True or False: Steinbeck and the Roads Not Taken

When journalist Bill Steigerwald set out to follow John Steinbeck’s route in “Travels with Charley in Search of America,” he did it as a kind of tribute to the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.

Fifty years after the first publication of “Travels with Charley,” Mr. Steigerwald said, “I simply wanted to go exactly where Steinbeck went in 1960, to see what he saw on the Steinbeck Highway, and then to write a book about the way America has and has not changed in the last 50 years.”

He didn’t find what he set out to find.  After nine months and more than 11,000 miles, Mr. Steigerwald conclusively determined that “Travels With Charley” is “not just full of fiction; it’s also a dishonest account of [Steinbeck’s] iconic journey and what he really thought about America.”

That’s disappointing, isn’t it?

I first read about this in A Reality Check for Steinbeck and Charley in last Sunday’s New York Times, and I felt incredibly let down, even kind of heart-broken about it.  “Travels with Charley” meant something to me. When I first read it, I believed I was reading a true story by and about Steinbeck who wanted to see his country a final time before dying.

I knew it was written by Steinbeck, a fiction writer, and I knew some of it came off as a little too perfect to be completely true, but to find out that it’s mostly fabrication just felt wrong.

It felt so wrong I had to research further.  I never heard of Bill Steigerwald.  For all I knew he was some kind of publicity seeking conspiracy theorist who found his magic bullet in “Travels with Charley.”  After reading his blog, Travels without Charley, in particular the post announcing his trip, I knew that wasn’t the case.  His early posts are so filled with excitement about the road ahead of him, it’s hard not to be taken with the sincerity of it.  But I held on to my skepticism because I was, after all, exploring dishonesty in writing.  As I read later posts and all the details, it became clear that Mr. Steigerwald was documenting facts.  Facts, not fiction.

James Frey’s false memoir, “A Million Little Pieces” and the whole Oprah incident comes to mind, but that doesn’t begin to compare with this.  Who’s James Frey, right?

This is John Steinbeck.  “Of Mice and Men” Steinbeck.  “Grapes of Wrath” Steinbeck.   “East of Eden” Steinbeck!  If “Travels with Charley” was fiction, it should have been labeled and sold as fiction.  That it wasn’t, diminishes John Steinbeck.  At least it does for me.

When asked about the authenticity of characters, Susan Shillinglaw, scholar in residence at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, said, “Does it really matter that much?”

Ignoring the astonishing arrogance of that response, I will volunteer an answer to the rhetorical question.  The answer is yes.  It really does matter that much.

It’s a question of trust and the integrity of words.

Steinbeck knew it, too.  He said so himself in the final words of his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech in 1962.

“Having taken God-like power, we must seek in ourselves for the responsibility and the wisdom we once prayed some deity might have. Man himself has become our greatest hazard and our only hope. So that today, saint John the Apostle may well be paraphrased: In the end is the word, and the word is man, and the word is with man.”

Resources: Travels without Charley, The New York Times, The Daily Post
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For ‘Tolkien Reading Day,’ a Favorite Quote

As someone with a strong sense of wanderlust, the second line of this quote always meant something special to me.  I heard it long before I became familiar with J.R.R.Tolkien or The Lord of the Rings, but when I found out Tolkien wrote it in The Fellowship of the Ring, I smile and thought, Yeah, that makes sense.

In honor of Tolkien Reading Day 2011, I’m happy to share a few of his words.

Resources: The Tolkien Society, Playdura on Flickr, The Daily Post

For the Love of Literary Landmarks

Literature and travel.  They’re as good together as chocolate and peanut butter.  Thanks, Reese’s!  One of my favorite things to do while traveling, is visit an author’s home.  I find it inspiring and motivating to be in the presence of greatness, and I often leave a visit with a renewed commitment to my writing.

I’ve seen many homes already and plan to keep going, but one of the challenges in planning a visit like this, is that there’s no clearing house of information on these homes.  They’re not exactly Disney (to some), so tourism guides often overlook them.

A.N. Devers, a writer with an obsession similar to mine (the literary/travel one, not the chocolate/peanut butter one), found the same thing.  In response, she created Writers’ Houses, an online travel guide to writers’ homes in the U.S., with a sprinkling of homes around the world.  The homes are searchable by author, city, state, or country.  Each listing includes links, photos, hours, addresses, and other details to help make trip planning easier.

The website, launched in July 2010, is a work-in-progress, and Ms. Devers hopes to expand it with contributions from other literary travelers.

If armchair travel is more your speed, Writers’ Houses is a fun place to visit.  Just point and click to visit Walt Whitman’s birthplace, Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home, or the F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum.

To get your trip started, here are a few of the literary landmarks I’ve visited:

William Faulkner’s office at Rowan Oak in Oxford, Mississippi.

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Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England

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  Dove Cottage, William Wordsworth’s home in Grasmere, Cumbria England
Resources: Writers Houses, The Daily Post

Beyond The Edge: Waterfalls

Waterfalls are among the most beautiful, peaceful, and powerful of nature’s phenomena.  What constitutes a waterfall varies depending on whom you ask, but what is certain is that it is water flowing over an area, falling over the edge, and dropping onto the surface below.

That’s a pretty dry (pardon the pun) description of a waterfall, and while pictures bring them to life a little bit more, they don’t begin to do them justice.  I’m often disappointed when I look through my pictures after a waterfall hunting trip because I have yet to take a photo that translates the experience strongly enough.

Still … they’re fun to look at.

Photos © Olivia Tejeda.  All rights reserved.

To hunt down a few waterfalls of your own, check out the U.S. Waterfall Map from geology.com.

