Review: Home is the Road

Home is the Road, Diane Glancy. Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books, 2022.

Summary: The traveling memoirs of a literature professor listening to the messages the land speaks and what within her answers these messages.

This is a book constantly on the move, as is its author. Diane Glancy is an emeritus literature and creative writing professor, still a visiting professor at various institutions across the country. She lives on the road, driving from place to place in an old Chevy with 180,000 miles on it. She believes the land has messages to which she listens as she drives. Her home is the road. She sleeps at rest stops, eats at roadside restaurants, and offers exquisite descriptions of what she sees.

She writes:

My creative scholarship is on the road by myself, sometimes within the shadow of other cars. When I am working on a project, I am following the trail of some historical character. The land has memory. It keeps a journal of what has passed upon it. It is in the elements–if I stand there long enough. There is something in the solitary that I find its shape and that I find its shape and connection to the past.

She is part Native American, raised in a fundamentalist Christian tradition where “everyone accepted Christ as their Savior.” As fashionable as it is in her circles to scorn Christianity and as problematic as it may be she states, “It has been foundational in my life–even its incomprehensible and off-setting parts. I believe in the Christ who was crucified.”

She chronicles her adventures with movers transporting her household from Kansas to California and her own parallel travels, who break and possibly abscond with some of her stuff, and yet she prays God’s mercy on men who brought fishing poles in their truck.

The book reads like the musings one has when driving alone on a long trip, watching a train in the distance, the slowing of trucks on a steep incline, the “shredding of self” that occurs as the miles pile up, the challenges of faith and the failures of her life, including a failed marriage. Will there be driving in the beyond? She thinks Jesus would have loved interstates (all this on two pages). Another chapter, “At Dawn, When You Drive Again,” consists of fragments of memory, mostly of childhood.

Her chapters on disenfranchisement are perhaps the most powerful. Once again, she holds terrible injustices and gospel truths in tension:

But I stayed. I have always stayed. I always will stay. I belong to Christ. I believe within the gospel is everlasting life. The missionaries came with soldiers to teach us this and to rid us of the desperate attacks of panic.

Movingly, she captures the tragedy of the Dakota Access Pipeline, once more, the imposition of American power over indigenous peoples during a visit to see what was taking place.

What made this travel memoir so powerful was this process of listening to the land, to its story and her own, often painful and yet held in tension with an unwavering belief, a hope that would not let her go any more than her love for the road. This is also an American story, in the grandeur of the landscape, the expanses we see from our network of highways, the spirituality that roots us, even as we wrestle with the pain of our own stories and the moral ambiguities of our national story. But will we listen? Will we stay?


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers Program.

Review: Travels with Charley in Search of America

Travels with Charley: In Search of America, John Steinbeck. New York: Penguin Classics, 2012 (originally published in 1962).

Summary: John Steinbeck’s memoir of his 1960 roadtrip in his truck/camper Rocinante with his French poodle Charley.

It was 1960. Richard Nixon and John Kennedy were in a race for president. Highways from town to town were being replaced by high speed Interstate highways. The South was in deep conflict over desegregation. Mass media was expanding its impact on the culture. And John Steinbeck was aging. His son, Thom, said Steinbeck knew he had the heart condition from which he would die in 1968. And he wanted to see the America that had been the backdrop of his stories one more time,

So he bought a 3/4 ton truck on which a custom camper top was installed with bed, stove, lights, and facilities and dubbed his vehicle “Rocinante,” after Don Quixote’s mount. One wonders if he thought this journey quixotic in nature. He sets out from New York City north to Maine, across New England and New York, along the south of the Great Lakes through the Midwest, across the northern states all the way to Washington, down to California including revisiting his old stomping ground, trekking across the Southwest, through Texas, stopping in New Orleans during a desegregation crisis which he witnesses, across the South, up through Virginia, and New Jersey and back home.

Accompanying him is his faithful old companion, his ten year old French poodle, Charley, who would go “Ffft” when Steinbeck was too slow to take him out. One of the most endearing parts of this work was the bond between them, often evoking some of the strongest emotions Steinbeck has throughout–contempt for the government bureaucracy that wouldn’t allow them to cut through Canada without Charley’s inoculation papers, surprise at Charley’s fierceness when they spot grizzlies, anger at a veterinarian whose indifference to Charley’s bladder problems, frustration at Charley’s lack of interest in the greatest of the redwoods, and warm affection for another vet who cared for his old dog. As the title suggests, Charley is perhaps the main character in this memoir besides Steinbeck himself.

Steinbeck remarks the changes that have occurred throughout the country. He speaks of the massive growth of the cities, which he tries generally to avoid (one exception is Minneapolis, and the nuclear evacuation route he followed, reflecting on the traffic jams that would have made this route worthless). He describes listening to jukeboxes, where the same songs were #1 wherever you went, a harbinger of the growth of mass culture. He remarks on the odd phenomenon of the reticence of people to talk about the presidential election.

