I always wondered in fourth and fifth grade why in the hell we had to read a book and then write a report on it. It always seemed so absurd to me. I realized in high school it was important for reading comprehension at which I have never been good; however, I also think it is to help you become a better writer. Which I am not yet I always wanted to be. One of my favorite things to do is wander a library or bookstore just perusing the titles on the shelf. I could spend hours in one. There is something about the smell of the books and being surrounded by a million stories I have yet to discover. I don’t read fast (again with the reading comprehension) but I love to read. My latest hair brained ambition has been to review books. Professionally. It would seem to intertwine my love of reading books and being a writer. I don’t know if I will ever grace the pages of the NY Times with my musings but I guess I have somewhat of a platform here with my blog.
I have read several classic titles and there are more on my shelf I have yet to tackle. One of the latest ones I read was On The Road by the elusive Jack Kerouac. It took me a year to read and this time it wasn’t because I am a slow reader. It is a beautiful book, beautifully written. The prose he used was a new thing at the time and included long drawn out expository sentences that are sometimes hard to wrap your mind around. I had to read the lines several times. I don’t fault myself for taking so long to read it. I think it is supposed to be mulled over. This book has been hailed as the quintessential Beat novel, which is a term Kerouac constructed to depict the life of several young writers of his time. Beat or beatnik was a term meaning “beat down with life” so to speak. It has also been called a “road piece” or a story about life lived on the road. It’s a true story and seemingly Mr. Kerouac’s pièce de résistance.
“For a mad moment I thought Dean was understanding everything he said by sheer wild insight and sudden revelatory genius inconceivably inspired by his glowing happiness.”
I highlighted several glorious sentences that I felt held the novel together. I think it is also a sad story about the life of the supporting character Dean Moriarty. He obviously has several personality flaws leading him to father four illegitimate children, leave his families, and go on binges to “dig life” or party. So, yes the protagonist is Kerouac himself, in the book as Sal Paradise, but really I think it is Dean that is the main character. Within the first pages of the introduction, Dean is immediately described as “simply a youth tremendously excited with life, and though he was a con-man, he was only conning because he wanted so much to live and get involved with people who would otherwise pay no attention to him.” Even the last paragraph of the book defined Dean. They drive all over America and even into Mexico. Driving is depicted as freedom maybe even an escape from the confusion the individuals were going through. Driving was a reverent activity for them. They didn’t care if they had no money or were dirty, hungry or tired. They were free. The story is heavily armed with gorgeous illustrations of the country, which points to the author’s veneration of America and the age of Jazz. They lived their lives furiously on the road and didn’t seem to regret an ounce. The line that seems to explain the entire novel for me was, “Our battered suitcases piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” And when the hero of our tale hears himself say his own name “`Sal Paradise’, I said, and heard my name resound in the sad and empty street.” Breaks my heart.
Isn’t Kerouac a gem? So handsome yet so melancholy. I love this picture of him. He was gone before his time was finished here, I believe. Can’t wait to float through Big Sur. Love you, Jack. <swoon>.
***All of the aforementioned quotes come from my copy of On The Road by Jack Kerouac. He is given the credit for these masterful words.