Traveling Through America

September is coming to an end and it’s time to discuss the book that was spun for me through The Classic Club Spin #24

I was very fortunate to get to read one of the books that had been on my TBR for a very long time by an author whom I admired and whose books had defined my formative years. I speak of none other than John Steinbeck and one of his last books, Travels with Charley.

In 1960, after recuperating from a heart attack, against the explicit instructions of his Doctors, John Steinbeck set off to explore America again. As a writer of people, he felt that he had lately lost touch with his own country and its people, about whom he had written prolifically at one time and he set out to correct this miss! He started with meticulously organizing for the road trip, which included a customized Camper which he named Rocinante , furnishing it with all the books and maps he could not possibly need, stocking up food and other essential supplies and then choosing a traveling partner, his 10 year old, extremely pragmatic French Poodle – Charley. The trip started from a ferry at Long Island which was to take Charley, Rocinante and him to Connecticut from where he would start his actual “road” trip. He drove through Maine, New York, Buffalo, Chicago, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota, then onto Montana, through Seattle and Oregon and California, Salinas where he grew up. He then headed back home via Texas and Virginia and then New Orleans where heart sickened, he proclaimed that his journey was technically over and he was just now heading home. He saw Niagara Falls and drove through Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Coast and the Yellowstone Park. He met small store clerks and motel owners who yearned to take off like he did and he spoke to migrant farmers who came over from Canada to help out during the autumn pickings and the supervisor of a ranch who would be seduced away from the wild beauties of the land to a secure albeit boring job in the city, at the behest of his young wife who wanted luxuries.  He wrote of the “plastic” culture that decorated each motel and of the upwardly mobile aspirations of the people he met. He drank coffee and whiskey with strangers in a trailer park and spoke to them about the country, the upcoming elections and their aspirations. He was saddened by the people at Sauk Centre, the home town of Sinclair Lewis who failed to appreciate his genius and at one time had treated him as pariah until his death, made the town a lucrative tourist destination. And finally, he was completely heartbroken by the hatred and venom he witnessed from people opposing a newly integrated school. He felt that his journey ended with this episode and he drove home to New York summarizing that the country and it’s people had changed dramatically, moving directionless, away from all that which was real and good into an industrialized and material living frenzy, that did not brood well for the future.

John Steinbeck as always is deeply observant of human nature and the book is replete with many insightful and in some ways prophetic remarks. On watching migrant farmers from Mexico, India , Philippines work on the crops, he is reminded of the lessons in history where Carthaginians hired mercenaries to fight their wars; Americans bring in migrant laborers to do the hard work and he hopes that one day, they are not overwhelmed by the hardier race, in mighty foretelling of the future. He captures narratives from people who are comfortable living in mobile homes and not worried about not having roots, for they are convinced that obsession with building roots stops progress and moving forward. He muses “Perhaps we have overrated roots as a psychic need. Maybe the greater the urge, the deeper and more ancient the is the need, the will, the hunger to be somewhere else  The wonderful thing about the author is his ability to see two sides of the story; while he misses the more personalized way of doing things prior to the industrial boom, he also acknowledges that “I know that it was a rare home that baked good bread in the old days.” and therefore nostalgia is presented with a pinch of salt. The rediscovery of America is always sombre, but there is much humour that only a master craftsman like Steinbeck can bring to a book, that is a difficult narrative – his conversations with Charley are downright hilarious, filled with laugh out loud moments. Charley is an intelligent dog and Steinbeck never forgets this fact in his 4-month long journey and the intellectual parley’s he engages in with him. His sense of irony is equally powerful when describing a quiet and enjoyable Thanksgiving, at a Texas millionaire’s place, talking a dig that the incorrect representation of Texas as loud and ostentatious. The language is flowing and despite being a travelogue, not once is the reader exhausted wondering when this journey will end. In fact, his description of the landscapes he covers is vivid and lyrical that brings alive the places and the reader is swept away with them! There is so much I can say about this book, that to end, I would only say that I read some essays which state that Steinbeck took several artistic liberties in writing this book, and this work is more fictional in nature. Be that as it may, his insights about life and humanity holds good now as it did 60 years ago and his deep heartbreak at people not being able to internalize respect for fellow creatures and the mad race of consumerism holds true today more than ever!  

