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The Town and the City
The Town and the City
by Jack Kerouac
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.40
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Kerouac We Never Knew, Jan. 16 2002
This review is from: The Town and the City (Paperback)
Yes, this is Kerouac's first published novel. Yes, it is fundamentally autobiographical. Yes, it is stylistically derivative of Thomas Wolfe's epic novels. But there is more here for Kerouac devotees than these standard descriptions.
First, when centered between the works written immediately before and after The Town and the City (specifically, the selections of short pieces recently published in Atop an Underwood and Kerouac's second published novel, On the Road)a clear picture of a writer's development emerges. The Town and the City has a sustained narrative that builds to a satisfying conclusion. This would change over time as Kerouac became more focused on episodic writing in his novels--for instance, lengthy descriptions of jazz club settings in The Subteraneans, or maybe the best example, the tape transcriptions of conversations with Neal Cassady in Visions of Cody--and found little need for pure resolution. The beginning of this shift is noticeable in On the Road, when the detailed re-creation of a car ride takes precedent over plot. This type of writing is not to be found in The Town and the City.
Second, Kerouac's development as a human being presents itself as his themes are precipitated by the death of his father and the implicit responsibility for his family Kerouac (embodied in the character of Peter) would wrestle with for the rest of his life.
Third, Kerouac, almost shockingly, finds his literary voice in the final two-hundred pages of the novel. While most of the book moves along with the languid prose of a young writer imitating his idols, the "City" sections show Kerouac opening up, taking more risks, and discovering the type of writing that would become his trademark: Rythmic, unique, and energized accounts of characters almost willing their lives to unfold before them, and dead-on, perfectly real dialogue that makes you believe Kerouac had a tape recorder with him everywhere he went.
Finally, for those who've studied Kerouac's life and those that have visited his hometown of Lowell, you will see Kerouac struggling to fictionalize people, places, and events. This is a struggle he pretty much abandoned with On The Road, going so far as to use "Real Names" in the original draft. It is especially apparent in The Town and the City when Waldo committs suicide by jumping out of a window at Kenneth Wood's apartment. This episode was undoubtedly based on Lucien Carr's murder of David Kammerer. But Kerouac changes the murder to a suicide, and then attempts to fill Kenneth Wood with the same guilt Lucien Carr felt over the incident by implying that Kenneth might have pushed Waldo out the window. The result? It's not believable. Something Kerouac himself must have felt.
Kerouac claimed that the original inspiration for his spontaneous prose style was a forty-page letter he received from Neal Cassady before writing On the Road. The Town and the City shows Kerouac was already discovering a voice of his own and exploring the places and people that would dominate his fiction for the remainder of his career. It was that letter, though, that hurled him into a different realm, showing him the possibilities of a wild, new bop prosody, later leading to a recognition of Kerouac as a pioneering, risk-taking, totally unique writer. Had Cassady never sent that letter, we might well be talking of Kerouac today as a stylistic extension of Thomas Wolfe, or we may not be talking of him at all. Still, The Town and the City proves, with or without Neal's letter, Kerouac had greatness in him all along.

Naked Angels: Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs
Naked Angels: Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs
by John Tytell
Edition: Paperback
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4.0 out of 5 stars Critical Introduction to Core Beats, Sept. 27 2001
Published over twenty years ago, Naked Angels still holds up as a thorough critical study of the works of Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Kerouac. The first section deals mainly in biography, but it seeks to explain why each of the writers explored certain topics and how their experiences shaped their styles. However, if you have studied these three in a biographical sense, the information presented here will not be new to you.
The second section covers the works of the three writers. While there is certainly a wealth of sources that give critical insights into Beat writing, this section brings them together into an often detailed, more often general study of Beat themes, styles, and voices. The Ginsberg section is particularly detailed in its analysis of Ginsberg's long lines and mysticism. Though Kerouac and Burroughs receive their share of treatment, the Burroughs section lacks the further illumination provided by Burroughs over the last twenty years of his life. And the Kerouac section hits only the high points, simply because it would be too difficult to cover every aspect of this prolific writer's work in a mere 70 pages.
This book is a solid overview of the core Beats and their seminal works. Its age shows at times, but it's worth a read as a well-written and well-thought treatment of Beat literature.

