Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck

Travels with Charley: In Search of AmericaTravels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck

My rating: ★★★★☆

I had never heard of Travels with Charlie when I first saw a second-hand audio cassette copy of it sitting on the for-sale shelf at my local library; I recognized the author, however, having read The Pearl when I was eleven. Despite never being a fan of audiobooks, I opted to give Travels a try, and ended up listening to it over the course of several afternoons.

Before I say anthing further, I want to reiterate that this review is a reflection specifically of the audiobook narrated by Gary Sinise… and an unfortunate amount of my opinion resulted from the fact that Sinise has a voice I absolutely could not stand when I started listening. (Unfortunately, I have an unusual sensitivity to sound; everyday annoyances, like hearing people eat or sniffle, tends to make my skin crawl unless I’m intently focused on something else, and droning or nasal voices produce similar effects.) So the first few chapters of Travels were made almost insufferable by the narrator’s vocal quirks; eventually, the book picked up to the point that I could for the most part ignore Sinise and focus on Steinbeck. By the end of the book, Sinise’s voice had grown on me–or at the very least, I’d decided it matched the narrative enough to find it somewhat charming.

On the subject of Travels itself, I didn’t expect to enjoy it. Not a bit, really. I expected to plop the tape into the cassette player that’s been used on-and-off by my mother and me since at least the 90’s, and to listen to some boring white man reading a novel about another boring white man. I had no idea what the book was going to be about, nor whether it was fiction or memoir. I pressed play with only vague remembrances of my experience with The Pearl as a starting point for my expectations.

While I found Travels rather dull for the first few chapters, I came away from the listening experience rather pleased. I found Travels to be an interesting glimpse into an era I know very little about, the 1960’s being a decade that my parents are too young to clear remember (having been born in the middle of the decade themselves). The America of Travels is one I will never personally experience, but one that’s vastly interesting; with myriad aspects both strikingly familiar and wholly alien to someone born in 1993, Steinbeck’s 1960’s trip across the country provided insight into various American lifestyles of the decade, the mind-twentieth century’s social movements and evolving race relations (with one particular scene about Ruby Bridges and white protesters), and a quickly shifting nation. And yet all of this is presented from the point of view of a casual onlooker, not a political advocate. It’s refreshing in its detachment, and provided a much more enjoyable listening experience than I’d been expecting. All in all, I’m pleased to have picked up the audiobook.


You’re No Friends of the Library; Or, Why I Won’t Be Attending Any More Library Book Sales

Warning: Rant Incoming!
My library has a “Friends of the Library” program, and once every sixth months or so, they hold a book sale. Everything’s in good condition, though I find a lot of it to be rather overpriced. I mean, you wouldn’t think that $1 per hardcover is expensive by any standard, but every other library in the county does “fill a bag for $2” deals… so $1/book feels like I’m getting ripped off when I could go to the next town and get the same book for a dime. But the children’s books are only a quarter, so I usually end up leaving with a bag full of them. Not this time.

I was a little miffed when I walked into the room this weekend and found that the price of the children’s books had doubled since the last book sale. No big deal, though; it just means I was going to have to be pickier than usual. Instead of filling up a bag, I’ll just get a couple. Because, frankly, I don’t feel like a ten-year-old book of less than 150 pages is worth a half-dollar, especially when I’m unemployed. So I ended up turning down the collection of Nancy Drew books I wanted to grab, as well as a bunch of Hardy Boys and Animorphs books. I ended up with a stack of eight; six children’s chapter books and two middle grade. Time to pay.

Now, the Friends of the Library as a group seems to be comprised entirely of curmudgeonly old folks. I have never once been to a Friends of the Library sale when the person sitting at the desk was friendly or polite. They’re gossipy and rather rude. They barely acknowledge your presence most of the time. They are absolutely the worst people you could have at your charity sale, because they clearly don’t care about the event or the cause. They want to talk to their friends, and they don’t bother to hide the fact that they feel like the customers are just interrupting their conversations.

As such, going up to that desk must always be prefaced by a temper-check. These people specifically and explicitly discriminate against younger people, their attitudes obviously changing from lukewarm to cold when an older patron steps aside to reveal a younger one. Apparently, anyone younger than thirty is just a hoodlum, and we certainly can’t be readers. So I always expect to walk away feeling rather slighted. But after their attitudes this go-around, I will never again be attending one of these events.

When I got up to the desk, there was a middle-aged woman paying for her books. The two elderly women behind the desk were mostly ignoring her, content to disregard her existence while they gossiped. When she left, I stepped up to the desk; I put my books down on the table and told them what I had: “Eight children’s books.”

Everything was silent. For a moment, I assumed they were just ignoring me. Perhaps the latest gossipy tidbit had simply been more interesting. Except, no, they were staring at the two middle grade books at the bottom of the pile. And in the snottiest, most accusatory voice you can imagine, one asked, “Those are children’s books?”

