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Author thread - is Kerouac overrated?

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Showing 1-25 of 44 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 3 May 2011 10:34:24 BDT
Cuban Heel says:
Everyone I know who has similar tastes to me seems to love Kerouac. But for some reason, I find him a little bit overrated. Is it just me?

I've read On the Road twice now, and it was ok. I didn't hate it, but it didn't really capture my imagination in the way I thought a narrative about road trips across America would. In terms of an illustration of the Beat lifestyle, I thought Go by John Clellon Holmes was a much better book.

There are moments in Lonesome Traveler that I really liked - the section where he stays in a remote cabin working as a lookout for forest fires has stayed with me, as have the images of him catching a few hours sleep on a station bench before starting work at the railyards. But then I recently read Bound for Glory by Woody Guthrie, written in 1943 - eight years before On the Road - and it out-Kerouacs Kerouac by a mile. (Does that sentence even make sense)?

Am I missing something? Answers on a postcard please to 'Is Kerouac overrated?', PO Box Fiction Forum...

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2011 11:30:50 BDT
On the Road is a spontaneous contextual snapshot representation of Beat era sub-culture. Kerouac's work stands alone. While it's interesting to contrast like writers of that time, I find no value in critically comparing Kerouac's with any of his contemporaries.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2011 12:02:27 BDT
Cuban Heel says:
Hmmm, I'm not so sure about that. There is a lot made of his spontaneity and yet there is a lot of evidence that the first draft of On the Road was edited several times over. I take the point that he brought his style and subject matter to the fore, but I think there is always a case for comparing someone to their contemporaries, and their possible influences, especially when they are often lauded for uniqueness...

Posted on 3 May 2011 12:28:01 BDT
I'm of a similar opinion - I've only read On The Road, and it was... well, okay. The style was good, and distinctive, but seemed very dated. Like 60s Psychedilic albums - they're forever stuck in the era in which they were written, rather than transcending the era in which they were written.

It's the kind of book I really expected to like, so I felt somewhat let down. Maybe I should have read it as an impressionable youth and just left it too late?


Posted on 3 May 2011 12:34:02 BDT
Dan Holloway says:
I find On the Road interesting. But of the Beat works the ones that really speak to me are Howl and Naked Lunch, and I agree, I was expecting Kerouac to speak to me ina direct sort of way. After all, that's what the Beat is all about, isn't it, mainlining its wild ecstatic visions into your soul? I guess because that's what I expected and that's what I wanted and I didn't get it, I may have missed other great qualities in it.

Two books about the Beat life that get themselves right inside my head are the contemporary Blood and Pudding by Katelan Foisy (we've talked about this I think) and The Dead Beat by Cody James

Posted on 3 May 2011 12:54:47 BDT
Cuban Heel says:
James, you could be right, I was in my mid 20s when I first read anything by him. If I'd been a teenager it may have resonated more.

Dan - yes, I prefer Howl, Go by Clellon Holmes (as I said above), and some of the associated stuff like the Black Mountain poets or the San Francisco Renaissance. And I agree, I think I may have missed some of the qualities it does have because I was disappointed with the immediacy and resonance that I didn't find. Ah well, it's ultimately all a matter of taste I suppose...

Posted on 3 May 2011 13:33:58 BDT
Anyone read this - Been Down So Long It looks Like Up to Me (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics) by Richard Farina?

Hung around with Dylan and people a bit; played hippie ish music. But that is a *great* title, is it not?

Posted on 3 May 2011 13:43:12 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 May 2011 13:46:17 BDT
Cuban Heel says:
James, it is a good title. Is it taken from a Blues song? Have a vague memory The Doors covered something with that as a lyric in it!?

Have you read Dylan's Tarantula? That's a strange book. Not as good as his music it has to be said. I thought it might be interesting as the liner notes he often wrote for his albums were great I thought. But the book came across as a bit of a rambling Burroughs rip-off...

EDIT: That Farina book looks superb. I've GOT to check that out. Never heard of it before...

Posted on 3 May 2011 14:07:15 BDT
Marion Stein says:
I read Keroac long ago, and haven't re-read him more recently. I remember around some big death-anniversary or something a few articles written re-evaluating his work. It's especially problematic for women. You can talk about the culture of the times, etc., but what it comes down to is this: It was a boys' club and women only served one purpose.

That doesn't make the writing bad or good, but it makes it less interesting to a large segment of readers.

Posted on 3 May 2011 14:18:09 BDT
Cuban Heel says:
Marion, that's an interesting point. I did a lot of research a few years back on the role of women in 60s countercultural communes and that was really interesting. Despite all the hyperbole of challenging the mainstream culture, gender issues were essentially just a replication of that culture - if anything it was MORE right wing. The women had to clean and cook and look after children, and had to be sexually available as a commodity to any of the men otherwise they just weren't getting the liberation thing. Quite ironic really.

Posted on 3 May 2011 14:20:19 BDT
From all this I take it that this is one author that I can safely ignore? I'm not missing out on some amazing literary experience...?

Posted on 3 May 2011 14:29:59 BDT
Dan Holloway says:
It's exactly the same problem as existed in art at the same time. Which is such a shame because I just love Abstract Expressionist art, but as a "movement" it was just another extension of the machismo-obsessed culture of Picasso and Hemingway. What's Lee Krasner most famous for, after all? Being the one female artist from the time that anyone can name. Not good.

That's what I like about the Young British Art movement - the likes of Sarah Lucas took a thorough hatchet to all the testosterone-fuelled nonsense. Sadly their literary contemporaries - Amis, McEwan, Barnes and the like - were rather more backward, and discussions we still see in the media show that as far as the "mainstream underground" is concerned we still haven't moved on. Fortunately the underground on the ground is different.

