On the Road

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.

3 thoughts on “On the Road”

  1. I didn’t bother to read On the Road until two or three years ago. (I actually came to On the Road via The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which is probably the opposite order most would expect.) On the Road is a good read with graceful prose in spots, though I didn’t find it particularly thought-provoking. I kind of doubt I’ll read it again.

    Still, you’ll like the thing if you enjoy an occasional dose of the good Dr. Thompson, and I know you do.

  2. I checked out a DVD or video from the local library about Jack Keouac’s life called “On The Road” and some forgotten subtitle. I watched it one night while Patti and Alex were gone. I found it quite depressing. It felt like reading an Ayn Rand novel. The characters where similarly vapid, with the notable exception that Kerouac and company, unlike Rand’s creations, had no real desire for fame, fortune, or power.

    I don’t anticipate picking up a copy of On The Road anytime soon.

  3. On the Road should be taken in context of when it was written in the 1950’s or so when life was much different. Try to imagine America without freeways. That’s what really made it tough to hitch hike.

    I first read the book in the late 1950’s and was inspired by it to do some hitch hiking of my own, and was surprised I could beat the buses which stopped in each town.

    My longest trips were from Nashville, TN to Mexico City which took about 3 days (and nights). I really enjoyed those trips simply for the adventure and freedom I felt at the time.

    I read On the Road and all the other Kerouac books I could get my hands on during those years, and was inspired. When you come under the influence of Jack Kerouac you look at life differently, and see the little details in the the towns and villages you pass through even on the longest trip.


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