Christian Smith has described American religion as “moral therapeutic deism.” Steinbeck noted this even in the 1960’s as he traveled across the country, contrasting what he found in one Vermont church with what he found elsewhere:

“For some years now God has been a pal to us, practicing togetherness, and that causes the same emptiness a father does playing softball with his son. But this Vermont God cared enough about me to go to a lot of trouble kicking the hell out of me. He put my sins in a new perspective…I wasn’t a a naughty child but a first rate sinner, and I was going to catch it” (p. 61).

Steinbeck said he felt so revived he put $5 in the offering plate and commented of the pastor: “He forged a religion designed to last, not predigested obsolescence.”

These larger observations of society alternate with personal encounters, many at breakfast counters across the country, taciturn in New England and more voluble as he entered the Midwest. Then there is the very human encounter with a property manager who informed Steinbeck that he was trespassing, and as they talk and share some coffee with something added, the manager shows him a place to park and takes him fishing. Like so many, they saw Steinbeck’s camper, and wanted to be him.

In the end, Steinbeck wanted to get home. Something seemed to change once he reached California. Spotting coyotes he could have easily taken down and done others a favor, he cannot. He witnesses the viciousness of white women (the cheerladies) when a little black girl tries to integrate a school in Louisiana. Encounters with two hitchhikers, one white, one black underscore the deep racial divide of the time. Strikingly, the black man fears him, and gets out before reaching his destination, preferring walking to fear.

Getting lost, being misdirected and directed runs through the narrative. Even back in New York City, he requires directions from a policeman to make it home. One senses that it is a lost man who is in search of America with his dog. And what did he find? In his own words, “I do know this–the big and mysterious America is bigger than I thought. And more mysterious.”

I have to admit, the older I get, the more I find myself in agreement with Steinbeck. All the things I thought I knew about the country, I know no longer. What I thought I knew has become mysterious. And I find myself longing more and more for people like that Vermont preacher. Someone needs to kick the hell out of us.


We just returned from a family vacation in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, staying in a cabin at a conference center owned by the organization for which I work. The trip itself was kind of a passage, back into winter, or the very beginnings of spring. The bay on which the cabin is located is still completely frozen and snow still covered many areas although we were told that two feet of snow had thawed in the four days before our arrival. If you think we’ve had it bad this winter, folks in the U.P. have most of us beat! And after several warm days, we had one more blast of winter, shared by much of the Midwest as 2-3 inches of new snow fell. Temperatures were at 16 degrees the morning we left!


This trip was a kind of journey into the past in some ways that reminded us of the passage of time, and the many rich memories that have filled those years. This began when we paged through the guestbook in the cabin, which we have stayed in as a family four other times. One of our entries was from June of 1985, and we remarked on this being our son’s first visit to this conference center at a month and a half old. Now, it is nearly twenty nine years later, and it was fun for his wife for whom this was a first visit, to read this entry and to realize some of the family history wrapped up in this place.

As we showed our daughter-in-law around, memories unbidden returned of programs I had led or participated in, in just about every room. Seeing a recently built lounge area named after the founder of our organization in the US, I was reminded of hearing him speak at this site in 1977 during my Orientation of New Staff. Walking into another room in the same building I remembered a crazy and delightful time of suddenly assuming the direction of a program I was attending for the first time when the director was ill. It was a scramble and yet God met us in wonderful ways as we improvised and stayed maybe a half-step ahead of the students.


I looked out on the frozen bay from some of the same spots where I sat enjoying the summer sun and spending personal times in prayer, reflection, and reading at a student leadership training program I was attending in July and August of 1974, my first visit to this site. I remembered a TV being brought into the meeting house so we could watch the resignation of President Nixon at the end of Watergate. And I thought, could nearly 40 years have passed so quickly?

Indeed they have, and yet as I thought of all this, my mood was not so much wistful as thankful. I mention in the “About ” page to this blog of how I live at the intersection of the love of learning and the love of God. So much of my passion for these was cultivated in this place. So much of life over the past 40 years has involved sharing with successive generations of students and faculty at a number of universities as well as at programs at this site how these two things walk hand in hand and how loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39) is not only the greatest of the commands but central to a life well-lived.

How well-lived my own life has been is ultimately a matter for God to judge. But as I look at things so far, I have to say that my own sense is one of having no regrets and great thankfulness. We’ve shared as a family in so many of these ventures. It was rich to share our memories together, as well as make new ones, like evenings in the cabin playing hearts or Scrabble and laughing at the turns of the game, usually against me–I didn’t win even once!

As we departed, both we, and our son and daughter-in-law left new entries in the guestbook. While none of us knows what the future holds, perhaps it will be that at some future date, we and/or they will mark yet further passages of time and hopefully have new and rich memories to share.

Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12, NIV)