Thursday, November 24, 2005

First 'Friday Book of the Week'

This is the first in what I hope will be a weekly perusal of my bookshelves for all-time favourite books and quotes therefrom. The idea is that every Friday I take a book which I love and quote from it - or something like that anyway.

The fact that it is still Thursday gives you an idea of how this is going to pan out...but my excuse is that I have an English course all day tomorrow and I have to play in the evening so I might not have time otherwise.

So, the book which waved at me from the shelf turns out to be an absolute perfect first book for this weekly literary ramble. It was my ancient falling-to-pieces copy of John Steinbeck's 'Travels with Charley' which I managed to liberate from the shelves of the school where I was working, the now defunct Pitmans' School of English in Munich, when they were closing down in 1982. I snaffled the book and at the same time a couple of tables - one of which is in this very room as I write, covered in all sorts of papers and letters, cassettes and what-not.

I love this book but I have to be careful about reading it because everytime I do it makes me restless and gives me a dose of what the German language, reaching into its stock of very useful and expressive words, would call Fernweh ...which I suppose I would translate as 'itchy feet'.

John Steinbeck decides he needs to get back in touch with his own country, to find out what people are really talking about, what your typical American thinks, feels, is moved by; so he gets himself a sturdy little camping truck and sets off with his dog, the eponymous Charley to cross the United States - that alone is enough to make me burst with envy and my feet itch me to near insanity. There follows "a rambling passionate soliloquy written by a man whose simple goodness is the true continuity."

He sets off just after Labor Day, which is the first Monday in September if I am not mistaken, and this is a little bit from very early on in the trip:

"We drove on in the autumn afternoon, heading north. Because I was self-contained, I thought it might be nice if I could invite people I met along the way to my home for a drink, but I had neglected to lay in liquor... ...a small store was set well back from the road in a grove of sugar maples. It had a well-kept garden and flower boxes. The owner was a young-old man with a grey face, I suspect a teetotaller. He opened his order book and straightened the carbons with patient care. You never know what people will want to drink. I ordered bourbon, scotch, gin, vermouth, vodka, a medium good brandy, aged applejack, and a case of beer. It seemed to me that those might take care of most situations. It was a big order for a little store. The owner was impressed.
"Must be quite a party."
"No - it's just traveling supplies."
He helped me carry the cartons out and I opened Rocinante's door.
(Rocinante is the name Steinbeck has given to his truck)
"You going in that?"
"All over."
And then I saw what I was to see so many times on the journey - a look of longing. "Lord, I wish I could go."
"Don't you like it here?"
"Sure. It's all right, but I wish I could go."
"You don't even know where I'm going."
"I don't care. I'd like to go anywhere."

Just going through that little bit I realise how much Steinbeck has influenced my style of writing (I hope) even down to the use of hyphens - and it has also made me want to read the book again instead of writing this post!

This Friday book thing could be about to stop before it has begun...

('Travels with Charley' by (the brilliant) John Steinbeck is defo available from Penguin and MUST be read...)

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