Thursday, September 20, 2007

On the Road, by Jack Kerouac

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) forthcoming
Reading: The Secret Lives of People in Love (Van Booy), Me Talk Pretty One Day (Sedaris)


  1. omg I love Sedaris and have read everything he has written! I hope you like Me Talk Pretty One Day.

    Good job you on getting through the audio book, I simply cannot sit through one!

  2. you know over the years one of the things i really really love about you being someone who reads so much is that i always ASSSSSSSSSSUME you you've read every book i've ever read. and you haven't and we've read A LOT of the same books i've discovered and i think it is really cool. that is just me.

    Adam made me read on the road, it is his favourite book he said it would give me confidence in my writing style. it totally did.

    thanks for your compliment i am really trying to work on review writing..

  3. Cold, David Sedaris is my new god. The old one is toast and Sedaris will now make all of my life choices. I almost crapped my pants reading the "You Can't Kill the Rooster" essay in Me Talk Pretty One Day. It was that wheezy, tear, oh-ma-god-I-cant-breathe type of laughter. Brilliant. Pure effin' brilliance.

    Lady C., I think it's cool too! I love hearing about the books you've read and would love to compare notes as much as possible. I'm always struck my how interesting your choices are (your latest review, case in point), and find my reading quite dull in comparison to yours. And you're right, On the Road gave me a bit o'confidence too. I like playing with words more than beating them into submission, and Kerouac is definitely a playa.

  4. And I'm just going to ignore ALL. THOSE. TYPOS.

  5. Whether the audio/book on tape is narrated by a suave fella or not I simply don't have the attention span to sit through one. I tried but the audio thing seems to drain all of the caffiene from my body in no time!

    I've never read anything by him and people always look at me as if they're discovered something utterly incredible!

  6. Matt, I can't actually sit and listen to a book like I would sit and read a book. I listen while driving, cleaning or in other situations that leave me a captive audience. lol

    As for Kerouac, I'd be curious to to know what you think of him. If you ever try On the Road or any of his other work, I would certainly like to hear your thoughts.

  7. Why not ignore all the typos, Jack did.
    I believe Jack wrote On The Road in two weeks.
    I agree that that the lure of Jack is the hype behind it all. But when he gets on the jazz...yeah buddy, I'm yelling "Go" with him and all the other Beats.

    My studies in Beat Lit did make me go "On The Road" and I think that is the beauty of Beat, it makes you want to experience things that you will never want to forget.
    I suggest that you read his essay The American Hobo (remember my essay The New American Hobo modeled and inspired by that one-I believe your read it) because some of your observations are similar to what he says.
    Stick with the Beats, it won't be long till you feel that jazz based, surreal breathline, bebop prosody, direct expression of mind, first thought, best thought, change nothing-you will feel Beat.

  8. I've always wanted to read that book but haven't because a) it always seemed like it was a difficult book to get through for many reasons and b) I think I'll end up wanting to up and take to the road. I still regret never driving cross country when I got out of college. Maybe one day I'll do it with my kids ;O) kidding...

    Anyway, I love your review of this book - you impress me so much with your way with words Andi. AND I love audio books but I think I'm spoiled by the concept because my first ever audio books were Harry Potter (I bought all the audio books after I read each book and have listened to almost all of them on road trips, etc). If you've never heard HP on tape/cd, you should!! Richard Dale, the narrator is AWESOME. I want to marry him. LOVE LOVE LOVE HIM!

    Also, the hubby has read the Bordain book (my 3rd husband, if he makes it that long) and Me Talk Pretty One day. I'm looking forward to your reviews so I can compare them to his.

  9. Ha! Matt Dillon! He sat at our table at Benihana's when we were on our honeymoon (in very glamorous Tulsa - we were so young and broke). He was working on one of the Outsiders films, but I had no idea who he was. I just thought those cheekbones were really something. And, his legs (he was wearing black leather) went on forever. Because he was so thin, I assumed he was a model till I saw his face in a magazine, about a month later. That was a funny moment. Wish you could have been there.

  10. Oh, look at me, skimming and totally missing the fact that you're reading Simon's book!!!! Well, well? What do you think? I'm dying, here.

  11. I have heard good things about the Harry Potter book on tape with Richard Dale. I must check it out. In fact, your thesis director said I could borrow hers.

  12. I'd considered audio books when I was commuting a lot. I never got around to finding any though. Maybe I'll try it again. I know our local library has some audio books. Today would be perfect to have one since I'll be doing stuff around the house all day. Blast that 20/20 hindsight.

  13. Fem, I was hoping you would drop in to comment on this post! Since it's right up your alley and all. I will definitely read "The American Hobo." I just recently watched a documentary on the Beats on OvationTV (awesome cable network), and it was pretty enlightening. I think I wanna try some Di Prima as well, so if you have any recs for her, lemme know.

