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Following in the unreliable footsteps of Steinbeck

Geert Mak: In America – Travels With John Steinbeck.

It looks like I’ll be spending the rest of my life trying to get the credit I deserve for exposing Steinbeck’s fictions and lies in “Travels With Charley” and ruining the fun for Steinbeckies everywhere.
The Herald Scotland reviewed Geert Mak’s “In America: Travels With John Steinbeck” on Jan. 10.
It was a good review, but it made the usual mistake of not crediting me for what I did. (“Several scholars and journalists” outed Steinbeck, wrote reviewer Ian Bell.
I doubt that this self-promoting comment I sent to the Herald will get past its moderators, who don’t work weekends and  have  better hours (and more dumb rules) than bureaucrats or government regulators.
For the record, here is what I wrote:
If the readers of Scotland want to know the sordid details of just how much fictionalizing and fibbing Steinbeck did in “Travels With Charley,” and how I exposed his literary crime after 50 years, I urge them to seek out my Amazon ebook “Dogging Steinbeck.” As Geert Mak generously points out in his fine book, in 2010 I proved with my journalism on and off the road that “Travels” was so full of fiction that it could no longer be considered an honest work of nonfiction. (Because of my troublemaking, Penguin Group changed the introduction to “Travels” to say just that.) Also: Mak and I retraced Steinbeck’s 10,000-mile road trip concurrently in the fall of 2010, but we saw two different countries through our windscreens. That’s because he’s a proud Euro-socialist and I’m a proud libertarian. I like the (mostly) prosperous, safe and psychologically healthy country I saw better than the impoverished, fearful and diminished one he saw. Everything any Scot would want to know about my Steinbeck trip — including links to video and many photos — can be had at www.truthaboutcharley.com

Jan. 10 Update:

My mad attempt to penetrate the Herald Scotland’s over-regulated and asinine comment process continues. I hope this email — which I posted on their web site to give their mindless moderators something to do — annoys them. I repeat what I wrote here, so as to shame them for their tight-ass stupidity. The Herald Scotland is one of the oldest newspapers in the world and it acts like it.
As far as I can tell, my three attempts to add a comment to the Jan. 10 review of Geert Mak’s book “In America” have failed because I dared to mention my own Amazon ebook, “Dogging Steinbeck.”
Will a rational adult — and not a lawyer or former bureaucrat or mindless robot — please moderate my attempts to add a comment?
Pick one, any one, of the comments I’ve sent you. Ask Rosemary Goring’s advice.
 The fact that I am the veteran newspaper journalist who first exposed the heavy fictional content of “Travels With Charley” in 2010 and changed the way “Charley” will be read forever, is, while admittedly self-promotional (sorry), both important and interesting to the larger discussion of Steinbeck and “Charley.” No?
Despite what Mr. Bell implies in his review, in recent years “several scholars and journalists” did not simultaneously come to the same conclusion about “Charley’s” untruthfulness by accident; they only did so after I blew the literary whistle on Steinbeck’s fraudulent work, which had been passed off as a work of nonfiction for 50 years.
Geert Mak mentions me about 10 times in his book, credits me with my discoveries, repeats them and generously praises my dogged journalism.
Further proof of my claim: The New York Times editorial page praised my expose here in 2010 after its arts and entertainment section wrote about me here.
Travel writer Paul Theroux, Reason magazine, the Weekly Standard, NPR and the CBC, among many others, have covered my discovery and mentioned or reviewed my book, which I dare not mention again in a promotional way so as not to offend a publication that makes its profit selling advertising.
Your reviewer, unlike the reviews of Mak’s book in the Spectator and the Guardian, did not mention me. Fine.
But the Guardian and Spectator both allowed me to add my comments, criticize their reviews, correct their mistakes about me and blatantly flog my self-published book without posing a threat to the sanctity of their commenting processes or the credibility of their publications.
Is it too much to ask that the Herald — which, not surprisingly, has zero comments attached to the Mak review — figure out how to allow me to do the same?

The English version of Geert Mak’s Steinbeck/America book, “In America: Travels With John Steinbeck,” is the hit of the UK’s book pages.

Geert Mak sent me an English version of his 2012 book, which has been updated. The inscription reads: To Bill Steigerwald, Who really did what Steinbeck only suggested.”

It’s been reviewed  fairly favorably in the last two weeks by the bookies at the Guardian newspaper, the Spectator magazine and now the Herald, the Scottish paper that is the longest running national newspaper in the world.

Mak’s book — an impressive combination history book and travel book aimed at informing his fellow Dutch — is more than 500 pages and covers a lot of American ground.

