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The Reading Ape

What's interesting to me about this dust-up is that it sheds light on an aspect of reading often overlooked: the burden on expectation that grows out of genre.

If a reader thinks something is non-fiction, it has expectations not present in fiction. The converse is also true. In this case, the text has not shifted at all, only our generic perspective.

If you enjoyed Travels with Charley as "true," then this news will damaging. If you enjoyed it as a reading experience, then most likely this doesn't affect your view.

But I think we are well reminded that part of what we want from reading is pleasure, and part of what we want is information. And in order for that second desire to be fulfilled, we need to be able to trust that the information we are getting is accurate. How much was Steinbeck manipulating his readers by calling it non-fiction? How much less popular would the book have been had it been labeled "fictional"?

This is one case where genre does indeed matter.

Susan in TX

I suppose if you had said we were going to read a Steinbeck novel for the book group, I might not have been as enthusiastic. But, because I enjoyed it as a "reading experience" as The Reading Ape put it, I don't think it bothers me now or changes the fact that I enjoyed it. It is as you say, an interesting question to ask about a creative mind.

Julie Fredericksen

"Say it ain't so, John!" (A takeoff on what a kid said to Shoeless Joe Jackson about the Black Sox scandal.)

moira mcpartlin

I love the book, and dont mind that some of it was fabricated. It has inspired me to do the Charley trail and if JS didn't stay out in the camper van he missed out. This sort of thing happens all the time. Monty Halls TV programme a few years back painted an idylic corfters life in Applecross. I know this area and the people well and what was shown on TV is far from the reality of Monty's stay there. We should give John Stienbeck a break, I have also read his Russian Joureny and even is a tenth of it is true it is still a great trip.


I feel betrayed.

I do not find it acceptable that writers (or anyone else for that matter) claim to have had real experiences of which the basic facts were not true. And to make a financial profit as a result of this deception just makes it worse.


I've read and re-read Travels with Charley, and enjoyed it as much the second time. So sad that others take life and reading so seriously

A wonderful current travelogue about the US journey, written by a husband and wife team from Canada is Breakfast at the Exit Cafe. I wrote about it in my Reading Diary


I notice that everyone assumes Steinbeck did fabricate the book at least in part - why has no one asked if Steigerwald fabricated his version for the sake of a great story?

I have little doubt that the story was emotionally true, even if the details were transposed, or buffed up a little. And when you're asked about your holiday, when did you ever just tell the plain unvarnished truth?

Dark Puss

I loved the book and I did not for one moment suppose that is was all true whatever that might mean! I read it assuming it to be a novelist's impression of the USA based upon his real experiences and not a police notebook reporting of incidents.

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