Currently viewing the tag: "parini"

But after half a century of masquerading as a work of nonfiction, and after almost 1.5 million copies sold, John Steinbeck’s iconic road book “Travels With Charley” has quietly come clean with its readers.

Penguin Group, which owns the rights to Steinbeck’s works, didn’t quite come out and call “Travels With Charley” a literary fraud, as I did first in the Post-Gazette in December 2010 and five months later in Reason magazine.

But the company has been forced to admit that the beloved book about a great American writer traveling around the country in a camper with his poodle is so heavily fictionalized it should not be taken literally.

Before I detail Penguin’s confession, some background is in order. For the past two years I’ve caused trouble for a lot of the “Travels With Charley” fans, scholars and publishers who live on Steinbeck World.

It started innocently. In the fall 2010, as part of a book project to show how much America has changed in the past 50 years, I wanted to retrace faithfully Steinbeck’s 10,000-mile road trip. The Post-Gazette granted me a blog, “Travels Without Charley,” to chronicle the journey, and published a series of my pieces in the Sunday Magazine.

While doing research in libraries and reading the original manuscript of the book, however, I stumbled onto a 50-year-old literary “scoop.”

As I revealed in my Dec. 5, 2010, PG article “The Fabulism of ‘Travels With Charley,’ ” there were major discrepancies between Steinbeck’s actual road trip and what he wrote in the book.

Though it had always been marketed, sold, reviewed and taught as the true account of Steinbeck’s circumnavigation of the USA in the fall of 1960, “Charley” was not very true or accurate or honest at all.

It was not nonfiction. It was mostly fiction — plus a few lies and deliberate distortions thrown in by Steinbeck and his sly editors at the Viking Press to create the myth that he traveled alone, roughed it and spent a lot of time studying and thinking about America and its people.

It took a while for my charges against Steinbeck to escape the gravitational field of Pittsburgh. But in April 2011, five months after my article for the PG, The New York Times “discovered” me and made my accusations globally famous — for the usual 15 minutes.

Most of my fellow journalists praised me for my discovery. But I was cursed by Steinbeck groupies around the world for spoiling their fun with my fierce fetish for facts. It was hard to persuade them I didn’t hate Steinbeck or “Charley,” which, despite its lapses in the truth department, flashes with his great nature writing, wisdom and humor.

And some college English professors who believe the use of creative fictional techniques in nonfiction is a good and common thing dismissed me for wasting so much energy proving what they claimed was irrelevant or always obvious.

Penguin’s recent admission of the fictional genetic makeup of “Charley” was subtle — so subtle no one noticed it but professional-Steinbeck-watchdog me. It had been quietly slipped into the introduction of a new edition of “Charley,” which was released on Oct. 2 to co-celebrate the book’s 50th birthday and the 50th anniversary of Steinbeck’s Nobel Prize for Literature.

The lengthy introduction was first written for a 1997 paperback edition by esteemed Middlebury College English professor, author and Steinbeck biographer Jay Parini.

In his original introduction, Mr. Parini had pointed out Steinbeck’s heavy use of fictional elements, especially dialogue. Otherwise he treated “Charley” just as 2.5 generations of Steinbeck scholars had always treated it — as if it was the true and honest account of the author’s road trip and what he thought about America and Americans.

Into the latest edition, however, Mr. Parini inserted the cold truth:

“Indeed, it would be a mistake to take this travelogue too literally, as Steinbeck was at heart a novelist, and he added countless touches — changing the sequence of events, elaborating on scenes, inventing dialogue — that one associates more with fiction than nonfiction. (A mild controversy erupted, in the spring of 2011, when a former reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did some fact-checking and noticed that Steinbeck’s itinerary didn’t exactly fit that described in the book, and that some of the people he supposedly interviewed, such as an actor at a campsite in North Dakota, never existed.)

“It should be kept in mind, when reading this travelogue, that Steinbeck took liberties with the facts, inventing freely when it served his purposes, using everything in the arsenal of the novelist to make this book a readable, vivid narrative.”

Naturally I was pleased to see that the truth had come out because of my efforts. Naturally I was not pleased to see that my name was not mentioned.

I sent a sarcastic email to Mr. Parini for making a mistake no rookie journalist would have made. Ignoring my serial insults, Mr. Parini took the classy, professorial road. He apologized profusely, near abjectly. I forgave him, though I really don’t know why.

It took half a century, and it cost me a lot of time and work and money, but at least the truth had triumphed. At least from now on anyone who buys a new copy of “Travels With Charley” will not be fooled.

The Steinbeck Review is supposed to be devoted to scholarship, but is it?

Here’s what SR says it is all about:

Steinbeck Review is an authorized publication on the life and works of American novelist John Steinbeck (1902-1968). It publishes scholarly articles; notes; book and performance reviews; creative writing; original artwork; short intercalary pieces offering fresh perspectives, including notes on contemporary references to Steinbeck, discussions of the contexts of his work, and an occasional poem. Review has a three-fold mission of broadening the scope of Steinbeck criticism, promoting the work of new and established scholars, and serving as a resource for Steinbeck teachers at all levels.

Sounds like a fair and honest publication, right? Comprehensive. Reliable. A trustworthy site for all things Steinbeck. Too bad its scholars haven’t reviewed my 2013 book “Dogging Steinbeck.” Or even mentioned it.

In the spring of 2011 the SR did print a shall-we-say less-than scholarly article by a Steinbeck fan in response to what the New York Times wrote about my discoveries of Steinbeck’s many fictions and lies. But SR hasn’t mentioned my book or seriously addressed what I proved four years ago — that John Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley” was a work of fiction and not the true or honest nonfiction account of his 1960 road trip and what he thought about America.

For half a century Steinbeck scholars blew it on “Charley.”

