From the monthly archives: "December 2012"

My ebook “Dogging Steinbeck” would never have happened without the support, interest and divine intercession of my ideological soulmates and friends at Reason magazine.

Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of reason.com, has been especially fond of “Dogging” and praises it generously in Reason’s year-end roundup of the best books of 2012:

Nick Gillespie:

No book gave me more of a kick this year than Bill Steigerwald’s investigative travelogue Dogging Steinbeck. After getting a buyout from The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in 2009, veteran journalist and Reason contributor Steigerwald decided to retrace the road trip that Nobel laureate John Steinbeck immortalized in his 1962 classic Travels with Charley. Steigerwald figured that at journey’s end, he’d have material for a book exploring how far we’ve come as a country since the Kennedy years.

Instead, Steigerwald uncovered a massive literary fraud that speaks directly to contemporary controversies over ostensibly nonfiction narratives such as Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea, Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine, and Mike Daisey’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. The newsman found out that the Grapes of Wrath author either hugely exaggerated or just made up many of the encounters described in Charley. Steinbeck also misrepresented the actual conditions of the trip in ways that shouldn’t be tolerated in tomes whose authority derive from their facticity. Far from spending mostly solitary days with Charley the dog, Steinbeck was accompanied by his wife for almost half his time on the road. And far from roughing it, they spent a good chunk of time at high-end hotels or at places such as Adlai Stevenson’s Illinois mansion.

Steigerwald’s slowly growing exasperation with Steinbeck’s dissembling is a joy to read, as is his incredulous reaction to Steinbeck scholars who wave away the esteemed author’s flagrant bullshitting. But best of all is the contemporary America that Steigerwald discovers. Where Steinbeck inveighed against comic books and processed food and crabbed that the nation had grown spiritually “flabby” and “immoral,” Steigerwald is positively Whitmanesque in his celebration of the country. Self-published as an ebook, Dogging Steinbeck also embodies a do-it-yourself culture that was just gearing up in a big way in the early 1960s.

“There’s something…obvious about America that’s never pointed out by the media,” writes Steigerwald. “The states and counties and cities and villages and crossroads are filled with smart, good Americans who can take pretty good care of themselves. They prove it every day. People in Baraboo and Stonington and Amarillo know what’s best for them. They’ll adjust to whatever changes that come.”

Worth more than the sales of my ebook “Dogging Steinbeck” are the nice, smart comments I’ve gotten from my fellow journalists and perceptive readers at Amazon.com — without having to bribe a single one.

The great travel writer Paul Theroux, who doesn’t dig it when famous travel writers lie about their trips,  hasn’t read the book. But he encouraged me to write it and has credited me for my findings of Steinbeck’s literary fraud.

“I compared his published letters with his travels and saw great discrepancies,” the author of “The Tao of Travel” told me in an email. “These facts have been public for years, but no one cared to mention them. … Steinbeck falsified his trip. I am delighted that you went deep into this.”

Curt Gentry, the author of a dozen books including “Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders” (with Vincent Bugliosi), did read “Dogging Steinbeck.” He’s also a “character” in it — a mini-hero, actually.

Here’s what Curt wrote about my book in his Amazon blurb:

“I still believe John Steinbeck is one of America’s greatest writers and I still love ‘Travels With Charley,’ be it fact or fiction or, as Bill Steigerwald doggedly proved, both. While I disagree with a number of Steigerwald’s conclusions, I don’t dispute his facts. He greatly broadened my understanding of Steinbeck the man and the author, particularly during his last years. And, whether Steigerwald intended it or not, in tracking down the original draft of ‘Travels With Charley’ he made a significant contribution to Steinbeck’s legacy. “Dogging Steinbeck” is a good honest book.”

Not everyone will like my book, what I say about Steinbeck or his book, or what I say about America and what/who ails it.

But whether “Dogging Steinbeck” is a bust-seller or a best-seller, comments like Theroux’s and Gentry’s are priceless.

Yesterday the MSNBC all-stars — Rachel Maddow, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Lawrence O’Donnell —  dropped into the White House’s West Wing to share their brilliant tax ideas with the President.

Let’s hope that Mr. Obama listened to nothing said by  Ms. Tedious or  Rev. Al, who if he gets any smaller will be appearing in Pixar movies.

But Larry O’Donnell, despite his nightly liberal rantings, could teach the Prez (and his liberal choirmates) a thing or two about the free enterprise system and why killing what’s left of it with higher taxes and more dumb regulations is a bad thing to do.

In 2005 I asked O’Donnell, the executive producer of “West Wing” and a screenwriter,  about all the fine free-market rhetoric he was putting into the mouth of Alan Alda’s conservative Republican character.

I asked him if he really believed all that Milton Friedman stuff:

“Yes. I believe (the late supply-side economist) Jude Winniski’s arguments about how high tax rates damage the economies of poor African countries. But what I would not want to suggest about it is, if we fixed the tax rates, everything is going to be OK. The other huge problem that Africa has is American agriculture subsidies, which are a disastrous policy, I believe, on every level, in terms of what it does to poverty internationally, in terms of what it does to our misallocation of resources here. I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t majored in economics in college. I just wouldn’t.”

He said not to worry — there was no inner libertarian trying to get out:

“No, no, no. I’m a European socialist, believe me – I’m far to the left. But I understand. I’m a kind of practical socialist. I know we failed. A lot of our ideas have failed, so I’m not with them anymore. I’m willing to take from a grab-bag of stuff that works….

“Unfortunately, I think respect for the market seems to be something that I have not seen anyone derive outside education. I haven’t seen people gravitate toward a natural respect for the market. And it doesn’t have rhetoric to go with it. I think the rhetoric Vinick (Alda’s character) used about it was about the best I’ve heard….

“Where Vinick was talking about the market most clearly was in the energy discussion, when they talk about government support for alternative forms of energy. And Vinick starts with, ‘I don’t think politicians are going to be very good at picking energy sources.’ And then he says ‘The government didn’t shift us from using shale oil to using the oil discovered under the ground.’ ”

The whole interview is  here but don’t tell O’Donnell’s bosses at MSNBC what he really thinks about Nike sweatshops and oil companies, or he might have to try to get a job at Fox.

 

About three people I know have read my entire book “Dogging Steinbeck,” which is for sale on Amazon.com as an ebook for a lousy $6.99 but is still in process of becoming a print-on-demand book.

Message from Bill Steigerwald, my marketing director:

“Dogging Steinbeck” makes a fine (i.e., cheap) Christmas present for anyone who loves Steinbeck or hates Steinbeck; who loves “Travels With Charley” or hates it; who prefers American road books that aren’t written by New York or Europeans liberals; or who prefers truth and fact in nonfiction books rather than fibs and fiction.

Since I didn’t have an editor or copy editor to save my from my imperfect and mad self, my unpaid, invaluable readers have been invaluable. white_font_cover_copy_for_pg

They caught many little mistakes of fact, typos or dumb writing, which I have fixed thanks to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program that allows writers to easily add material or fix mistakes.

My friend Jim Dourgarian, aka Bookman, who’s a major West Coast book collector, a Steinbeck expert and an ex-newspaperman, saved me from my worst embarrassment.

I had at least 20 semicolons sprinkled throughout my book.

For someone who once told his one and only class of college students to never, ever, use a semicolon, as I did, it was shameful.

Of course, neither I nor my marketing director Bill Steigerwald will ever use another; again.