The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats: The Beat Generation and the American Culture
The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats: The Beat Generation and the American Culture
by Holly George-Warren
Edition: Hardcover
23 used & new from CDN$ 6.37

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beat Overload, Jan. 31 2001
The Book of the Beats has some great high points (Brian Hassett and John Swenson's pieces on how the Beats impacted and were impacted by pop culture), and some utterly ridiculous low-points (Mike McClure's seven page tribute to himself). All of it taken together is an interesting read, but there can be too much of a good thing. For instance, I could care less about how the Beats "ruined" Johnny Depp's life. And Graham Parker? It seems that George-Warren solicited contributions from anyone who had ever read On the Road or felt "transformed" upon their first reading of Howl.
Having said that, the book does possess many good qualities. As in, the first section that attempts to establish the Beats as a cultural phenomenon that continues to have a lasting impact. Some of the assertions are a stretch, such as McClure identifying the Beats as the "literary arm of the Environmentalist movement." Laugh at that statement, then move on to Joyce Johnson and Hettie Jones's strong pieces about the roles of the Beat women. The section is rounded off with John Tytell's piece which gives a solid historical context for the Beat movement.
The sections devoted to Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs border on overkill--especially the faithful reprinting of Rolling Stone's transcript of a conversation between Burroughs and David Bowie. But these sections do have some gems--Burrough's piece on Kerouac firmly dismisses the myth that Kerouac's books are just autobiographies with the names changed, Barry Alfonso's 1994 interview with Ginsberg, and Robert Palmer's interview with Burroughs and Brion Gysin. There are really no revelations about Kerouac or Burroughs here. And for anyone who has studied much about Ginsberg, the egocentrism displayed in his interviews is certainly not a surprise. What is shocking, though, is how some of these contributers seem to worship their subject--as in Mikal Gilmore writing on the effects of Ginsberg's poems: "Perhaps only Martin Luther King Jr.'s brave and costly quest had a more genuinely liberating impact upon the realities of modern history..." Comparing Ginsberg to MLK? Come on.
Perhaps the most poignant piece in the collection was written by Daniel Pinchbeck, the son of Joyce Johnson. His "Children of the Beats" is a startling look at the descendants of some of the core figures in Beat lore. He delves into the pressure of being a Beat child with a journalistic tone. The reader might feel more pain for these people if Pinchbeck hadn't presented them as average people attempting to live their own lives, distinct from their famous parents.
Other strong and unexpected contributions are Stephen Davis's piece on Brion Gysin and both pieces devoted to Robert Frank--these men were key figures in the Beat sub-strata and are often overlooked.
Perhaps my biggest criticism of this book is that is does not focus enough on the true impact of the Beats on culture. There is a half-hearted attempt to link the Beats to the Hippies of the late sixties, but I've never been one to buy into that notion--other than acknowledging Ginsberg's role in advancing the Hippie cause. This collection would have been well-served by a few pieces from sociology experts--people who could actually draw clear lines from the Beat movement to today's world by citing more examples than "Ginsberg recorded with Paul McCartney" and "Kurt Cobain and Patti Smith count Burroughs as a strong influence." (What do you expect from Rolling Stone, right?) No doubt the Beats impacted artists like Bob Dylan, but what does that mean to the rest of us?
In the closing paragraph of Joyce Johnson's quid pro quo with Daniel Pinchbeck (pg. 394), Pinchbeck states " is necessary to resist nostalgia to a certain extent. The cultural situation changes constantly, and suddenly out of what seems like a total void, who knows if a surprising Renaissance won't bloom?" While this is a valid observation, it also points out a glaring contradiction: This collection is 90% glorified nostalgia. Let's hope those who are truly interested in both preserving the Beat legacy and sparking a new Renaissance will find sources more substantial to fill the void.