And The Spin # is …..

The Classic’s Club has spun the number and it is 19! 19 seems like an odd number; excuse the pun, but we get #1, #8 or even #20 but never #19. So it’s very interesting to get a 19! This per my list, makes me read Tales of South Pacific by James Michener.

pink-tilted-tiara-and-number-19-hi

I must own I am very very relieved to get this book and not something like The Rigveda, which is tremendously difficult to understand and takes a lot of time and concentrated focus, or so people who have read the book tell me. However, Michener can be a bit of a unpredictable read as well. I loved his  The Source and Caravan, both go into my all time favorite and not be missed lists; he has also written Sayonara, which is the most ridiculous piece of writing to come from an author as brilliant as him. I also have his Alaska, which with all my heartfelt sincere attempts have still not been able to finish and it lies next to my bed side table, with a bookmark accusingly sticking out from page 237. Also as I was discussing with Brona, all his books are chunksters, so tackling them anyway, is a challenge. Having said all of this, the fact still remains that when Michener gets it right, he writes what can only be described as deep, insightful and heart rendering books! I am hoping Tales of the South Pacific will be one of them. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 and there is that la-de-da musical as well, but neither is a guarantee of the novel’s actual power. Many Pulitzer’s have failed to actually keep their promise, atleast to me and I often wonder, why they were rated so high. As far as the musical is concerned, well, the lesser said the better! I guess, I will find out soon enough! The book arrives today and I have per the rules till May 31st to finish it and I am hoping to do that sooner than that, as I have as always, bitten more than I can chew.

Cleo, my soul sister and my friend, who inspires me to do all great and crazy things is also participating in the Spin and her #19 is like va-va-voom interesting. It’s A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and A Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell. This is an outstanding classic and our lives are replete with quotes and phrases from Johnson and Boswell. No way, could I pass this up. It’s too complicated for me to read alone and I would have needed some proding. Well, someone heard my prayers, and now I am buddy reading with Cleo on this. I need help!

To end, the die is now cast and I have books to be read! I am super excited to be part of the Spin again and realize now, how much I missed it! Without further ado, then, let’s read! Happy Spinning all!

Something Old & Something New

And no, I am not getting married and anyway in a Hindu wedding, there would nothing old and all new! But at the very onset, I digress! The plan originally was to post about The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford, but something has been brewing in my mind for sometime and it finally being put into motion!

Many of you may be aware from my About page, that outside of Reading like no tomorrow and writing constantly, the other ruling passion of my life has been Traveling. I was travelling since I was 3 months old and have always been wanderlusting as far back as I can recollect. The prize for doing well in school was books and a new place to visit. Money for meagre paychecks were added/deleted/divided in an effort to buy all the books in the world and explore some new part of the world!Planning vacations, besides adding to the To Read list in my GoodReads has been and is a major way to de-stress. However despite all the energy and efforts spent in traveling I rarely if ever posted on my adventures, and what I did was a cursory overview more to give everyone a chance to see why I was away . Somehow I could not seem to bring in the very personal touch in my travel writings as I did on my book reviews. So I held on and then recently, an idea stuck me – I wanted to start website on Women and their Travels.

Now, I think most of you would agree with Mark Twain when he wrote that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness.” But in the context of women traveling, it becomes especially important – it provides  a time for the woman to discover herself , her true identity and instills in her the confidence that if she can do travel to a new place without the patriarchs of her life, she can do practically anything. Women traveling on their own or with a bunch of other women is one of the most empowering experiences and it is these experiences and adventures I wanted to share. I have the extreme privileged and honor of travelling with some of these amazing women over the last couple of years and their stories of being caught all alone in the middle of nowhere in Columbia or traveling alone to the heart of Iran with a 3 year old in tow is not only an exciting adventure, but truly liberating and empowering!

Therefore, I seek an extension  your patronage and ask you to join me in these adventures, which my friends and I share at A Smooth Round Stone! You have always, always supported me in not only visiting my blog, but sharing your thoughts and ideas and showing me a whole new world, I hope you will do the same in this new adventure of mine. Furthermore, I hope you will also share with me your stories – stories of your travel or when you played host to travelers and enrich this humble motley collection of travel tales!

And, thus without any further ado, let’s us travel!