John Steinbeck wrote timeless novels including The Grapes of Wrath, East of Edenand Of Mice and Men. But a few years before he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, he realized he'd lost touch with his favorite topic, the people of America. So in 1960 he had a custom camper built on the back of a GMC pickup for an ambitious cross-country road trip. At the last minute, he decided to take his wife's 10-year-old poodle, Charley. He drove 10,000 miles through 38 states, using the tools of his trade to depict the sounds, smells, colors, hopes and fears of American in his 1962 book, Travels with Charley.


His unique camper, named Rocinante after Don Quixote's horse, has been restored and is now on display at the National John Steinbeck Center in Salinas, CA.

Travels with Charley is more an observation than a diary. As he and Charley moved slowly from state to state, Steinbeck wrote, "I wonder why progress looks so much like destruction." He concluded, "I suppose our capacity for self-delusion is boundless." And later in California, "The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark that stays with you. No one has ever successfully photographed a redwood tree. They are ambassadors from another time."

"Crumbs of Comfort" recommends reading Travels with Charley, even if you recall it from college. You'll find it improves with age and will leave you wiser than before. If your local library does not have a copy, visit http://www.amazon.com/Travels-Charley-Search-America-Steinbeck/dp/0140053204