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Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck; 1962; Penguin Classics
The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems ed. Mark Eisner; 2004; City Lights Books
I have to be honest and admit that these are treasured books that are technically not on my bedside table; rather they are handy for thumbing through and sneaking a poem in before work. The Neruda anthology is dog-eared and stuffed with scraps of random paper meant to serve as bookmarks. I brought this book (and very little else) with me when I returned to New Orleans in the spring of 2006 and so it bears that trial and tribulation, too.
One of the bookmarks opens to the poem “October Fullness”- it begins with the lines Little by little, and also in great leaps/life happened to me. The bookmark turns out to be a farewell note from a lover who returned to somewhere up North after he had spent some time in New Orleans contributing to the rebuilding effort.
Travels with Charley is the book I’ve always wished I’d written. I love other Steinbeck works more (especially The Grapes of Wrath) but this is the one I penned from the other side before I was even born. Owing to that logical improbability, I have no problem with contenting myself with reading one of the best travelogues ever put to paper by one of my favorite writers. I’ve traveled across the country with a dog, although not in a vehicle named Rocinante- a distinction reserved for Cervantes, Steinbeck, and Che Guevara- and I’ve tried firsthand the picaresque quilting of America into a story, and it’s for the masters to do this with real grace:
“A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike.”