck, who was 58 when he set off in search of America. Located in Salinas, Calif., Steinbeck's birthplace, the center offers multimedia exhibits and the star Steinbeck relic, Rocinante, the restored truck-camper used for "Travels With Charley,"  the top-selling book in the museum store. The center's archivist will take your questions at the center's Facebook page.

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“Travels With Charley” on Facebook
 

“Travels With Steinbeck” by Greg Ziegler  

Time magazine's top 10 nonfiction list

Atlantic Monthly review

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About Bill Steigerwald: The oldest member of the Pittsburgh multimedia family that includes his TV sports brothers John and Paul and guitarist Dan, Bill was an editor and writer/reporter for the Los Angeles Times in the 1980s, the Post-Gazette in the 1990s and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in the 2000s. His interviews and libertarian op-ed columns were nationally syndicated for about five years, and he worked briefly for CBS-TV in Hollywood in the late 1970s. The former Pittsburgh Press paper boy retired from the daily newspaper business in March 2009, hoping to spend the last third of his life writing books.

 

Travels Without Charley: The route

Click to see an interactive map of the routeSee an interactive map of John Steinbeck's 1960 route, and follow the path Bill Steigerwald took as he retraced it from Sept. 23 to Nov. 7, 2010. Also see: "Travels without Charley/A journalist sets out to retrace John Steinbeck's 1960 trek across America" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 19, 2010).
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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.

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Travels Without Charley: Interactive Map

Click the pins for details about each stop on John Steinbeck's 1960 tour of America.

Google map mashup: Laura Malt Schneiderman


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