Community commentary: 'Travels Without Charley' takes another turn

May 03, 2011|By Bill Steigerwald

Gail Steinbeck's Mailbag entry is full of too many mistakes, wild assumptions and misrepresentations about me, my motives and my research/reporting habits to address all of them here ("Mailbag: Steinbeck's daughter-in-law says 'Travel' is true," April 30).

But before she decided to accuse me of being a lousy journalist and some creepy sort of publicity hound who set out to debunk "Travels with Charley" to make a name for myself, she should have done a little more research.

Here's what I wrote in my Reason article:

"My initial motives for digging into Travels With Charley were totally innocent. 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"....


I've consistently said the same thing on my web site and when I was interviewed by the national news media outfits she thinks I control (NPR, the CBC in Canada, the New York Times): I never set out to debunk Steinbeck, his trip or his book.

The truth is, I started doing research/reporting and merely followed the facts (which have been gathering dust in the Steinbeck archives for 35 years). Any "educated scholar" with a skeptical gene in her body could have found out what I did.

And I don't know where Steinbeck got the idea that all I did was read a few letters at "the Mercantile Library" — whatever that is (there is a library by that name in Cincinnati, but I've never been there). I think she meant the Morgan Library, which is in New York City, and which is where I went last summer to read the original handwritten manuscript of "TWC."

The specifics of my library research are scattered on my web site, but here they are in one place:

In addition to the Morgan, I went to Stanford's Green Library twice, San Jose State's Steinbeck Center twice, the National Steinbeck Center, the Mudd Library at Princeton, the Monterey Public Library, the San Francisco Public Library, the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh. Plus, I've gotten help from librarians in Austin, Butte, St. Johnsbury, Vt., Amarillo, Seattle and elsewhere.

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