The Dharma Bums (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 3 Aug 2000
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-In [On the Road] Kerouac's heroes were sensation seekers; now they are seekers after truth . . . the novel often attains a beautiful dignity, and builds towards a moving climax.-
--The Chicago Tribune
-In his often brilliant descriptions of nature one is aware of exhilarating power and originality . . . the entire cast of characters is presented with that not unrefreshing blend of naivete and sophistication that seems to be this author's forte.-
--The New York Times Book Review
-Full of sparkling descritions of landscape and weather, light falling through trees, the smell of snow, the motion of animals . . . Jack Kerouac is a writer who cannot be charged with dullness.-
"In [On the Road] Kerouac's heroes were sensation seekers; now they are seekers after truth . . . the novel often attains a beautiful dignity, and builds towards a moving climax."
--The Chicago Tribune
--The New York Times Book Review "Full of sparkling descritions of landscape and weather, light falling through trees, the smell of snow, the motion of animals . . . Jack Kerouac is a writer who cannot be charged with dullness."
--The Atlantic --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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'.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. See all Product description
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Top customer reviews
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.
The Dharma Bums is, as are all Kerouac novels, autobiographical. It relates Kerouac's experiences after he met Gary Snyder (Japhy Ryder in the book). Kerouac, influenced by Snyder, started exploring Buddhism, but, unlike Snyder, did so on his own. This naturally leads to lots of misconceptions, but this novel recounts his experiences subjectively, and doesn't try to present some sort of gospel.
The story is as rolicking as On the Road. This time, the movement is less horizontal (across the United States) as vertical (up mountains). Kerouac climbed the Matterhorn (the one in California) with Snyder, and eventually became a fire lookout in the mountains for a summer. During that period, he faced himself squarely, and, while in The Dharma Bums, there's not much soul-searching, that occurs in the "sequel" Desolation Angels.
I would understand the "second-rate writer" comment several decades ago, when Kerouac's style was unique, but now? He's well recognized as one of the most influential voices of his generation, and The Dharma Bums is certainly one of the most important books of his to read, after On the Road.
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. Later on, the book also briefly chronicles Kerouac's summer on Desolation Peak, which (mostly for Ryder's benefit, you sense) he seems to find fairly peaceful. A piece of selective writing indeed, because in fact that summer nearly drove him crazy.
Essentially, this book is a treatise on how NOT to follow the right Buddhist paths, and despite his earnestness, it often feels like Kerouac knows this deep down. He knows that he is chipping at the surface and is never going to truly believe, or gain real enlightenment. Even when he finds a degree of peace in the woods near his mother's house, it is being alone he temporarily treasures, and you get the impression he is enlightened only in as much as he feels comfortable with himself for once.
A few years after this book was written, Kerouac refused to see Gary Snyder, because he was ashamed at how far he'd fallen, and what a drunk he'd become. He never felt himself worthy, of anyone or anything. That seemed to be his problem throughout life, and you sense this insecurity extremely clearly in this book. But you also realise that Kerouac is as good a man as Snyder, or any of them, it's just that he doesn't think so himself.
This is a slightly harder read that some of Kerouac's other stuff, because it sometimes feels that he's not convinced about some of the philosophy himself, and so the writing sometimes feels a bit stilted. Having said that, it still gets five stars from me, because as an insight into the mind of Jack Kerouac, which is surely what anyone wants from his books, it is second to none.
''like a little girl pulling her brother home on the sled and they're both singing little ditties of their imagination and making faces at the ground and just being themselves before they have to go in the kitchen and put on a straight face again for the world of seriousness''
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It almost certainly changed my life
Thank you book