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Jack Kerouac: Road Novels 1957-1960: On the Road/The Dharma Bums/The Subterraneans/Tristessa/Lonesome Traveler/From the Journals 1949-1954 (Library of America) [Hardcover]

Jack Kerouac , Douglas Brinkley
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Book Description

Sep 2007 Library of America (Book 174)
The raucous, exuberant, often wildly funny account of a journey through America and Mexico, Jack Kerouac's On the Road instantly defined a generation upon its publication in 1957: it was, in the words of a New York Times reviewer, "the clearest and most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as 'beat.'" Written in the mode of ecstatic improvisation that Allen Ginsberg described as "spontaneous bop prosody," Kerouac's novel remains electrifying in its thirst for experience and its defiant rebuke of American conformity.

In his portrayal of the fervent relationship between the writer Sal Paradise and his outrageous, exasperating, and inimitable friend Dean Moriarty, Kerouac created one of the great friendships in American literature; and his rendering of the cities and highways and wildernesses that his characters restlessly explore are a hallucinatory travelogue of a nation he both mourns and celebrates. Now, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Kerouac's landmark novel, The Library of America collects On the Road together with four other autobiographical "road books" published in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The Dharma Bums (1958), at once an exploration of Buddhist spirituality and an account of the Bay Area poetry scene, is notable for its thinly veiled portraits of Kerouac's acquaintances, including Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Kenneth Rexroth. The Subterraneans (1958) recounts a love affair set amid the bars and bohemian haunts of San Francisco. Tristessa (1960) is a melancholy novella describing a relationship with a prostitute in Mexico City. Lonesome Traveler (1960) collects travel essays that evoke journeys in Mexico and Europe, and concludes with an elegiac lament for the lost world of the American hobo. Also included in Road Novels are selections from Kerouac's journal, which provide a fascinating perspective on his early impressions of material eventually incorporated into On the Road.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 864 pages
  • Publisher: Library of America (Sep 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1598530127
  • ISBN-13: 978-1598530124
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 16.1 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 434,329 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.

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jack Kerouac in the Library of America 6 Sep 2007
By Robin Friedman TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
September 5, 2007 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac's (1922 -- 1969) most famous novel, "On the Road". The Library of America has aptly commemorated the event with its newly-released volume of Kerouac's "Road Novels." The works in this collection were published between 1957 -- 1960, although most of them were written considerably earlier. This volume includes four Kerouac novels, a collection of travel essays called "Lonesome Traveler", and selections from Kerouac's journals. This volume offers the opportunity for readers to revisit and reassess Kerouac and for new readers to get to know his work. Kerouac amply deserves to be included in the Library of America series which is devoted to honoring the best of American literary achievement.

Kerouac, for all his personal failings and his difficulties with alcoholism and substance abuse, had a better understanding of what his work was about than did some of his critics. In his introduction to "Lonesome Traveler", Kerouac wrote: "Always considered writing my duty on earth. Also the preachment of universal kindness, which hysterical critics have failed to notice beneath frenetic activity of my true-story novels about the 'beat' generation. -- Am actually not 'beat' but strange solitary crazy Catholic mystic."

Kerouac's novels are autobiographical in character. His works lack artistic distance, but they more than compensate for this lack with their immediacy and sense of honesty. They describe a complex and torn individual whose life had been riddled with failure but who was driven to succeed as a writer. Part of Kerouac rejected mainstream American conformity and materialism in favor of a bohemian life of spontanaiety, sex, and wild experience.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  34 reviews
41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jack Kerouac in the Library of America 6 Sep 2007
By Robin Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
September 5, 2007 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac's (1922 -- 1969) most famous novel, "On the Road". The Library of America has aptly commemorated the event with its newly-released volume of Kerouac's "Road Novels." The works in this collection were published between 1957 -- 1960, although most of them were written considerably earlier. This volume includes four Kerouac novels, a collection of essays called "Lonesome Traveler", and selections from Kerouac's journals. This volume offers the opportunity for readers to revisit and reassess Kerouac and for new readers to get to know his work. Kerouac amply deserves to be included in the Library of America series which is devoted to honoring the best of American literary achievement.