    Funky, you should definitely give On the Road a try. The reading of it is not difficult at all--his language is very flowy--but there is that rambling quality to it that takes some patience at first.

    I haven't listened to the Potters on tape, but I'm gonna have to! Everyone loves Jim Dale.

    As for Me Talk Pretty One Day, it makes me HURT I laugh so hard. I had very little reading time yesterday and still blew through 90 pages in no time. I'm tickled to have Naked on my stacks for when I finish MTPOD.

    Nancy, I wish I'd been there too! That long leg thing doesn't sound so bad. I might've liked him then. lol

    As for Simon's book, I LOVE IT! I'm actually reading it ridiculously slow so I don't have to finish it! The story about strawberries (title just left me) is SO affecting. His work makes me feel better about the really short short stories I've written.

    Fem, definitely do. Are you taking her Historical Fiction class this semester? She's been telling me about it (we usually talk once every week or two), and it sounds like a great class.

    Nik, do give it a try. It's great for passing the time!

  14. I echo that Me Talk Pretty One Day is a great read. Hope you are liking it.

    I've tried (unsuccessfully) more than once to complete On The Road...maybe audio would be a good route to finish this. I might give it a try. I too have used the audio book idea to make it through a long ride, and it works for passing the time.

  15. Yes, I am taking the Historical/Realisism Ado-Lit class. We finished that painful book by Sheshadri-Crooks, If you come softly, and Tangerine.

    Mythology and Beat-Yeah buddy!
    As for diPrima, I liked La Loba, Dinners and Nightmares, and Pieces of a song-these are her poetry. Her Memoirs of a Beatmik is what she called her book for hire and the editor wanted some smut. So take some of the memior with a grain of salt. However, her memoir Recollections Of My Life As A Woman contains some of the stuff she wrote in Beatnik. Also, you should check out the awarding winning Minor Characters by Joyce Johnson, she had a fling with Jack and still continues to write novels and screenplays today. Check out Carolyn Cassady, wife of Neal Cassady, the model of Dean Moriarty (Spelling?) in On The Road. Check out How I became Hettie Jones by Hettie Jones, who I believe writes children's books now. She was married to Leroi Jones, a.k.a Amiri Baraka. I really like Ann Waldman but her stuff is not as easily obtained. I had to get her poetry from the famous City Lights Bookstore that I will visit someday, oh yes, some day. See if you can find anything on Helen Adams. I don't think she was really ever called a Beat, she is older than the Beats, but she is considered as a precursor and is included in Beat anthologies. She has this eerrie ballad-Beat form that's great-The Worm Queen Cometh comes to mind, or I think that is what it is called.
    You know, you could check out Women of the Beat Generation by Brenda Knight and A Different Beat by Richard Peabody, both are anthologies. Most Beat women writers write memoirs and poetry, except Johnson, she writes in a sort of memiorish- fictiony way... It's memoir but's Beat (however, Johnson didn't like to be catagorized).

  16. I am having infatuation with audio books. Audio books are exciting but it depends on narrator. A good narrator can turn mediocre book into interesting book.
    Just 2 days back I read Web of Evil believe me narrator, Karen Ziemba make listeners to shiver.
    I just love audio books.

  17. Katie, I LOVE Me Talk Pretty One Day! I can't wait to start Naked.

    Fem, you're a wealth of info. Thank you!

    Thanks, Steve! Be sure to throw recs my way for great readers any time!

  18. On the Road is one of those intimidating works that I keep putting off. Right up there with Moby Dick.

    If you enjoyed the "drive-across-country" narrative, give Steinbeck's Travels With Charley a read. I loved it!

  19. Les, I'll definitely try Travels With Charley. I've heard nothing but good things about it.

    Don't be intimidated by On the Road. It's just a little wordy. :)

  20. "On the Road" is a novel that makes the reader want to go out there, seize the day, and live, live, live! Jack Kerouac, creator of the "beat generation" best sums up his philosophy as "everything belongs to me because i am poor". The failure of ideology and of the American Dream in the 1960s gave young dreamers who were eager to live just one way out: the road.
    Here is a Website which provides you everything from comedy to spine-tingling tales of horror and suspense. It is not at all difficult to find your favorite book and to download it. Get it at ”Audio Books”.

  21. "On the Road" is a novel that makes the reader want to go out there, seize the day, and live, live, live! Jack Kerouac, creator of the "beat generation" best sums up his philosophy as "everything belongs to me because i am poor". The failure of ideology and of the American Dream in the 1960s gave young dreamers who were eager to live just one way out: the road.
    Here is a Website which provides you everything from comedy to spine-tingling tales of horror and suspense. It is not at all difficult to find your favorite book and to download it. Get it at ”Audio Books”


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