I had always been a big reader but somehow it was not wasn’t until my second year of college that I found Kerouac’s “On the Road”. Earlier I had run across Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Great Shark Hunt”, already an anthology. It was years later before I even learned of the overlap these two mid-20th century American books had. But this was all before the internet where such connections were harder to make.
I wanted to read the rest of the Kerouac catalog but only made it roughly halfway through. I may yet finish. I confess to having an ebook of “Mexico City Blues” on the pad I currently am typing on (all thumbs, much slower than Kerouac) but haven’t gotten too far with it. All that said, I have since read two or three biographies of Kerouac and have the hardback Viking 50th Anniversary edition of “On the Road” with critical commentary on my bookshelf, a prize possession.
Unlike most books, especially books that are people’s favorites, this one seems to defy discussion. I have found close friends also liked this book, but we never discussed it the way we would discuss writing or music. It was somehow self contained. It was the fully formed view of where post-WW II America was and where it was headed, long before anyone else seemed to realize it.
I undertook a bit of a project recently to re-read some of the favorite books of my youth. I was prepared to be a bit embarrassed by my youthful enthusiasms. Kerouac was the hardest to approach. I liked that book so much when I was younger it would be hard to find out that it was perhaps thinner and lighter than I thought. But I bought the ebook and dug in and it was as good as I remembered, perhaps better (so was, I might add, Persig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, another favorite of mine at that time).
I suppose Kerouac was always controversial and never easily integrated into the rest of 20th century writing. I don’t imagine he is on many college English class syllabus, or taken that seriously in English departments. Anyway a re-evaluation of Kerouac seems to be underway. Maybe it is always underway. From the Los Angeles Review of Books.