Reading the Beat

Ok, I feel like it is time to get back to books.

While I was in Edinburgh, I got my ass kicked by Daniel for saying I didn’t like beat literature before I’d actually read it. This conversation spiraled into a sound telling-off for allowing myself to form opinions on any other kinds of literature before I read it, which led to me buying On the Road by Jack Kerouac for my Kindle and starting it posthaste.
I will begin by saying that my dislike of beat literature stemmed from a dislike of a lot of the ‘modern’ and ‘post-modern’ stuff I had to read in school, which I did not enjoy for various reasons. However, I always knew that On the Road was somewhere on my personal ‘homework’ list, because so many people have read it and loved it, and because I honestly did feel stupid for not having read it. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t have read it now if it hadn’t been for Daniel.
What do I think of it now that I’ve read it? I’m not sure.
It’s such an ENERGETIC book. It bounces all over the place – it never sleeps and doesn’t even seem to stop at all. It’s all go go go go go go! There’s so little structure to the narrative and so little notion of where the story is GOING that it was hard to stay on track and keep hold of all the threads. Who are these people? Have I read about them before? Where are we again? I’m kind of confused…. but I guess that that’s exactly how Sal must have felt.
Kerouac has a gift – there were so many times when I was reading that I was struck by a sentence that managed to perfectly illustrate a scene that I am personally familiar with and have had a hard time describing. It was fun to see how he wrote about New York, San Francisco and New Orleans, having been to those cities myself.
It was a unique perspective into that historical moment – Truman was president, the war was ending, the Atom bomb had been discovered and used. And there were these young men running amok across the nation with no direction and no concept of where to go. The parallels between that aimless wandering and the joys they find in Jazz music – an unstructured and free form of music, makes complete sense.
At the same time, all that gogogogogogogo frustrated me because it was so clear that Sal would never stop and like a place for what it was. He was always searching for something grand, for that IT. Even when he parks himself in a place for a few months at a time, it’s clear that he’s still moving on. My own personality clashed with Sal’s here – I suppose I’ve moved just as much as he has, but I would rather stay than go.
There’s a lot more to be said for and about this novel. However, I did make a promise to make my reviews less essay-like so I’ll avoid mention of the treatment of women and the strange, tense, hero worship between Sal and Dean. I will continue to think about them though… There’s a lot to be learned.
I’m glad I read it. It has given me a lot to think about, and definitely pushed me out of my own literary comfort zone. I don’t know if I’ll read it again – the prospect of going on that hectic journey all over again seems exhausting, but the idea of revisiting some of those grand descriptions might prove too tempting in time.
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