Friday, September 14, 2007


50th Anniversary of On the Road by Jack Kerouac

The book club I am part of decided to read On the Road by Jack Kerouac in light of its 50th anniversary of publication, and oddly enough though we are all avid readers none of us had read the book before. So it was truly a treat to read his work and our discussion was one of the most lively we have had in a long time.

Unfortunately, there are many highly recommended books these days and though they are well written often there is not much to say/talk about in a book club. But On the Road was not one of those types.

For one, we all with the exception of one us read the traditional version that was published in 1957. My partner read mostly the On the Road: The Original Scroll which was published in 2007 by Viking. As a result, we jumped into the discussion of what we all read versus what Kerouac originally wrote. Kerouac's Original Scroll used real names, including Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg. Add to that the Original Scroll was more clear about the sexuality of its characters being bisexual and/or gay one can argue that the 1957 version of the book is really not the same book. How can it be when such intricate aspects of the characters change who they are in the full sense of the word round character?

And though more than one us stated that mid way we felt like saying: "Why am I reading this and can I get through it?" We were all surprised and delighted that towards the end of the book, mainly the section of the trip to Mexico for Dean--perhaps an homage to James Dean and even to Sal Mineo as Jack becomes Sal Paradise in the 1957 version--(or Neal in real life) to get his divorce the book takes a wonderful turn and the writing reaches a level that is truly beautiful. This section is Kerouac's best writing in the 1957 version in my opinion. The yearning for a spiritual awakening is found throughout the book and Kerouac's deep rooted Catholicism is echoed throughout the book--to the Mexican Indian girls' eyes being compared to the Virgin's eyes to the talk of Nietzsche to the statement made by Dean: "And not only that but we both understand that I couldn't have time to explain why I know and you know God exists." Yet there is more that is wanted / needed in this quest: They (Dean and Sal) are both searching for the father figure. Who knows if this is both physical and spiritual? But sadly Old Dean Moriarty is never found by the end of the book, so the quest continues, both for the characters and perhaps for Neal and Jack in real life.

The constant reference to Nebraska in the book, both in a boring sense and in a striking awe of its 180 degree vistas, as well as Mexico's enchantment were enticing to me both as a reader but more so as a born-Nebraskan and one who grew up in El Paso across the border from Old Mexico or as some say, in Texas but Mexico by default due to its history and culture.

If you have not read On the Road, you owe it to yourself to read it before you die. Frankly there are very few books I can say that about.

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