Self has been reading blazing fast, ever since she began Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, vol. 1 of The Book of Dust, in late March. The last week of March, and through April and May, she was on such a tear. After La Belle Sauvage, she read all of His Dark Materials, then moved on to childhood classics like Treasure Island and Lord of the Flies, Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey, Tove Jansson’s exquisite The Summer Book, two first novels (As Lie Is to Grin by Simeon Marsalis and Mikhail and Margarita by Julie Lekstrom Himes, both excellent), and two books by Tim O’Brien (In the Lake of the Woods gutted her. In fact, she can’t stop thinking about it)
Since beginning Travels with Charley, however, she’s been moving at a glacial pace. It took her forever just to get through the Jay Parini introduction, and she’s just on p. 17.
She almost put the book aside last night, because it suddenly struck her that the kind of problems a man might encounter while traveling alone through America are very different from the kind of problems self experiences when she travels alone — self has traveled through not just America, but through Asia and Europe — and she is usually alone. It gets harder with every passing year. Security seems more suspicious (so many stamps on her passport!), people are less kind (or maybe self has just become more paranoid), and she’s definitely become more impatient. For one thing, she hates delays of any sort, and she hates flying because it’s so dehumanizing.
On p. 17, Steinbeck shares one of his underlying reasons for undertaking this trip, and she understands:
- A kind of second childhood falls on so many men. They trade their violence for a small increase of life span. In effect, the head of the household becomes the youngest child. And I have searched myself for this possibility with a kind of horror. For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment. I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage.
Travel is one way to resist the gravitational pull of age. It’s like being young again because everything is new, and you can still be surprised, on a daily basis.
(Note: Self was taken aback that Steinbeck viewed himself as a kind of Ernest Hemingway manly man. She’s always thought of him as ‘gentle.’ He might even be insulted by that description.)
Self can’t believe summer is officially here. Time moves so fast. Soon, she’ll have a harvest of figs and plums from her backyard: