Two Starting Points- Steinbeck and Kerouac

travels with charley

I discovered I did not know my own country. I, an American writer, writing about America, was working from memory, and the memory is at best a faulty, warpy reservoir. I had not heard the speech of America, smelled the grass and trees and sewage, seen its hills and water, its color and quality of light….My memories were distorted by twenty-five intervening years.

Not too long ago, my wife gave me a book by John Steinbeck called ‘Travels With Charley’. This is Steinbeck’s journal of a cross-country trip he took in 1960, when he was in his late fifties. Charley, who would be the supporting actor, had anyone decided to make it into a movie, is a full-sized french poodle.Their quest, together was to answer a very simple question that he had been playing with for years, and wanted to investigate before he died. The question? What is an average American?

Five years before Steinbeck’s work came out, Jack Kerouac published his most famous work ‘On the Road’. A story, again, that features a cross-country travel, through the heart of America. His book has a different feel to it. Within the first few pages, his main character utters these famous lines:


the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

I wonder which of these starting places reflects where you are at today? Are you more interested in what is normal, average, in some way predictable? Or have you grown tired of the ‘commonplace’?

Just curious, which starting place do you connect with at first glance?


One response to “Two Starting Points- Steinbeck and Kerouac”

  1. I have read both “On the Road” and “Travels with Charley”; I thought they were very good. I have been hitchhiking the United States for most of 17 years. Here is a hitchhiking story of mine:

    “Hitchhiking in Nebraska”

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