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Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac Paperback – 26 Apr 1994


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Product details

  • Paperback: 786 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New edition edition (26 April 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520085698
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520085695
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 3.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,366,341 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

"["Memory Babe] meshes well with Kerouac's own books, paraphrasing them, putting their story in chronological order and fleshing out the autobiographical legend."--Morris Dickstein, "New York Times Book Review

About the Author

Gerald Nicosia is a poet, fiction writer, playwright, and historian. While still a work-in-progress, "Memory Babe" earned him the Distinguished Young Writer Award from the National Society of Arts and Letters. He is currently at work on "Home to War: A History of the Vietnam Veterans' Movement."

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 25 May 1998
Format: Paperback
Memory Babe is probably the most complete Jack Kerouac biography published. Filled to the brim with information about Kerouac and his writing, it also gives the sense that the author had an affinity for Kerouac. This book also differs in that it does not consist of blind hero worship of Kerouac, but reports Kerouac's faults, failures, and in sad fashion, his alcoholism. Even more satisfying is the fact that Nicosia concedes that even Kerouac wrote bad novels once in a while. The only faults in this book are a lack of photos, and occasional continuity screwups, while not severe are annoying. Overall, I repeat my asertion that Memory Babe is the best Jack Kerouac biography published, even better than Ann Charter's biography, Kerouac.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 27 Jun 1998
Format: Paperback
I've read just about everything that's been published about Kerouac, and while I've yet to read a truly satisfactory Kerouac biography, I think this one's the best, though it should be read along with Ann Charter's almost as good book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Glenn Carmichael on 27 April 2011
Format: Hardcover
This biography is undeniably very well researched. However it is written in a somewhat new journalistic style, where Gerald Nicosia likes to tell us what Jack Kerouac, and others around him, thought and felt, which although incredibly beguiling leaves me feeling like I have been guided to believe what Gerald Nicosia wants me to believe, rather than being given the facts and allowed to make up my own mind.
An interesting extra with this biography is a large portion of analysis regarding Kerouac's writing, the symbolism and motifs he uses and where this places him historically within the American literature tradition. Personally I found this lit crit rather heavy going, as it becomes very academic and somewhat anal, e.g. explaining the use and meaning of colours within Kerouac's novels. I really felt that the the analysis of his novels should be in an academic paper for scholars rather than in this biography.
But now doubt, this is the most thorough Kerouac biography that I have read and it is an absolutely must for anyone who wants to know about Jack Kerouac, for better and worse.
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Format: Hardcover
This biography is undeniably very well researched. However it is written in a somewhat new journalistic style, where Gerald Nicosia likes to tell us what Jack Kerouac, and others around him, thought and felt, which although incredibly beguiling leaves me feeling like I have been guided to believe what Gerald Nicosia wants me to believe, rather than being given the facts and allowed to make up my own mind.
An interesting extra with this biography is a large portion of analysis regarding Kerouac's writing, the symbolism and motifs he uses and where this places him historically within the American literature tradition. Personally I found this lit crit rather heavy going, as it becomes very academic and somewhat anal, e.g. explaining the use and meaning of colours within Kerouac's novels. I really felt that the the analysis of his novels should be in an academic paper for scholars rather than in this biography.
But now doubt, this is the most thorough Kerouac biography that I have read and it is an absolutely must for anyone who wants to know about Jack Kerouac, for better and worse.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 17 reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Midwest Book Review - riveting bio, skillfully written 15 Oct 2003
By Laurel Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Chronologically, from birth to death, author Nicosia tells Kerouac's life story with unflinching honesty and utmost respect. Blessed with a sharp memory, very early on Jack's childhood friends nicknamed him "Memory Babe" and that is where the book got its name. Packed with fascinating details and exquisitely written, this book needs to be discovered by a younger generation of readers.