Resources: Geology.com, The Daily Post

Have Book, Will Travel

One of the many joys of travel is that it allows us to break away from our busy schedules and gives us more time to read.  How often have you saved a special book (books, in my case) to read on vacation, on the beach, on the flight?  Reading and travel are a natural go-together.

Author and RVer, Brad Herzog takes the irresistible pairing a step further on his blog You Are Here. In “Great Books, State by State,” Mr. Herzog writes not just about reading on the road, but about “the wonders of reading the right books in the right locales.”

He goes on to list 50 books for 50 states, citing both the obvious (“A River Runs Through It” for Montana, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” for Missouri) and the obscure (“American Pastoral” for New Jersey, “My Sister’s Keeper” for Rhode Island).  Even with the more tenuous links, it’s not much of a stretch to see how location plays a part in the story.  Reading a novel while traveling its setting can only improve the experience of each.

“As long as there have been travelers, there have been attempts to put the experience into words. But sometimes what has already been written can improve the ride,” he writes in the earlier post, “Pages and Places,” which inspired this list.

To see the entire list, please visit: GREAT BOOKS, STATE BY STATE.

Resources: The Daily Post

It’s All About ME (Maine)

As a kid, I spent just about every summer vacation at the beach on the southern coast of Maine.  My family rented a house in the tiny hamlet of Pine Point and every August, we’d indulge in as much sand, sun, lobster, and relaxation as we could possibly take in.

As years passed, the summer trips grew less  frequent, but my love of the aptly nicknamed Vacationland kept growing.   I’ve gone back to visit every time I had the chance, which hasn’t been nearly often enough.  When I yearn to “get away,” it’s Maine I want.

Here’s part of the reason why:

 

On The Road, Just Me and Mom

My mother was here last week.  Her plan was to visit my brother and his family in San Francisco, then she was coming to see me in Arizona.  She was supposed to be here for two weeks, but I live in a quiet part of Arizona, and I know my mom … two weeks here and she’d be crawling the walls.

The solution?  Road trip!  (Honestly, I think a road trip is the solution to most problems.)

I drove to San Francisco to meet her, and the two of us took a week to wander along the Pacific Coast, up into Vegas and back down to Phoenix.  It was a great trip and we saw some fantastic sites.  Once again, I was awed by the diverse beauty of this part of the world, from the immense views of the ocean from the Pacific Coast Highway to Arizona’s stunning red rocks in Sedona.

Here are a few highlights (click on a photo to see it full size):

Photos © Olivia Tejeda.  All rights reserved.

Resources: The Daily Post

Yosemite National Park: Near and Far

In October, Hon and I visited Yosemite National Park in California.  It was my first visit, and I can’t wait to go back.  These pictures might explain why.

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All images by Olivia Tejeda.  Some rights reserved
Resources: Yosemite National Park, The Daily Post

A Thousand Words: Monument Valley

A Thousand Words is a photo prompt I will be sharing each Sunday.  Maybe the images will inspire you to write a short story, a haiku, a blog post, a grocery list.  Maybe you’ll just sit back, look at the photos, and think, Olivia must have writer’s block today.  Whatever your response, I hope you enjoy the pictures each week and that they inspire you to something that brings out your best creative zen.

If you write something based on the image, feel free to share a link in the comments section.   Also feel free to use the photo on your blog, just be sure to give proper credit, which I will always include in the caption.

Resources: The Daily Post, Monument Valley

Lentils & Luck: Oh, What to Eat on New Year’s Day?

Happy New Year!  Happy New Decade!

Nonni's handwritten cookbook is filled with family recipes and pictures, but no lentils.

My grandmother always kicked off the new year with a huge vat of lentil soup.  “It brings good luck,” she’d say.  But I was out of luck because I didn’t like lentil soup, and had to make do (suffer with me a moment) with plates full of perfection in the form of her meatballs and brasciole.  Mmm, my mouth waters thinking of them now!

I still think of her lentil soup every New Year’s Day, and considered making it this year even though I’m still not a fan.  I looked through the cookbook she put together for her family, but alas!  No lentil soup!  Then I wondered what else people eat on New Year’s Day for luck, prosperity, good health, etc.  Here’s what I found:

In the Southern U.S., it’s a tradition to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for prosperity.  Nicole from Pinch My Salt, one of my favorite food blogs, shares her recipe for Smoky Spiced Black-Eyed Peas with Bacon.

It’s an Asian tradition to eat long noodles, a symbol of long life on New Year’s Day.  Just remember, you’re not supposed to break the noodle before eating it.  From Cooking with Alison, here’s a delicious recipe for Sesame Noodle Salad.

In Germany, Ireland, and parts of the U.S., folded greens symbolize money and eating cabbage is thought to bring good fortune and prosperity. At The Giant Cabbage, Cherie Stihler has collected more than 200 recipes.  That’s a lot of cabbage!

Greece and Turkey associate pomegranates with abundance and fertility. I associate them with delicious.  Just watching the opening photos on the California Pomegranates site made me hungry for the succulent little ruby red gems.

Throughout North America, Asia, and Europe, people eat fish to celebrate the new year.  Fish swim forward so they are associated with forward momentum, and since they swim in schools, they symbolize abundance and community.  Slow Roasted Salmon with Cabbage, Bacon, and Dill from SeriousEats.com covers a couple of the lucky New Year’s food groups and looks gorgeous!

Homer Simpson and a donutFinally, we have the Dutch, who believe the shape of a ring symbolizes coming full circle, and so on New Year’s Day they eat donuts.

What about you?  Do you have any New Year’s Day food traditions?  Want to go Dutch with me today?  Mmmm, donuts!