Posted on 3 May 2011 14:31:17 BDT
Cuban Heel says:
Hahahah. I'd never say ignore any author. You might find you really like him. I don't *dislike* him. I think he was an important influence on a lot of the stuff I do like that followed. I just don't think he's quite the genius some make him out to be...

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2011 14:33:51 BDT
Maybe... its just thats there is so much to read, and vast areas that I haven't even begun to explore... there's only one of me and I have lots to do.

Posted on 3 May 2011 14:34:34 BDT
Cuban Heel says:
Better get cracking then... :oD

Posted on 3 May 2011 14:42:37 BDT
Are you intending to stand over me with a whip?

Posted on 3 May 2011 14:45:28 BDT
Cuban Heel says:
If that's what it takes. Now read that Murry-Kamy thing you bought... :oD

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2011 14:47:07 BDT
Its still on its way... I will the moment it arrives, honest! I;ll put it in front of my 30 papercooks and 50 ebooks I have waiting...

Posted on 3 May 2011 14:50:13 BDT
Cuban - yeah I have read Tarantula. Was a bit of a chore to be honest. His autobiographical Chronicles: Volume One on the other hand is well worth a read.

Back to Kerouac, it's an interesting point - is the *first* person to do something necessarily the best? I'm sure there's some 'stream of consciousness' that was well before Woolf, Joyce etc. that's pretty rubbish. But the name escapes me... anyone on here know what I'm on about?


Posted on 3 May 2011 15:00:57 BDT
Cuban Heel says:
James, yes, I read the auto-biography a few years back. That was superb. The picture he paints of Greenwich Village and the small folk scene was amazing. Really liked that book. The documentary Martin Scorsese did on him was brilliant too I thought...

Posted on 3 May 2011 15:35:55 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 May 2011 15:38:46 BDT
Darran says:
It depends on what you mean by overrated. On the Road was one of the first books I fell in love with when I started reading seriously as a teenager. Kerouac became one of my favourite writers and he helped to give me a love of literature. However I decide to read him again a couple of years ago so I picked up The Subterraneans and it was terrible. I was very disappointed. I found it poorly written, sentimental and mawkish. There is a particularly bad scene where he as at a small gathering with his Mulatto girlfriend, Kenneth Rexroth and William Gaddis and he gets all depressed because Rexroth and Gaddis seem cleverer than him because they are discussing Vivaldi.

However, in spite of this I can't think of any other writer who has inspired me with such a feeling of optimism and the desire to go and live life to the full. He is the only writer I can think of who does this. Hemingway does to some extent but it is tempered by his sense of tragedy and his machismo. It's depressing that I can't think of any other good writer who is able to inspire this feeling.

And in response to J. Everington, Edouard Dujardin is seen as the inventor of the stream of consciousness technique, though he is almost completely forgotten now.

Posted on 3 May 2011 15:54:05 BDT
Dan Holloway says:
James, the first isn't the best, but they are the one that "counts" - whether that counts for anything who knows. it's the same as the debate about when writers produce their best work. A writer's "best" work is almost certain to happen late in their career, but if they're going to do anything "important" they'll have done it before anyone's heard of them. I can't think of anything "worthwhile" that's happened in art since Duchamp vandalised his local bogs, but there's a heck of a lot of amazing art that's been produced since then that I'd rather spend time with than Duchamp's smelly fountain

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2011 16:11:46 BDT
Cuban Heel says:
Darran, any writer that inspires you like that obviously has their place in the world. I wouldn't deny that at all. I guess what I was getting at was he's often held in very regard in some quarters and whilst I think he's a good enough writer, I just don't quite see the spark of genius some others evidently do. As I said, I liked Lonesome Traveler, I enjoyed On the Road enough I suppose...

The author I discovered that inspired me the way Kerouac did for you was Ken Kesey. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in particular. (Admittedly, the rest of his work is not quite at that standard). But that was a bit different, it wasn't really optimism he dredged up, more a wistful realism.

You might be right, I can't think of anyone else who promotes a hedonistic experience of living life to its full...

Posted on 3 May 2011 16:43:44 BDT
Dan Holloway says:
Darran, that's exactly the feeling Katelan gave me. She came to the UK last year to promote her book Blood and Pudding, transcriptions of the tapes she and her best friend Holly made on a road trip when they were teenagers in the late 90s. The transcriptions are interlaced with anecdotes about the next 5 years of Holly's life as she spiralled into the addiction that finally killed her. It's the most magical, uplifting, life-affirming book I've ever read, and it inspired not only the book I'm currently writing but a show I'm taking on tour this summer; and pretty much changed the way I view art. I was very lucky to spend a day working on an installation/literary event with Katelan ( in Oxford and got to share a stage with her at the Covent Garden Poetry Cafe ( the next night. Her energy, the way she embodied life as well as celebrating it in her writing, was a life-changing experience

I wrote a piece about it at

Do take a look at her website and find a copy of Blood and Pudding - blurb (best blurb I ever read as well - just reading that makes me want to go out and *live*)
"Holly was manic-depressive, hauntingly beautiful, and addicted to heroin. Kat was a young soon-to-be bride and pill junky. They documented their lives furiously and lived recklessly. They had one mission: To live as much as they could in the shortest amount of time. With a double snort of crushed Xanax the journey began."

(life:) razorblades included

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2011 16:56:00 BDT
Cuban Heel says:
Dan, I added that to my list when you mentioned it last week. Does look really good.
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Discussion in:  fiction discussion forum
Participants:  21
Total posts:  44
Initial post:  3 May 2011
Latest post:  23 Dec 2011

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