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On the Road: 40th Anniversary Editionby Jack Kerouac
Synopses & Reviews
A 50th anniversary hardcover edition of Kerouac's classic novel that defined a generation
Few novels have had as profound an impact on American culture as On the Road. Pulsating with the rhythms of 1950s underground America, jazz, sex, illicit drugs, and the mystery and promise of the open road, Kerouac's classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be "beat" and has inspired generations of writers, musicians, artists, poets, and seekers who cite their discovery of the book as the event that "set them free." Based on Kerouac's adventures with Neal Cassady, On the Road tells the story of two friends whose four cross-country road trips are a quest for meaning and true experience. Written with a mixture of sad-eyed navetand wild abandon, and imbued with Kerouac's love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz, On the Road is the quintessential American vision of freedom and hope, a book that changed American literature and changed anyone who has ever picked it up. This hardcover edition commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the first publication of the novel in 1957 and will be a must-have for any literature lover.
"Few manuscripts have been so mythologized as the scroll, the legendary roll of paper fed into a manual typewriter to accommodate Jack Kerouac's torrential word flow, the three-week performance, fueled by coffee, that became 'On the Road.' In 2001, the scroll commanded the highest price at auction ever paid for a literary document, $2.43 million (more than Joyce's 'Ulysses'), when sold to James Irsay,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) owner of the Indianapolis Colts — a record that still stands. An aging superstar, yellowed and tattered, the scroll is now touring the United States in celebration of the 50th anniversary of 'On the Road's' publication, Sept. 5. Keyed to the occasion, the Kerouac industry has produced its own word flow: a critical study ('Why Kerouac Matters,' by John Leland); a biographical study of the Road years ('Jack Kerouac's American Journey,' by Paul Maher Jr.); a collection ('Road Novels 1957-1960'); and reissues (Dennis McNally's 1979 biography, 'Desolate Angel,' and an anniversary edition of the 1957 'On the Road'). The most exciting of these is the scroll text, in a handsome edition. As the story goes, Kerouac unrolled the 120-foot-long item for his editor, Robert Giroux, who pointed out the impracticality of printing it that way. The manuscript languished for seven years before Kerouac agreed to revise and normalize the text for a new editor, Malcolm Cowley. Because the resulting book, published in '57, violated Kerouac's dictum of 'first thought, best thought,' the scroll was long considered to hold sacred truths. The publication of this 'bible' provides scholars and beat junkies alike with access to the source, the novel as Kerouac meant it to be. In an introductory essay, Howard Cunnell teases out a history that shifts the scroll away from center stage. It is actually one of three extant early drafts. Placed alongside the 1957 book, however, the scroll delivers a surprise: Few changes were made. Even so, the scroll's language is raw, fast-paced and jazzy, an exuberant, organic word blast unembellished with the self-conscious literary asides of the published book. The characters have their real names (Neal, Allen, Bill, Carolyn), and they have sex (hetero- and homo-). Though much of this was cut before publication, sex in Kerouac is not as ribald as that in William S. Burroughs' 'Naked Lunch,' which appeared just two years later. Jack Kerouac, narrator and character in the scroll, remains, like Sal Paradise in the novel, a melancholy, prudish observer, obsessed with death, taken for a ride of kicks, joy and revelations in the company of those more antic than himself, especially huckster-hero Neal Cassidy, son of a Denver wino. 'I first met Neal not long after my father died,' the scroll text begins, differing from the published novel's 'I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up.' Readers will debate the relative merits of the two sentences, but neither is clearly superior. The first goes well with 'the father we never found,' the ending of all versions. The second suits the novel's sad refrain, 'Everything is collapsing.' It also had a cultural impact in the Ozzie-and-Harriet America of the 1950s. Kerouac's novels published from 1957-60 — 'On the Road,' 'The Dharma Bums,' 'The Subterraneans,' 'Tristessa' and 'Lonesome Traveler' — have been gathered in a new volume of the Library of America, complete with (a nice touch) excerpts from Kerouac's journals, which parallel his road trips at a slower pace: 'My ferry plows the brown water to New Orleans; I look over the rail; and there is that Montana log passing by. ... Like me a wanderer in burrowed water-beds moving slowly with satisfaction and eternity.' Kerouac's road books evoke the American landscape with detours to Mexico, Morocco and European cities; the journals, poetic and laden with his transcendent vision, take the road that goes inward. In 'Jack Kerouac's American Journey,' Paul A. Maher, Jr., author of a recent Kerouac biography, provides a helpful, well-researched but prosaic companion to the novels, with special emphasis on the actual trips and their transformation into fiction. The fascination with Kerouac's true life, as opposed to what he called his 'true-life novels,' has produced a dozen or so biographies so far. As beat critic Seymour Krim liked to say, it is a credit to Kerouac that none duplicates any other. Dennis McNally's 1979 'Desolate Angel' remains a good read; as a 'psychic pioneer,' McNally's Kerouac is a rebel, paving new roads of consciousness. McNally asserts our need now, as much as ever, 'to travel in Whitman's and Jack's and Neal Cassady's footsteps.' An engaging, smart and fresh take from New York Times reporter John Leland, 'Why Kerouac Matters,' mixes serious discussions of Kerouac and his legacy with glib, colloquial sidebars. Leland riffs on Kerouac's alleged anti-Semitism ('he certainly quacked like one'); his facial hair ('America's ongoing goatee problem'); 'his use of weed, Benzedrine, morphine, alcohol'; comparative sex lives, with lists of Sal's fictional trysts vs. Kerouac's real ones; and what Kerouac's zeitgeist novel has meant for later generations. Leland calls it 'a slacker bible for the last half century.' Whither goest thou now, Kerouac?, to paraphrase a famous line from Carlo Marx aka Allen Ginsberg. He's already a brand, an icon, but where does his road now lead? In 1982, at the 25th-anniversary celebration of 'On The Road' in Boulder, his friend novelist John Clellon Holmes suggested that Jack himself, too shy to be comfortable with adoration, would have told his fans, 'Find your own truth.' He wanted to be known only as a writer in the mainstream of American letters, and now, with his appearance in the Library of America, he seems to have achieved that. Next for him may be the fate of his literary forebear, cosmic Walt: to have his name grace a shopping mall. Regina Weinreich, author of 'Kerouac's Spontaneous Poetics' and editor of 'Kerouac's Book of Haikus,' co-produced and directed the documentary 'Paul Bowles: The Complete Outsider.' " Reviewed by Regina Weinreich, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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Few novels have had as profound an impact as On the Road, and Kerouac's vision continues to inspire: three generations of writers, musicians, artists, and poets cite their discovery of On the Road as the event that "set them free". This hardcover edition commemorates the fortieth anniversary of the original publication of an American classic. On the Road chronicles Kerouac's years traveling the North American continent, from East Coast to West Coast to Mexico, with his friend Neal Cassady, "a sideburned hero of the snowy West". As "Sal Paradise" and "Dean Moriarty", the two roam the country in a quest for self-knowledge and experience. Kerouac's love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz combine to make On the Road an inspirational work of lasting importance.
About the Author
Jack Kerouac was born in 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts. He attended local Catholic and public schools and won a scholarship to Columbia University in New York, where he met Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. His first novel, The Town and the City, appeared in 1950, but it was On the Road, published by Viking in 1957, that made him one of the best known authors of his time. Kerouac died in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1969, at the age of forty-seven.
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