Monday found me lounging in the sun by my parents’ pool, sipping a strawberry margarita and reading The California Feeling by Peter S. Beagle. Self, I said to myself, you could not be more cliche right now.
Beagle is known for his fantasy novels, especially The Last Unicorn, but in my opinion he saves his best writing for his essays. I recently read I See By My Outfit, his book about traveling from New York to California in the 1960s with his best friend. The California Feeling is about his explorations of California after he gets there, and like I See By My Outfit it makes you want to travel around with him forever, right there in his head. He seems to like everyone he meets, and makes you like them too, even the anti-semitic rednecks, even the idiots, even the drunks.
Beagle is also one of those people who has a knack for being in a significant place at a significant time. Or maybe he’s just one of those people who knows how to make his life sound significant. He goes to the Monterey Jazz Festival and sees a newish performer called Janis Joplin. “This one will last, however the music changes. That edge is there,” he says. He visits Joan Baez at her Institute for the Study of Nonviolence. He talks to Cesar Chavez, who “has a very nice face.”
But my favorite part is when he muses about California itself, and the way the land affects the people:
See, they don’t have winter here. I mean, they have a winter — where I live, it’s liable to rain any time between November and June, or all the time — but they don’t have winter. The idea of it isn’t carved into them right down to the chromosomes, the way it is with us.
I am sitting poolside, waiting for my dad to refill the margarita pitcher, nodding. Right on, man. Right on.
Try The California Feeling if you like quiet, meandering explorations like Under The Tuscan Sun, or memoirs written by nice, ordinary people.
Try I See By My Outfit if you like the camaraderie in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or armchair travel.