Kerouac, for all his personal failings and his difficulties with alcoholism and substance abuse, had a better understanding of what his work was about than did some of his critics. In his introduction to "Lonesome Traveler", Kerouac wrote: "Always considered writing my duty on earth. Also the preachment of universal kindness, which hysterical critics have failed to notice beneath frenetic activity of my true-story novels about the 'beat' generation. -- Am actually not 'beat' but strange solitary crazy Catholic mystic."

Kerouac's novels are autobiographical in character. His works lack artistic distance, but they more than compensate for this lack with their immediacy and sense of honesty. They describe a complex and torn individual whose life had been riddled with failure but who was driven to succeed as a writer. Part of Kerouac rejected mainstream American conformity and materialism in favor of a bohemian life of spontanaiety, sex, and wild experience. Yet Kerouac's deepest ambition was to be a successful writer and to enjoy a stable quiet life. Kerouac's work sometimes seems to show a spirit of hedonism and sensuality; but he was greatly influenced by Buddhism and wrote extensively about it; and all his work shows a religious and introspective sensibility. I think Kerouac properly described himself as a writer as a "solitary Catholic mystic".

Kerouac developed a style of writing that he described as "spontaneous prose", and it is amply on display in this volume. It features long, stringy sentences and paragraphs with the feel of jazz and of improvisation. Kerouac's "spontaneous prose" is an erratic technique, which works brilliantly at its best but which can sometimes deteriorate into mere wordsmithing. ("That's not writing -- its typing!" as Truman Capote scornfully, and unfairly, said of "The Subterraneans".) Kerouac was a descriptive writer who could spend pages on detailed portrayals of places and people -- as in the scenes of mountain climbing in "The Dharma Bums" and in the description of Tristessa's living quarters in the novel of that name. His writings, particularly "On the Road" and "Lonesome Traveler" show a deep love of the places, landscapes, and character of the United States. Kerouac was the child of immigrants, and maintained a high and self-conscious spirit of patriotism throughout his life.

In rereading the Kerouac in this volume, I found that "On the Road" remains his most impressive work and a book that should keep Kerouac's place in American literature. The book tells the story of Kerouac's friendship with Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty in the book), a young man who had spent much of his life in poolhalls, reform school, and prison. The book has a restless energy, and a spirit of passion as Kerouac (Sal Paradise in the book) and Moriarty ride back and forth across the United States and Mexico. "On the Road" leaves tantalizingly ambiguous the nature of the characters' wanderings. Are they looking simply for "kicks" and for sex, or does their search have a spiritual dimension as well? Similarly, Kerouac leaves ambiguous his attitude towards Moriarty and his rootless, wild way of life. For all the attraction Moriarty/Cassady held for Kerouac, "On the Road" can be read as a critique of his wildness and as a search for a life that is full and rich, but also settled.

The remaining works in this collection each have their admirers, and they are all worth reading. My favorite is the short novel "Tristessa" which, in difficult, jagged prose tells the story of Kerouac's relationship with a Mexican prostitute and drug addict during two trips to Mexico City. It includes long passages of detailed descriptions of rooms and streets, reflections on Buddhism, religion, and sex, and a sad but ultimately hopeful story. "The Subterraneans" also tells of a failed romance between Kerouac and a young black woman, Mardou. The book is set in San Francisco (the relationship on which it is based took place in New York City) and it features descriptions of bohemian life in San Francisco, and an astonishing passage related by Mardou in which she finds herself wandering naked over the streets of San Francisco.

"The Dharma Bums" differs from the other books in this collection in that Kerouac wrote it on commission from his publisher after the success of "On the Road." It is written in a much more accessible, popular style than either "Tristessa" or "The Subterraneans" and might be the best book after "On the Road" for the reader new to Kerouac. This book tells of the friendship between Kerouac and the poet Gary Snyder, as they climb mountains, discuss Buddhism, wander cross-country, and have wild parties. Some readers who like Kerouac's other books find "The Dharma Bums" rather tame. I find the book highly thoughtful, in its portrayal of Snyder and Kerouac, in its picture of American Buddhism in the 1950s, and in its depiction of California.