They never bothered to look with a skeptical eye at the iconic American road book, which has flashes of good writing and glints of wise humor but is awful in many many ways that have nothing to do with telling the truth in a nonfiction book.

As I’ve said in my book, which exposed “Charley” for the literary fraud it was for 50 years, I don’t expect the Steinbeck Studies Industrial Complex to give me an honorary masters in literary studies.

And I recognize that it is possible for English professors with Ph.D’s to argue with a straight face that the fictions and lies Steinbeck told were told in the interest of telling larger truths about America.

But the most recent issue of the Steinbeck Review shows just how sloppy and stupid or just plain smug and arrogant its editors can be (Editor-in-Chief Barbara A. Heavilin, Associate Editor Mary M. Brown and Book Review Editor Thomas E. Barden).

In its back pages the most recent SR presents a list of the “Major Steinbeck Publications of 2012–2013.”

The compiler of that list didn’t mention my 2013 Amazon.com e-book “Dogging Steinbeck” — or even one of several newspaper and magazine articles I wrote in 2012 about the fictional (and deceptive) nature of Steinbeck’s classic.

Steinbeck scholars dismiss “Dogging Steinbeck” for various reasons. It didn’t have a big publisher. It doesn’t have footnotes. It’s not an academic work. It wasn’t peer-reviewed (unless the great Brian Lamb of C-SPAN counts).

But “Dogging Steinbeck” is a serious work of journalism that should interest all Steinbeck lovers/scholars, pro and amateur.

I discovered a lot of interesting, new (and previously unpublicized) information about Steinbeck, his real 1960 “Charley” trip, the slippery editing of “Charley” and the devious lengths to which Viking Press editors went to shape Steinbeck’s original draft into what I call the “Travels With Charley” Myth.

What I proved also changed the way “Travels With Charley” will be read for the rest of eternity.  Hint: It will no longer be considered a work of nonfiction.

As Jay Parini wrote when he was forced — by my trouble-making — to sneakily add disclaimers to his introduction in the 50th anniversary edition of the book last fall, “Charley” is a work of fiction by a great novelist. (That rather important adjustment by Parini also has been ignored by the Steinbeck Review, as far as I know.)

As they say, the truth about “Charley” is all in my book. I encourage all Steinbeck lovers — and editors of the SR — to read it and critique it or trash it. Just please don’t ignore it before this oversight gets any more embarrassing.

Besides not mentioning the publication of “Dogging Steinbeck,” here is what else the Steinbeck Review’s bibliographer (Kathleen Hicks) forgot to include in her list of 2012-2013 publications:

Reason magazine, July 25, 2012: “Whitewashing John Steinbeck: Why partisan politics and virulent racism were cut from the celebrated ‘non-fiction’ road book Travels With Charley” Steinbeck’s “Paragraph of Filth,” which was edited out of his first draft in 1961 because it was too vulgar to publish then or now, is seen by the public for the first time.

Reizen zonder John: Op zoek naar Amerika (“Traveling Without John: In Search of America”), August, 2012: In his 573-page book famed Dutch journalist and author Geert Mak recounts his 2010 retracing of Steinbeck’s “Charley” trip, publicizes my discoveries about Steinbeck’s fictions and lies and praises my dogged journalism (in Dutch). It’ll be published in English for the UK market in November of 2014, so it will have to be included in SR’s next bibliography.

tumblr_n7zatwvlCA1rxrxxxo1_1280

Jon McNaught did the cover for Dutchman Geert Mak’s English-language edition.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 14, 2012: ‘Travels With Charley’: Now officially mostly fiction” My article points out that because of my discoveries Penguin Group had quietly inserted disclaimers into the introduction of their latest edition of “Charley,” making it clear the book was so fictionalized it should not be believed as the true story of Steinbeck’s trip.

C-SPAN, March 3, 2013: “Q&A” C-SPAN founding father Brian Lamb interviewed me for an hour about how I came to write “Dogging Steinbeck” on his “Q&A” program.

For its past issues, Steinbeck Review could add these references from 2010 and 2011:

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 5, 2010: “Sorry, Charley” Though “Travels With Charley” has been marketed, reviewed and taught as a work of nonfiction for half a century, I charge that it is mostly fiction and a dishonest account of his actual journey.

NPR media watchdog show “On the Media” with Bob Garfield, Dec. 24, 2010: The first national media coverage of me and my literary “scoop.”

Monterey County Weekly, Jan. 20, 2011: In “Travels With Steinbeck” Steinbeck scholar Susan Shillinglaw discredits my journalism and pooh-poohs my findings when interviewed for a feature story on Bill Barich’s Steinbeck-inspired 2010 book, “Long Way Home: On the Trail of Steinbeck’s America.” My response.

Reason magazine, April, 2011: “Sorry, Charley: Was John Steinbeck’s ‘Travels With Charley’ a Fraud?” A stronger indictment of Steinbeck’s literary fraud.

New York Times, April 4, 2011: “A Reality Check for Steinbeck and Charley” The Times “discovers” my story and culture writer Charles McGrath interviews me and two Steinbeck scholars, San Jose State English professor Susan Shillinglaw and Steinbeck biographer Jay Parini, who don’t think much of my discovery.

New York Times editorial, April 10, 2011: In “The Truth About Charley” the Paper of Record’s editorial page credits me with having made an “intriguing” and “disheartening” discovery about the high level of untruth and dishonesty in “Charley” and is irritated that Steinbeck scholars were so blasé about my findings.Wikipedia: Its “Travels With Charley” entry quickly added information about my indictment of the book’s veracity and in 2013 it added a portion of the disclaimer Penguin Group asked Professor Jay Parini to add to the introduction of the 50th anniversary edition of “Charley.”