Many of us alive today have heard of Jack Kerouac but I doubt few know the details of his tragic life. That he remains the voice of a generation and a literary icon goes without saying. Kerouac was a physically beautiful but emotionally flawed man with a tormented spirit. He spent his life as man and writer trying to prove that "the past is the root of the future, and that a man cannot live without the continuity of both." Jack remembered everything he heard, as if words were sacred and his mind was a sponge. Despite his many flaws, he always paid "exquisite attention to the sound of language."

Even as he mapped new territory as a writer, Kerouac was adrift as a man. As the first spokesman for the "beat" generation, he perfected that voice with guilt, self-doubt, and self-punishment. This biography clearly states Jack's definition of "beat": "beat down, beat up, all-tired-out." Still, his words were always carefully chosen. Word by word, Kerouac carefully created phrases to express time, place, emotion, and man's senses, communicating deep meaning. His writing was full of symbolism and visions, allegory and veiled reality, profanity and parody, as he groped his way with prose towards his own death. For his time, Kerouac's verbal ingenuity was unsurpassed.

Personally, his charismatic male persona disguised a quicksilver child, mischievous and unpredictable. As he aged, Jack became a brooding, paranoid, hard drinking drug user, insecure in his sexuality and prone to alcoholic blackouts. As addiction wrecked his health, his light slowly drowned out and he became a lonely and despairing figure. But for decades in between youth and death, this trusting, shy, socially awkward man became a literary legend.

Jack Kerouac rubbed shoulders with Jackson Pollock, Allen Ginsberg, and every jazz great of his day. He was published by several of the major New York publishing houses. His prose and poetry were unprecedented and have not been successfully imitated since. He died young, never fully realizing the effect of his mind and his work on subsequent generations.

Gerald Nicosia has penned THE definitive biography of Kerouac. From letters, journals, tapes, interviews, and Jack Kerouac's books themselves - all faithfully recorded in a detailed bibliography - the author has skillfully dissected the life of the "beat" generation's strongest voice. The result is both scholarly and deeply personal, touching and disturbing. It should be required reading in every college and university, and a must have book for any reader curious about Kerouac and his time.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
This Is The Best Kerouac Biography By Far 8 Mar 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I have read and own virtually everything that Jack Kerouac has written, and most of his biographies, and believe that this is the best one, by far. This is the most bang for your buck, I would say this book in hardcover should be worth about $50 to the true Kerouac fan. If anyone truly "understands" Jack (as much as anyone, especially someone this brilliant and complex can be completely understood), it's Gerald Nicosia, a great writer in his own right. I hope to meet him someday to thank him for this wonderful book. The Diamond Sutra = Compassion.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Scholarly, challenging 18 Sep 2001
By Mark Nave - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Of the two best-known Kerouac biographies -- the other being Ann Charters' -- Memory Babe is by far the more scholarly. Challenging and difficult, Gerald Nicosia's Memory Babe still entertains. Memory Babe is a treasure-trove, but not for the light reader.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Great biography and great writing. 26 Dec 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Memory Babe is in a rare category. This book accomplishes two things simultaneously that individually are rarely possible. First, it is an authoritative, definitive biography about one of the most influential people of the 1900s -- Jack Kerouac. Second, it is written in the kind of masterful style usually reserved only for great novelists. It is a biography that is also a work of art, just as a famous novel is a story that is also a work of art. In both cases, the reader's life is influenced -- spiritually and morally -- while the reading itself becomes an enlightening experience. The reader cannot help but forget they are reading a biography, so detailed, interesting and superbly crafted is the writing. When the reader remembers they are reading a biography, they are in awe at the years of painstakingly complete research that obviously preceded the final product. Enjoy reading about the life a profound man. Enjoy reading about him as told by a talented author -- Gerald Nicosia.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Best Bio of a Great Writer 28 Jun 2000
By William Olmstead - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I've read pretty much everything on Kerouac and the Beats ever written for several years. This is by far the best bio. His whole life is covered in the utmost detail..Good work Gerald Nicosia!
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