"Lonesome Traveler" is the one work in this collection that was new to me. It is a series of eight travel essays, including an essay on "The Vanishing American Hobo", some of which had been published separately. Kerouac writes that "its scope and purpose is simply poetry, or natural description". Many of these essays cover places and events that Kerouac describes in his novels, but they have a force and continuity of their own in their portrayal of romming houses in San Francisco, pierfront dives, and work on the railroad. The best part of this book is "New York Scenes", an unforgettable portait of "beat" places in New York City.

Kerouac's work remains to be discovered, savored and pondered by a new generation of readers. The Library of America deserves high praise for making his works accessible in this wonderful volume.

Robin Friedman
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On the Road Again 6 Sep 2007
By Retired Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
2007 was in many ways an interesting year. For one it marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of first of Jack Kerouac's so-called road novels, the seminal "On the Road."This book is one of many commemorating that event, but is one the better selections because it contains four of Kerouac's best known road books along with his lesser known "Lonesome Traveler" and relevant selections from the journal that he kept throughout his life.

"On the Road" was an instant best seller for Kerouac, yet is it is a strange book in many ways. Like all of Kerouac's novels it is a slightly fictionalized autobiography. It concern's a period in his life when he became infatuated with Neil Cassidy (Dean Moriarty) and the search for something never fully defined. Much like the recent hit comedy, "Seinfeld", nothing really happens in this novel. Yet it is a fascinating read because it is filled with touching, funny, or bizarre events that are interesting perhaps because they lead nowhere. This set the pattern for the whole road novel series. These novels also reflect and describe the anomie felt by Kerouac till the day of his death. Some maintain that the third novel in this series "The Subterraneans" is the best, but this is debatable. It also is claimed that the so-called `beat generation' was spawned by the first novel of the series. This is nonsense.

"On the Road" actually refers to events that happened ten years before its publication in 1947-48. In the aftermath of WWII most veterans were using GI benefits to build stable and prosperous post war lives for themselves A rather smaller and often younger group whose lives were disrupted by the war in one way or another or who simply had trouble fitting into post war society chose to step back from the general prosperity and consumerism that was characteristic of the 1950's and early 1960's. The members of this group could be mostly found in the cities living modestly, working at subsistence level jobs and searching for answers to unknown questions. Rather like the characters in the road series novels. "On the Road" struck such a responsive chord because it was the first novel to really describe this group and give its members a collective name, the `Beat Generation." It also brought on the"beatniks" as they became known in the late fifties a good deal of unwanted media attention. Rather oddly two French writers, Jean Paul Sarte and Albert Camus were catapulted into fame as providing the underlying philosophy for what was called the beat movement. Both men were no doubt puzzled and amused by this.