A 2013 bestseller in Holland, it was hooked around the idea of following John Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley” route exactly 50 years later.

An ocean apart, we had the same book idea — to show how much America had changed from 1960 to 2010 by retracing Steinbeck’s “Charley” trip and comparing what we saw on the road with what he did.

Mak mentions me about a dozen times in his book and repeatedly praises me for my drive-by journalism and for digging up and exposing the fictions and lies Steinbeck filled “Charley” with.

It was/is a great honor to be praised by a great journalist like him.

We didn’t meet on the Old Steinbeck Highway in the fall of 2010, but we’ve met since. (He flew from New York City to Pittsburgh last year just to meet me and buy me lunch.)
We were only a day or two apart on the road as he and his wife drove behind me in their rented Jeep.

Mak slept in motels and behaved like a mature mid-60s author and journalist while I slept in my car and drove like a mad teenager.

Mak is a major Dutch media figure, best-selling historian and journalist who had a sweet book deal. I, being a nobody, could not get a publisher and so I had to travel on my own dime and time.

As I’ve said often, I had a blast chasing Steinbeck’s ghost, exposing his ethical lapses and dueling with the Steinbeck scholars. I would not rewind the tape of the last five years to do it any other way.

I’ll get my payoff when Kevin Costner options my book so he can play Steinbeck, the great author who at age 58 bit off more than he could chew when he set out to rediscover America.

Mak and I are not political soul mates, though we are both against the war on drugs, the wars in the Middle East and poor city planning.

He is a self-defined “euro-socialist” and therefore what we say is right and wrong about the Americas we saw in our books differs by about 180-degrees when it comes to economic policy, the wage gap and the efficacy  of government welfare programs.

The America he found was an ocean of impoverishment with outposts of prosperity that needed more government, not less; the America I found was an ocean of prosperity with outposts of poverty that had the federal government and both parties to blame for the economic woes of the Great Recession.

Someday I hope we will have a debate in Holland, where Mak jokes he has made Bill Steigerwald a household name.

About 54 years ago today, John Steinbeck finished his failed “Travels With Charley” road trip and dragged his tired and unhappy ass back home to New York City.

He had driven Rocinante about 10,000 miles in the fall of 1960 and spent the next 10 months, off and on, writing “Charley.”  As we now know, and as I put into “Dogging Steinbeck,” he had to make up a lot of stuff to fill his slim travel book — which was, quite deviously, edited and marketed as a true nonfiction account of his search for the America he had lost touch with.

When I followed Steinbeck’s trail faithfully in the fall of 2010, I didn’t know it but I was a few days ahead of famed Dutch historian/journalist Geert Mak. I only found out in 2012 that Mak too had had the idea of retracing Steinbeck’s journey as a way to compare the changes that have beset/improved America in the last 50 years.

The English edition of Mak’s “In America: Travels With John Steinbeck” — a fat and footnoted bestseller in Holland — has just come out.

Mak is a self-defined Euro-socialist. Therefore his view of the USA is more pessimistic than mine, which is libertarianly tilted and critical of the current media and the  snooty liberal East Coast view of Flyover Country that Steinbeck also held.

The Independent in London has reviewed  Mak’s book critically but fairly. There’s only one comment — mine.

Here’s how Stuart Evers’ review starts….

In America: Travels with John Steinbeck by Geert Mak, book review: A depiction of a country in decline, but was he looking in the right places?

The cultural life of America – film, music, literature – so important in founding and reasserting a national identity, is almost totally ignored by the author

Geert Mak’s retracing of John Steinbeck’s celebrated American journey, Travels with Charley, first appeared in the Netherlands in 2012 under the title Travels Without John: In Search of America.

In this fluid English translation by Liz Waters, the title has been transposed and refocused to In America: Travels with John Steinbeck. In purely commercial terms, one can see why the publisher would want to amplify the Steinbeck link, make him a part of the action. Yet this is a disparity that points to the problem at the heart of this book: it doesn’t quite know exactly what it wants to be.

Steinbeck, at least at first, had a clear idea of both what he was writing, and why he was writing it. In 1960, after an illness had forced him to take stock, he set off from Sag Harbour – with his dog, Charley – journeying through 33 of the 50 American states, to find the country he loved. It’s the last of Steinbeck’s major works, and one that begins in hope and macho endeavour, and ends in downbeat disappointment. It’s a journey riven with great writing, moments of drama and self-reflection; it is also hugely fictionalised, and most probably more imagination than fact.