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Dharma Bums (Flamingo modern classics) [Paperback]

Jack Kerouac
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)

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Book Description

11 July 1994 Flamingo modern classics
Buddhism was central to the Beat generation's quest for knowledge and self-transcendence. In this autobiographical novel, Kerouac, the King of the Beats, tells the tale of two young men travelling across America in pursuit of the essential Truths.

Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Flamingo; (Reissue) edition (11 July 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0586091580
  • ISBN-13: 978-0586091586
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 1.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 437,935 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jack Kerouac was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, where, he said, he 'roamed fields and riverbanks by day and night, wrote little novels in my room, first novel written at age eleven, also kept extensive diaries and "newspapers" covering my own-invented horse-racing and baseball and football worlds' (as recorded in the novel Doctor Sax). He was educated by Jesuit brothers in Lowell. He said that he 'decided to become a writer at age seventeen under influence of Sebastian Sampas, local young poet, who later died on Anzio beach head; read the life of Jack London at eighteen and decided to also be a lonesome traveler; early literary influences Saroyan and Hemingway; later Wolfe (after I had broken leg in Freshman football at Columbia read Tom Wolfe and roamed his New York on crutches).'

Kerouac wished, however, to develop his own new prose style, which he called 'spontaneous prose.' He used this technique to record the life of the American 'traveler' and the experiences of the Beat generation of the 1950s. This may clearly be seen in his most famous novel On the Road, and also in The Subterraneans and The Dharma Bums. His first more orthodox published novel was The Town and the City. Jack Kerouac, who described himself as a 'strange solitary crazy Catholic mystic,' was working on his longest novel, a surrealistic study of the last ten years of his life when he died in 1969, aged forty-seven.

Other works by Jack Kerouac include Big Sur, Desolation Angels, Lonesome Traveler, Visions of Gerard, Tristessa, and a book of poetry called Mexico City Blues. On the Road: The Original Scroll, the full uncensored transcription of the original manuscript of On the Road, is published by Penguin Modern Classics.

Product Description

From the Back Cover

Ray Smith is a coast-to-coast, freight-hopping poet and drifter, at odds with urban life and middle-class existence (‘all that dumb white machinery in the kitchen’). He meets a kindred spirit in Japhy Rider, a Buddhist drop-out, who enlists Ray into a regime of crazy, purifying hikes up the peaks of the High Sierra and non-stop Zen Free Love Lunacy orgies. ‘Two dissimilar monks on the one path’, their haphazard, often hilarious search for the contentment of ‘dharma’, Buddhism’s all-pervading, supreme principle of life, is pure Kerouac.

'The Dharma Bums'‘ cry for a ‘great rucksack revolution’ in which the country’s youth would cast off the everyday, take to the open road and live the Buddhist way, inspired a whole generation of post-war Americans to search for spiritual knowledge and self-transcendence.

“The Beat Generation now looks quaint to today’s loose freaks who take for granted stances that the rebels of the Fifties only strained toward. But if the Beat lifestyle and attitudes were essentially crude experiments leading to the cultural revolution of the Sixties, it’s still certain that what sparse literature the counter-culture has produced sings nowhere as vibrant, strong and original as in Kerouac.”

“Kerouac’s energy is contagious, his compassion and concern are the genuine homespun article.”

Many of Kerouac’s books are available in Flamingo, including 'Big Sur', 'Lonesome Traveler' and 'Vanity of Duluoz'.

About the Author

Jack Kerouac was born in 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Having left college, he joined the merchant marines and began the restless wanderings that were to continue for most of his life. His first novel, The Town and the City, was published in 1950. On the Road, although written in 1951, was not published until 1957 – it made him one of the most controversial and best-known writers of his time. Jack Kerouac died in St. Petersburg, Florida at the age of forty-seven.

