Gosh, there are so many good reviews here to read, why should I add my two cents?
While I was reading it, I found it interesting, insightful, humorous and sad. Now that is a wide range of emotions captured in a small book.
A question that always arises is: how much of this is true and how much is imagined? There is a simple answer to this. Steinbeck points out that no two people will see the same event with the same eyes. What you see depends upon who you are. This is what Steinbeck saw and experienced, and he may even have juggled the facts to fit what he wanted to have said by this book. It is said that his wife he was then married to, Elaine, was there with him for much of the trip. It was not just a trip shared by a man of 58 with his "blue" French Poodle, Charley. They were a threesome. In 1960 he traveled 10,000 miles in his converted truck, which he fondly named Rocinante after Don Quixote’s horse, across America from Sag Harbor, N.Y., to the West Coast and back to find out who were these Americans that he peopled his novels with. Who were they today, and by that I mean 1960? What makes an American an American? Is there something that binds the New Englanders with those of the Midwest and Texans and those of the Deep South? And how are people from these different areas different? He is curious about all of this and about what he values in life, be it a dog, a sparkling brook with the rings of a trout's last jump or a good drink. He sees the the garbage cluttering the ever-expanding cities and small streams. He looks at the climate of racial unrest that was building. Primarily he looks at and tries to talk to the people he meets, although he was lucky if he got even a few "yeps" out of New Englanders in the early hours. Mobile homes, and the beauty of Montana, the dry desert, a kind vet, and a bad one - they are all here. But do remember that what you see is through Steinbeck's eyes. Steinbeck died eight years later from a heart attack.
I like Steinbeck's manner of expressing himself, but I also appreciate his insights, his views and what he is thinking about.
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Peter Marinker. Very well done!
Now I am going to do something naughty. I have already begun listening to Songdogs, written by Colum McCann and narrated by Paul Nugent. One shouldn't compare writing skills, but in both books a picture is drawn of a man standing there in his Wellingtons, and in both there is that stream cluttered with garbage. McCann's depiction just sings. It is gorgeous. It is stupendous. How can I not make a comparison when the same "picture" is there in both books, and yet they are not at all the same, and I know which one I prefer? I am still giving “Charley” four stars because while I was reading it I really liked it!