On the Road is my very first audio book ever. I've tried audio books in the past, but they always seemed to be narrated by some suave fella with a buttery English accent, and I would inevitably end up face-down on my bed, snoring away within 5-7 minutes of beginning. When I began to commute for a total of 80 minutes a day (round trip), I quickly tired of listening to the same music time and again. Although I have an 8gb iPod nano, you can only cram so much music on the thing. After I gave up finding a decent radio station, I was left with one simple option. Give audio books another try.
On the Road seemed an obvious choice for two reasons. 1) I was turning to audio books because I was "on the road" so much (har har) 2) I haven't been able to read it. That is, its rambling style tends to put me to sleep almost as quickly as British man audiobooking at me. Yet, I've always wanted to complete it despite my doomed attempts, and the recent publication of Kerouac's original scroll sort of bewitched me. I was completely ignorant of the great Kerouac myth before I decided to listen to this book. I had no idea the length of time that Kerouac and his cronies spent traveling the country. I hadn't the foggiest idea that he wrote the book on one long, uninterrupted scroll of paper (120 feet). Or that Kerouac composed the novel in a three-week rush of writing fueled by endless cups of coffee and--though Kerouac adamantly denied it--probably Benzedrine.
But enough of the back story...let's get to the book! I listened to an unabridged audio version narrated by Matt Dillon, and for that aspect alone, I expected to have problems with it. Matt Dillon is generally considered, by me, a boil on the butt of humanity. His teeth bother me, his face bothers me, his voice bothers me. But, somehow, he was able to make On the Road come alive. Given, he has his readerly flaws--his syllables sometimes smashing in on one another, his characters' voices eventually crapping out and evening into something that sounds very much like "every other character." However, he has some rough wildness to his voice that did justice to Kerouac's musical, rambling, stream-of-consciousness classic.
This is one of those books, like Wuthering Heights, that offers few likable characters. They're ruffians and deadbeats and swindlers, but they're also thinkers and adventurers. I suppose the story, as I knew it would, plays into my romantic fantasies of dropping everything and just taking off. I would love to travel the country with no particular place to be for seven years. Drink with friends, intellectualize, philosophize and write, write, write. Alas, Kerouac lived, in many ways, in a dramatically different America than the one we live in today. A man could hitchhike from coast to coast, sleep around and drive his car into a muddy ditch in middle America without worrying too much about being arrested or getting knifed to death and hacked into little pieces.
I read somewhere that Kerouac's novel is a "love letter to America," and I think that's a fair assessment. He became intimately acquainted with corners of this country that most people will never see, and never care to see. His manic scribblings are interspersed with poetic, literary digressions that boggle the mind. The whole thing is one big jazz solo twittering, banging and hooting all night long.
Now, all these praises don't actually mean that I liked the book that much. That's news, eh? This is one of those tomes that I appreciate even if it bored me at times. I appreciate Kerouac's intentions far more than his prose, and when all is said and done, I really like the mythical proportions that this story and its author have grown into.
Also finished: A Cook's Tour (Bourdain)...review forthcoming
Reading: The Secret Lives of People in Love (Van Booy), Me Talk Pretty One Day (Sedaris)