Last year was the 50th anniversary of a trip author John Steinbeck took across America with his French standard poodle, Charley. Steinbeck would turn that experience into the book, Travles With Charley: In Search of America.
I like a good travelogue as much as the next person and I would highly endorse such well-known works such as On The Road (Jack Kerouac) or The Lost Continent (Bill Bryson). I would even venture to suggest for your reading pleasure some lesser-known works such as the trio of baseball-themed travel books that I have written about before.
What started me thinking about Steinbeck’s book was two stories I heard on the radio.
Studio 360 ran a piece where producer John Biewen retraced Steinbeck’s steps to see what has changed in America since the author of The Grapes Of Wrath did his travels.
However, here’s an interesting question about any travelogue. Is it true?
On The Media, from radio staion WNYC, ran a piece that had journalist Bill Steigerwald also retracing the steps of the author and poodle and found the veracity of Steinbeck’s tale lacking.
A larger piece by Steigerwald can be found here.
In the long run, does it matter if Steinbeck actually saw what he saw and experienced what he wrote? Shouldn’t it be enough that Steinbeck gave the reader his impressions of America whether the poodle was by his side or not?
In short, I believe, the answer is “Yes”. My longer answer is, “Hell, yes, it matters”.
If a writer sets out to document something, then that experience has to be true. Anything else is non-fiction and should be labelled as such.
That’s my story and I will stick with it – dog or no dog by my side.