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First Sentence
Hopping a freight out of Los Angeles at high noon one day in late September 1955 I got on a gondola and lay down with my duffel bag under my head and my knees crossed and contemplated the clouds as we rolled north to Santa Barbara. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth every penny! 26 Mar 2004
By A Customer
Man, I don't know where to start. "The Dharma Bums" is a masterpiece of the Beat Generation and a novel I will not soon forget. After The Loser's Club by Richard Perez, this is the best book I've read all year.
Jack Kerouac wrote this story about his days as a Zen Buddhist and rucksack wanderer. His alias in the book is Raymond Smith, and he is living in Berkley with his good buddy Alvah Goldbook(Allen Ginsburg). Ray meets a Zen Lunatic named Japhy Ryder(Gary Snyder), and together they travel the mountains and pastures of Central California trying to find themselves and find the true meaning of life. Ray also journies to Desolation Peak in Washington and lives there alone for the summer, which is just another chapter to this amazing piece of literature.
Another part of this book that impressed me was the beginning, when Kerouac wrote about his experience at the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance, and spoke of Alvah Goldbook's first reading of his poem "Wail", which in reality was Allen Ginsburg's legendary first reading of "Howl", which to this day is a Beat Literature classic.
While reading this book, I was constantly marking lines and passages, because some of the descriptions and poetry Kerouac included in this novel are simply amazing. "The Dharma Bums" is one of those books I will treasure forever and read over and over again.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars On the road to mediocrity 9 Mar 2010
By Sam Quixote TOP 50 REVIEWER
The book starts off well with Kerouac meeting a young student of Zen Buddhism called Japhy Ryder and the two decide to climb the Matterhorn. I've been out to the Sierras myself and enjoyed the descriptions of the scenery, it reminded me of my time up there, sleeping in the forest, waking up in my sleeping bag covered in snow. It's really beautiful writing, and the story (a rarity for Kerouac, having a story) rushes forwards. There's also a nice buildup with Kerouac hopping freights, sleeping on beaches under the stars, etc. It's what makes Kerouac the writer he is. Kerouac, Ryder and Ginsberg have some nice back and forths debating poetry. Ginsberg's cynicism of Buddhism makes for an interesting and funny debate.

After the Matterhorn episode though, around page 80, the story is basically told. Kerouac has no idea how to progress the remaining 100 pages. I guess the point of the book was to talk about Buddhism but I never felt Kerouac was a serious student of it. Buddhism promotes abstinence of sex, drugs, drinking, all of which Kerouac partakes of frequently. He's like a lot of people I know who are into Buddhism - they take the parts they like and pretend they're the real thing. They're not, and neither is Kerouac.

Unfortunately, Kerouac's writing becomes even more meandering as he rambles on with pseudo-profound writing. Here's an actual quote which he thinks is enlightening: "Form is emptiness and emptiness is form and we're here forever in one form or another which is empty". See what I mean? And this goes on for 100 pages!
"On the Road" wasn't as revelatory to me as it was to some of my friends. It was disjointed, a bit annoying, not nearly as clever or interesting as it thought it was and ultimately quite boring.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Watery Buddhism and hippy ideals 5 Mar 2008
By Rusty
The energy of this novel flows along like electricity when Ray Smith is hitch-hiking, drinking or bumming around Mexican backstreets. Kerouac writes feverishly and captures people, sights, sounds and smells so vividly that you really ache to experience them alongside him.

If only he'd stuck to this tried and tested recipe.

When Kerouac obsesses about Buddhism - the central and weakly rendered theme of this book - things lose their spark and his prose gets bogged down in inarticulate drivel. If the narrative had offered any true understanding of Buddhist teachings, I may well have embraced it more. But The Dharma Bums simply hand-picks elements from an ancient religion and turns them into a half-baked American excuse for sloth, self-indulgence and the worst kind of cultural conceit.

Witness how Japhy - the supposed prophet, genius and sage - uses the Tibetan practice of 'yabyum' (not even given a cursorary explanation in the text) purely to seduce as many girls as possible. Witness how Ray Smith seeks unparalleled purity but drinks, smokes and abuses drugs. The Buddhism portrayed in these pages is a Buddhism of convenience that anyone can dip into and out of whenever they please; that anyone can use to denounce the actions of another; that gets anyone out of difficult intellectual scrapes with a few mystic-sounding riddles...

