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Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac
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Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac

4.13  ·  Rating Details ·  671 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
In 1969 Jack Kerouac died a premature death. While his legendary lifestyle and unique creative talent made him a hero in his lifetime, his literary influence has grown steadily since. With Memory Babe (a childhood nickname honoring Kerouac's feats of memory), Gerald Nicosia gives us a complete biography of Jack Kerouac—an honest, discriminating and, above all, compassionat ...more
Paperback, 767 pages
Published February 23rd 1994 by University of California Press (first published 1983)
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Community Reviews

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Paul Bryant

He couldn’t drive. Never learned. That’s what I call a fun fact!


On the Road was the inspiring story of two bopcat blood-brother hipsters searching for the high mystic NOW of the thousand-petaled American holy night, armed only with vows of innocence, poverty, fast cars, benzedrine, booze and hookers, and not letting a gaggle of clingy females like wives and their babies or anybody’s mother stop them for a single second. Well, okay, sometimes the old ball and chain did put a chill on the proceed
Apr 21, 2013 Doug rated it really liked it
Shelves: beat-lit, bio
For those who think Kerouac had some cool Beat life -- forget it. The poor man was a disaster. This great bio doesn't stint on the details, which eventually add up to a brutal portrait of a writer who just couldn't keep it together. Keep what together, you ask? Everything... Including his writing, which contains flashes of brilliance, but also a fair share of drivel.

The last part of Nicosia's book is grueling. It is Kerouac now totally off the rails, out of touch with any reality. Family and fri
Dec 26, 2011 Mat rated it it was amazing
This is an absolutely fantastic biography. It just amazes me how Nicosia was able to uncover so much information on Jack Kerouac. I guess the huge amount of correspondence he left behind would have been his first treasure trove plus the large number of his friends and acquaintances that the author was able to interview.
I have heard some reviewers on amazon and elsewhere complain that this biographer is too 'blinded' by his adulation of Kerouac. Although the author's respect for Kerouac is indee
Joe Mossa
Apr 27, 2009 Joe Mossa rated it liked it

before i read this bio, i liked jack. now, i don t like him. we was a horrible person who wouldn t help support his daughter. he and the bio writer thought he was a great writer but im not even sure of that. i have only read one of his books ON THE ROAD. i read it two times years ago and i think i liked it. i don t like of consciousness,symbolic non linear writing..ala joyce and others. at times i feel like capote who said..jack doesn t write,he types.. it is ironic that i seem to like
Jay C
Apr 14, 2012 Jay C rated it liked it
Finally finished. It took me 2.5 months to get through this behemoth. Pretty depressing read, especially as Kerouac's life deteriorates. I knew what was coming, of course, but that still didn't make it any less unpleasant. Now I can get on with my life. :-)
Jan 06, 2009 Jen rated it it was amazing
The BEST biography/critical study of Kerouac, in my opinion (apologies to Anne Charters).
Andy Bryant
Dec 10, 2013 Andy Bryant rated it really liked it
I've had this book almost 20 years since buying it at City Lights, and for a while I feared it would take me that long again to read it. At nearly 700 pages it's an incredibly detailed account of Kerouac's life, and while Nicosia is clearly of the view Kerouac is a literary genius, he's also well aware that he was a flawed, troubled genius who often made his friends and family pay a heavy price for their association with him.

It's called a critical biography, and what I really loved was the way N
Rhonda Cotsell
As a reader - couldn't put this down, and when I finished it I cried. Good result for a biography when you already know how its going to end.
As a reviewer I would thoroughly reccommend this to all Kerouac groupies. The writing style is quick and alive and though it is quite thick I did not find it a chore to either read or finish - I had just finished On the Road and sought an autobio or bio out because I wanted to check the trip journey against his life, since it read as if was describing a tr
Christian Danielsen
Apr 27, 2014 Christian Danielsen rated it really liked it
A monumental and extremely detailed biography, where we almost follow Kerouac month by month, but with the main focus on his most productive years. The author combines Kerouac's lifestory with brilliant analyses of his works.
This is not a pleasent read. Kerouac's rootlessness and loneliness is the background of every line and in many ways his life was miles away from the romanticized hipster lifestyle he contributed to himself in his books.
Nov 20, 2009 Idleprimate rated it it was amazing
this is by far the best work about Kerouac. it is, in my opinion, the first work that critically examines K's work, instead of being consumed by K as a spectacle or symbol.

the scholarship is phenomenal, and it is eminently readable--difficult to put down; Nicosia communicates a passion and empathy for k's life and work. I like Anne charters work on the beats, and she was a pioneer, but this is the book you need.
Eric Q
Mar 26, 2012 Eric Q rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing biography of Jack Kerouac. It's the first critical biography of him and its author won an award for the book before it was even published. With the film version of "On The Road" looming on the horizon, this would be a great book to read to know more about the man.

One word of caution though; this book is not for the faint of heart. It's a little dry in spots and very very through. You have to bring your A game to this read. It will reward you in the end.
essential for kerouac readers. a surgical look at jakcs life from little munchen to dead man. ivy league footballer and gi bill sponger, sad sad man beat down by his madness to write
has a few pics, lots of jazz, great endnotes, troubling times in mexico and mill valley, useful index, an incredible pathos.
M. Pierce
Sep 19, 2013 M. Pierce rated it really liked it
I have to say, this is not as "critical" or objective as one might like. It's one of those biographies colored too frankly with love for its subject, though it does get the facts down straight. Not many options out there in terms of academic criticism on Kerouac, strangely.
Feb 11, 2012 Karolina rated it it was amazing
Fantastic biography. Well-written, thoroughly researched and extremely detailed. A must read for those with serious interest in Kerouac and the beat generation.
Joe Hartigan
Jul 30, 2010 Joe Hartigan rated it it was amazing
This is a great biography that is painful to read because of the intentional, horribly intense self-destruction Kerouac put himself through for such a long time.
Mar 31, 2009 Stephen rated it really liked it
A compelling biography of the ultimately disappointing idiotic genius, Jack Kerouac. Thorough, very thorough.
Brian Mcelmurry
Oct 01, 2013 Brian Mcelmurry rated it it was amazing
Super in-depth biography with literary criticism. The definitive biography for the serious Kerouac fan.
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  • Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats
  • Off the Road: My Years with Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg
  • Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir
  • Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They're Not What You Think)
  • The First Third

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“Unable to forgive his own sins, unsatisfied with just the goodness of his heart, [Kerouac] would go on poisoning his body until it rotted around him, rotted, bloated, exploded, and fell away to let the pure Jack Kerouac, the saint, escape free at last - remembered only as a ghost.” 3 likes
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