Visions of Cody
Visions of Cody
by Jack Kerouac
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 20.00
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4.0 out of 5 stars Kerouac Essential, Jan. 3 2001
This review is from: Visions of Cody (Paperback)
Most readers come to know Kerouac through On the Road. Those who develop a relationship with his work invariably point to Visions of Cody as the one that hooked them for life. While the plotting and structure aren't nearly as sound as On the Road, this isn't exactly a novel. More like a rambling, poetic love letter to a period in Kerouac's life that was quickly slipping away.
Incidentally, Kerouac did not intend for this to be a companion to On the Road. If the author had had it his way, this would have been the definitive version of On the Road.
Most readers agree that the first 150 pages is by far the best writing in this book. Read this section, even if you put the book down for good afterward. These 150 pages are pure, loose, and brilliant. Kerouac sketching unequaled by any other part of his oeuvre.
As with all Kerouac books, this one has its faults. The middle 200 pages are overwrought and self-indulgent. But that can be said of most of Kerouac's work. The tape transcripts are important reading if you want a first-hand account of the dynamic that existed between Jack and Neal. But this section could have been shortened substantially. Also, for every perfect sentence, there are ten that fall flat--examples of how the spontaneous prose technique had its drawbacks. But no writer is great all the time. And Kerouac's sporadic greatness more than makes up for the notes he doesn't quite hit.
For those new to Kerouac's work, you would be better off reading The Subterraneans first just to get acclamated to the spontaneous prose style. Even then, it will be tough going. But you read Kerouac for more than the storytelling. Faithful Kerouac readers cite the author's inventiveness, his fearlessness, and his unwavering devotion to the written word. Most writers go their entire lives without a sentence as good as, "So pull that skull cover back and smile." And that one is buried in a heep of perfectly constructed, evocative sentences.
For a more critical look at this book, try reading Kerouac's Crooked Road by Tim Hunt (with help from Ann Charters). It offers a thorough breakdown of Kerouac's techniques, while providing an insightful comparison between Visions of Cody and On the Road (two versions of the same idea).

Lonesome Traveler
Lonesome Traveler
by Jack Kerouac
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.56
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3.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes a Great Writer, Dec 21 2000
This review is from: Lonesome Traveler (Paperback)
As with most Kerouac books, Lonesome Traveler lacks cohesion. This is naturally the essence of spontaneous prose. What this book offers, however, is a good sampling of the types of scenarios Kerouac liked to explore: 1) The Road, 2) Holing up in Isolation, 3) New York, 4) Relationship between the past and present.
While some readers may never fully appreciate Kerouac's descriptions of life as a hobo, riding railcars throughout California, most must at least admire the experience. It serves as a solid juxtaposition to the New York Scenes and the Big Trip to Europe. These sections are held together by the Desolation Peak section which, along with the New York Scenes Kerouac excelled at writing, proves to be the best writing in the book. The final piece--The Vanishing American Hobo--seems to be Kerouac's attempt to explain why he never fully embraced the wanderer's life.
This book is a fairly good introduction to Kerouac's work, especially considering its autobiographical style which later become Kerouac's forte. As always, Kerouac does a masterful job of capturing the mood of the time and placing his reader in the middle of it all. Still, I would probably save this one for later and read one of his fictionalized bios first, such as On the Road or Subterraneans.

The Long Slow Death of Jack Kerouac
The Long Slow Death of Jack Kerouac
by Jim Christy
Edition: Paperback
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2.0 out of 5 stars Worse Than It Looks, Sept. 22 2000
Christy's book was obviously written for someone doing a Kerouac paper in their high school English class. This is the type of biography you wish had never been published. The fact that it is in print seems to validate what Christy has written. There is so little presentation of known fact--more hearsay and legend than anything else. For instance, Christy claims Kerouac's last words were, "It must have been the tuna fish." I'm shocked neither Charters nor Nicosia were able to dig up this information--but Christy was? Who will be the next self-proclaimed "Beat Researcher" to cash in on the Kerouac revival? This book is on par with "The Kerouac We Knew." Yet another shoddy attempt at exploiting Kerouac's celebrity.

Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac
by David Sandison
Edition: Hardcover
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3.0 out of 5 stars Illustrated, but not Illuminated, July 12 2000
This review is from: Jack Kerouac (Hardcover)
This book offers more unique photos of Kerouac and associates than any other Kerouac book, including "Angel-Headed Hipster." But the same problems with most Kerouac biographies are present in this one as well. The biographer, David Sandison, seems more intrigued by Kerouac's image rather than his substance. Of course, this is why he painstakingly gathered the photos and presented them here. As usual, Kerouac's true motivations and inner demons are given only passing references, in favor of the more cinematic qualities of his life, eg. the women, the booze, and the fast cars. This book is not for the critical Kerouac reader seeking literary insight. It is, instead, for those enamored with the Kerouac Legend.
If you truly want to get personal with Kerouac, pick up anything with Ann Charters' name on it. She has proven, by far, to be the world's most authoritative and compelling Kerouac scholar.

Beat Generation in New York: A Walking Tour of Jack Kerouac's City
Beat Generation in New York: A Walking Tour of Jack Kerouac's City
by Bill Morgan
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 26.50
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5.0 out of 5 stars Better than wandering, June 6 2000
It would be next to impossible to find these places on your own. Even more impossible to learn as much about each of the sites as is presented in this guide. Each tour follows a logical route and there are plenty of stops that you probably never would have thought of--eg. Serpico's apartment, the former site of Thomas Wolfe's East 8th St. apartment. Using this guide is a great way to see the Village, East and West. And the insight will keep you reading even as you're moving to the next stop. Take your time. Spread the tours over a couple of afternoons. And linger for a while in Washington Square.
A great companion to this book is "The Beat Generation in New York." I wouldn't recommend carrying this heavy book around with you, but after you've finished the tours, open the book to look at the pictures taken at many of the places you've just visited.

The Birth of the Beat Generation: Visionaries, Rebels, and Hipsters, 1944-1960
The Birth of the Beat Generation: Visionaries, Rebels, and Hipsters, 1944-1960
by Steven Watson
Edition: Hardcover
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3.0 out of 5 stars For the New Beat Reader, June 6 2000
Steven Watson does an admirable job of bringing together the various strands of Beat history through an engaging, storyteller-like style. Though he doesn't cover much new ground, his treatment of the Beat Women, Black Mountain Poets and the San Francisco Renaissance will be particularly helpful for those who are just beginning to explore the ancillary figures of the Beat movement. However, anyone already familiar with the lives of Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Kerouac will find nothing revelatory here.
One point of concern is Watson's often overzealous descriptions of Beat sexuality. While sexual liberalism was certainly a significant tenet of Beat existence, it was not, in my estimation, the raison d'etre for Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac, etc. It could be argued that Neil Cassady illuminated the sexual experience for core Beats, but his contribution as an iconic figure should not be devalued by presenting him as merely the sexual driving force of the Beats. Moreover, Watons implies that Ginsberg's homosexuality was the primary facet of his literary development. This is more than debatable. Certainly, Ginsberg's supernatural visions of Blake and his relationship with his mother served a much more profound purpose.
Though Watson should be commended for his thoroughness, the result at times is an overemphasis on the sexual side of the Beats. In Watson's book, this serves to lessen the importance of the Beats' dramatic contributions to literature and poetry.

Go: A Novel
Go: A Novel
by John Clellon Holmes
Edition: Paperback
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3.0 out of 5 stars Beat, but not, April 25 2000
This review is from: Go: A Novel (Paperback)
Holmes is generally considered to be a Beat novelist, but that label creates unfair expectations for those who have not read his work. In truth, Holmes' writing is a narrow bridge between writer's of the 30's and early 40's and the Beats. His style is reminiscent of Thomas Wolfe to an extreme--something Kerouac was guilty of in 'The Town and the City.' The problem with this novel is that Holmes wants so badly to chronicle the activities and attitudes of the Beats, but he can't pull it off stylistically. Kerouac's spontaneous prose was better suited for the subject matter and themes. This is why Kerouac, not Holmes, is generally considered the King of the Beats. Holmes' prose is dense with word illustrations and bland dialogue. Compare this with Kerouac's economy of words and beat-laiden dialogue, and you'll see why Kerouac's chronicles of the Beat Generation more fully capture the essence and spirit of the movement. If you truly enjoy Thomas Wolfe, you'll like Holmes. But if you're thinking 'Go' is anything like 'On the Road,' think again.

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