I arrived a little early for my appointment today with the recruiter, so I thought I would kill some time by checking out the New York Public Library. They just so happened to have an exhibit of Jack Kerouac’s personal notebooks, papers, artwork, and his original typewritten scroll of On the Road. The scroll is 120 feet long, and 60 feet of it were on display. The contents of the scroll were recently published in book form, but seeing them firsthand was awe-inspiring, even for someone whose exposure to Kerouac is limited to an episode of Quantum Leap.
Yes, I’ve never read On the Road. Despite having just completed my own massively long road trip, I didn’t want to read about someone else’s. And Kerouac specifically always bothered me. I’ve never liked the self-destructive madman school of writing. Bukowski, Burroughs, Thompson and Kerouac all strike me as writers whose appeal is largely vicarious and voyeuristic. The people who get most excited about their works are the people who are very often the least likely to experience that peculiar world of kicks-joy-darkness. And I’ve always disliked beatniks, real or imitated, because they so seldom smile.
Maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe it took way-out cats like that to break the rest of us out of the antiseptic numbness of the 1950’s. Maybe I should read On the Road when I’m done with Gangs of New York. It seems a sensible enough transition.