Of course, I was baffled… and a little pissed. Didn’t I just say those were children’s books? So when I repeated that they were indeed children’s series, there was a noticeable edge of anger in my voice. But apparently I don’t look particularly trustworthy, because the second woman starts reading the series titles of the books, as if somehow she thinks she’s going to catch me in a lie. But they’re satisfied at that point, and she goes back to gossiping; as she does so, she pulls up the cash box and opens it.

I’m waiting for her to look back up at me so I can hand her my money, but she doesn’t. She just sits there, talking to her friend about god-knows-what while I’m trying to hand her a five. And then, still staring down at the cash box, what comes out of her mouth but, “I don’t have any money in my hands; I guess she didn’t give it to me.”

I am literally standing in front of this asshole trying to hand my money to her–and I can’t because she won’t fucking acknowledge that I’m there–and then she has the absolute gall to remark to her friend, right in front of my goddamned face, that I have apparently been so rude as to neglect to hand her my money.

You have no idea how much I wish I’d left the books on the table and walked away, but frankly, I was too stunned. I have never met such a disrespectful “cashier” in my entire life. This woman is assigned to work the desk at a library’s fundraising event, and she can’t even be bothered to stop running her fucking mouth long enough to treat her customers with any semblance of respect. But, like I said, I was simply stunned. I gave her the money and left.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was leaving that I realized the implications of what had just happened to me. I made an unnecessary trip to my local library in order to offer it a bit of financial support, and I was accused of stealing. This woman honestly had the gall to imply that I was attempting to steal adult fiction books by pretending they were kidlit. If that realization had sunk in while I was still in front of her, everyone in that room would have gotten to hear exactly what I thought of her abysmal “service”.

Needless to say, I will not be subjecting myself to that anymore. Their attitudes at these fundraisers have been getting increasingly rude for years, but this crosses a line for me. I don’t think I’ve ever been insulted like that in my life, and I don’t intend to ever give those people another cent of my money.

They can keep their snooty bullshit to themselves, and I’ll be in the next town over–where the books are significantly cheaper and the people act like functional humans.


Pandas and Other Endangered Species by Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Boyce

Pandas and Other Endangered Species (Magic Tree House Fact Tracker, #26)Pandas and Other Endangered Species (Magic Tree House Fact Tracker, #26) by Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Boyce

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

I adore children’s nonfiction, and I’ve enjoyed the Magic Tree House series since I was a very young child; so when I realized that the Research Guides and Fact Trackers existed, I was thrilled.

Pandas and Other Endangered Species is a wonderful installment to a wonderful series, and I would recommend it to any parent, child, or fan of children’s books.

The book contains six chapters, as well as a “Doing More Research” section. Below is an outline of the contents.

Chapter One: Pandas and Other Endangered Species starts with a look at the US’s first panda residents, Hsing Hsing and Ling Ling, that segues into an explanation of extinction. Habitat destruction, pollution and climate change, hunting and poaching, and new (invasive) species each get their own sections. The chapter ends with an explanation of conservation efforts and an interesting anecdote about the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center’s efforts to save the Whooping Crane.

Chapter Two: China’s National Treasures offers the reader a brief look at the culture history of the panda bear in China, as well as facts about the panda’s habitat, lifestyle, diet, and the like. The chapter ends with a recap of the earthquake and relief efforts that effected China’s Wolong National Nature Reserve, which fans will recognize from A Perfect Time for Pandas.

Chapter Three: Starting Small explores pandas in their infancy and childhood, then ends with a rather endearing myth from Indonesia about “How Pandas Became Black and White”.

Chapter Four: Endangered Species takes a look at some of the less popular endangered species (including an Asian salamander that can grow up to six feet long!). Bengal tigers, Fender’s blue butterflies and Kincaid’s lupines, orangutans, sloths, kiwis, sea otters, and snow leopards each get their own sections.

Chapter Five: Two Heroes recounts the stories and conservation efforts of Jane Goodall and George Schaller.

Chapter Six: Hope for the Future begins by mentioning conservation efforts such as the Okavango-Zambezi Conservation Zone in Africa, then explains how endangered species can come back from the brink of extinction, such as the case with gray wolves, American bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and gray whales. It ends will a small section about what kids can do to help “make the world a better place for all living things”.


Alison Rides The Rapids by Nina Alexander

Alison Rides The Rapids (Magic Attic Club)Alison Rides The Rapids by Nina Alexander

My rating: ★★★☆☆

It’s clear from the first few pages of this that the new author doesn’t know a thing about these characters and their backgrounds. Take this exchange, for instance:

Her friends laughed.
“That’s true,” Keisha said…”Ali is the only one of us who wasn’t afraid to jump off the high board at the swimming pool when we were all in first grade, remember?”

Uh, no, actually. Two of the people you’re talking to just met you within the last year, remember? And, you know, that’s been a major plot point in many of the books?

I do hate to break it to you, Ms. Alexander, but you have to actually read the previous books when you start writing for a popular series, m’kay?

The actual plot of the book is fairly interesting, however, so it’s a shame that the author’s obvious lacks of interest in and familiarity with the series nearly ruined my enjoyment of it.