Every few years this reviewer rereads these road novels and always finds some new thought. If nothing else Kerouac reminds us that an unreflective life is not worth living.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jack Kerouac Recognized 8 Sep 2007
By Lawrence D. Zeilinger - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The September 5, 2007 fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac's On The Road is commemorated by the release of three major volumes: A designated 50th Anniversary edition (Viking, $24.95); On The Road: The Original Scroll, the long-awaited controversial release of the uncensored 120-foot alleged "teletype roll" on which Kerouac blasted out his masterwork in just three weeks, six years before its publication (Viking, $26.95); and the handsome Library of America edition ($35.00), Jack Kerouac: Road Novels 1957-1960, edited with notes by neo-historian Douglas Brinkley, featuring Road and five other of his best known novels with selections from his journals.
Whether this literary blitz will land a grand revival of Kerouac's work by old and new generations is yet unseen. But it secures his reputation as a major American writer because his voice resonates with great poignant prose of Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, and John Steinbeck, celebrating wonders and adventures of youthful travels on the open road.
On The Road helped kick off the 1950s literary "Beat Generation", including works of William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. It recounts early adventures of Kerouac ("Sal Paradise"), sidekick Neal Cassady ("Dean Moriarty"), Burroughs ("Old Bull Lee"), Ginsberg ("Carlo Marx") and others as they traveled the country in stolen and transport service cars, and partied with sex and drugs while digging be-bop jazz and celebrating the sights and sounds of America. One 1949 trip was to Burroughs' New Orleans house on Wagner Street in Algiers, now renovated and commemorated by an historical marker on its grounds with a quotation from On The Road. Kerouac wrote of crossing the Mississippi River on the Algiers ferry.
"Now we must all get out and dig the river and the people and smell the world," said Dean.... On rails we leaned and looked down at the great brown father of waters rolling down from mid-America like the torrent of broken souls - bearing Montana logs and Dakota muds and Iowa vales and things that had had drowned in Three Forks, where the secret began in ice. Smoky New Orleans receded on one side; old sleepy Algiers with its warped woodsides bumped us on the other." The following text describes the hunt to Burroughs's house in Old Algiers (now a national landmark) and Burrough's wife Joan, gaunt, badly addicted to amphetamines.
Millions of readers and generations of authors have been influenced by the On The Road, typically discovered by readers in their adolescence. Almost everyone who has read the book remembers when and where they first encountered it, the way one indelibly recalls the loss of virginity.
"Original Scroll" examiners including Howard Cunnell say portions of it have a scored line down one side, suggesting it was hand-ruled and cut to fit the platen of Kerouac's typewriter, indicating it was not teletype paper. However, Cunnell makes some errors, not the least of which is that the Burroughs house in Algiers was located next to a bayou. In fact it is about four blocks from the river and many miles from the nearest bayou.
The dust jacket photo of Scroll shows Kerouac holding long, unfurled footage of a large roll of paper not taped together. The book speculates that Kerouac used this particular roll for his second novel, The Dharma Bums.
The Road scroll now is yellowed with age the way foolscap or newsprint-type teletype paper degrades quickly due to acid content. This continuing literary mystery mythologized by more than 50 years of the "teletype manuscript" story deserves proper forensic examination.
Brinkley's editing of Jack Kerouac: The Road Novels 1957-1960 for The Library of America is part of his early and continuing admiration for the author's work, prefaced by his first book "The Majic Bus", in which he repeatedly misspells Ken Kesey's vehicle "Further". The handsome cloth-bound volume, printed on fine acid-free paper with LOA's traditional sewn-in bookmark strip, presents the novels On The Road, The Dharma Bums, The Subterraneans, Tristessa, Lonesome Traveler, and selected journal entries. Dharma Bums, like most of his novels, was interconnected and part of what Kerouac called "The Duluoz Legend". Bums recounts his travels to California and hikes and camping there with his friend fellow beat poet Gary Snyder, and his introduction to Buddhism, which he intertwined with his deep Catholic spirituality. Subterraneans concerns his relationship with a black girlfriend and is not really a "road" novel. Desolation Angels is and would have been more appropriate for this volume. The tragic Tristessa delves deeper into his travels in Mexico as described in Road and focuses on his inability to keep as his lover a prostitute addicted to morphine. Lonesome Traveler has been described more as a travel memoir than a novel, but features some of his most poetic prose, especially a late draft of "October in the Railroad Earth".
The Library of America edition is a beautiful book and well worth buying even if you possess and have read your old dog-eared paperbacks of the books it includes. Brinkley's appendage notes sheds important light on the Beat saga and makes a strong case Kerouac was not an insignificant writer passing through the 1950s and 1960s, but one to be rediscovered and enjoyed by succeeding generations for all time.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So close yet no cigar... 28 April 2010
By J. J Spina - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It literally drives me mad that Big Sur is missing from this collection. It is like their Dos Passos without the drawings...What were they thinking!?
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars King of the Beats at his best 7 Nov 2007
By Corey Womack - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I had to read the Dharma Bums for a college course, being a fan of Hemingway, I immediately fell in love with Kerouac. With his passion for America and the human spirit most of these stories are invigorating tales of freedom. Also, when he presents heroes like Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty of On the Road) and Gary Snyder (Japhy Ryder in The Dharma Bums) he does so in an unbiased manner, presenting their flaws along with their accomplishments. He blurs the line between poetry and prose to tell his wonderful stories. I think everyone should read at least some Kerouac.
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