Frankly, it began to annoy me and I suspect a true Buddhist would view this as a gross contamination of his/her core values. I almost laughed out loud when Ray Smith became so enlightened (by sitting in his mother's yard, unemployed for months) that he thought himself capable of miracles (because his mum's sore throat goes away) - but decides not to heal anyone else: "...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kerouac searching for something to believe in 29 Jun 2009
By Griffo
Jack Kerouac has been critised by other reviewers here, and also at the time, for 'dabbling' in Buddhism with The Dharma Bums. Buddhist scholars like D.T Suzuki were highly sceptical. But whilst it was Eastern philosophy that Kerouac and his circle give a bit of a mauling to (and they were ahead of the hippies by a decade in doing this) the subtext of this book is really about Kerouac the person and his desperate search for something meaningful to believe in, of any kind.

Having said that, you can see where Kerouac is at by his obsessive bias towards the first noble truth of the Buddha; life is suffering. This truth summarised how he had always felt, intensifying as he got older, and so it's no wonder that he tries to get some meaning from Buddhist doctrine. Beyond the scope of this book, he failed drastically, because as a rule he hated himself too much, and perhaps never believed he deserved enlightenment. But it explains his hero worship of Japhy Ryder (Gary Snyder) in The Dharma Bums, who does achieve the feat of taking himself seriously as a Buddhist even as he picks and chooses from the texts.

The story, as such, is concerned with the lives and philosophies of a broad circle of mostly San Francisco beat poets and hangers on, but centres around Snyder and Kerouac (Ray Smith in the book), as they climb mountains, travel around, and search for the truth (Dharma). Whilst they do achieve a certain sense of calm when alone, they also throw themselves wholeheartedly into hedonism whenever possible. So a central Buddhist goal - the freedom from desire - was clearly not high on their list of priorities, a glaring hypocrisy that in some ways is the real point of the book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
a good book
Published 16 days ago by Greg Atkinson
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Entertaining and inspiring.
Published 25 days ago by Mahbub Ali
5.0 out of 5 stars The classic text with a good intro
The book I'm reviewing here is the Penguin Modern Classics Kindle version, ASIN B005D6BCJY. In the intro, Ann Douglas explains who the real people and events Kerouac describes were... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Chris Worth
4.0 out of 5 stars review
the book was in great condition. as the description said. but it was non-wrapped. don't know whose fault is that.
Published 7 months ago by liatr
4.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening
Like most I'd read 'On the Road' and expected something similar. The descriptive prose seemed richer to me in 'Dharma Bums'; an unbelievable feat of writing. Read more
Published 16 months ago by readathonic
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic.
A classic from "The King of the Beats" a title he wasn't happy about. In this book he is in search for the spiritual life via Buddhism and he hooks up with a kindred... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Jesper Deleuran
5.0 out of 5 stars Jack Kerouac lays it all on the line
Although The Dharma Bums was published in 1958, the semi-fictionalised events it describes all occurred prior to the publication of On The Road a year ealier. Read more
Published on 19 April 2012 by Stuart Ayris
3.0 out of 5 stars Took me over 2 months to read
Jack Kerouac is a great author, however I'm not sure that The Dharma Bums gives him much credit.
I was determined to finish this novel, but I was so unmotivated to read it. Read more
Published on 17 April 2012 by australiaabroad
3.0 out of 5 stars On the trail
I chose Dharma Bums after seeing it on the recommended shelf at my local book-store. I've read - and enjoyed - On the Road and several biographies of Kerouac, so it seemed a wise... Read more
Published on 30 May 2011 by T. Bently
5.0 out of 5 stars Hyper emotional Catholic-Buddhist ectsasy, or freewheeling fun?
I love this book. I recently re-read it, about 20 years after first reading it in my late-teens, and I still thoroughly enjoyed it. Read more
Published on 10 Mar 2011 by Sebastian Palmer
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