Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Minor Characters” as Want to Read:
Blank 133x176
Minor Characters
Joyce Johnson
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Minor Characters

3.99  ·  Rating Details ·  1,503 Ratings  ·  116 Reviews
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Johnson's Beat memoir is "the safe-deposit box that contains the last, precious scrolls of the New York '50s" (The Washington Post).

Jack Kerouac. Allen Ginsberg. William S. Burroughs. LeRoi Jones. Theirs are the names primarily associated with the Beat Generation. But what about Joyce Johnson (nee Glassman), Edie Parker, E
Published by Pocket Books (first published January 1st 1983)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Minor Characters, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Minor Characters

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Although there are moments of stunning beauty, this book is more often... dull. The nature of life may be fragmentary, but Johnson's swerving changes in direction make for a book whose narrative is confusing and even annoying.

This book is three things: it's a memoir of a woman's early life; it's a reflection on women's place in society in the 1950s; and it's a book about the beat generation.

I suspect most people who pick it up are interested in the third element. However, as a Beat memoir, I fou
Andrew Leavitt
Apr 21, 2013 Andrew Leavitt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If I weren't taking a class about the Beat Generation right now, I probably would never have even been told about this book, much less read it. And that would really have been a tragedy, because very shortly after starting this book I found myself hooked. I was supposed to speed read it in just a week, but I found myself captivated. I couldn't rush through it, only gleaning the information I would need for whatever upcoming paper or discussion I would be taking part of. Instead I read this book ...more
The book was really enjoyable for me mainly because I got a personal account of what it was like to live in NYC in the 1950s. Her main stomping grounds were three of my former own: 1. The Upper West side (Morningside Heights) 2. The Village (west). 3. The East Side (East Village).
Johnson states her disappointment with the fact that women were left out of the creative parts of the movement, yet she spent a lot of time waiting for Kerouac, failing to create much of anything herself, until her rom
Feb 12, 2008 Lauren rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best memoirs make you feel that you have been hanging around the same apartments, sharing subway benches, drinking bottomless cups of coffee at the same diner with someone. Reading "Minor Characters" made me feel this way.

Steeping myself in the world of the beats, a solid 15 years after I first read Kerouac and Ginsburg and after having now visited City Lights in SF and after about 4 and a half years of haunting Columbia University, I felt that becoming acquainted with Joyce wasn't unlike fa
Lauren G
a superb and tender account of a life lived in the center of a rather marvelous hurricane of talented souls, including her own. without being sappy, overly nostalgic, or sentimental, johnson recounts her strongest and most poignant memories of her relationships with jack, leroi and hettie jones, allen ginsberg, peter orlovsky, and many others. she was with kerouac the night before, and for many days and nights after-'on the road' hit america's consciousness after its gleamingly positive review i ...more
May 15, 2011 Chloe rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Minor characters is a very telling memoir for those who are interested in the Beat generation, but I have a problem with it: it was the first Beat novel I'd ever seen written by a woman, and it's about how she followed Kerouac around and pined after him. She seemed to have many interesting friends, her own place, and a career that she was trying to start, which all would have made for an interesting memoir, yet she only mentioned them when she was talking about the things that she sadly filled h ...more
Nov 30, 2007 Alicia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, favorites
Joyce Johnson is my literary hero. Her stories are told so candidly and stoically. I can only hope to one day tell my story as well as she tells hers. As she looks back on her years with Kerouac--and in the beat movement in general--it's amazing to see how crystal-clear she remembers, and how much she's learned from those times. It was so easy for me to forget as a young woman in my 20s going through much of the emotion and pain she endured, the incredibly different world she came of age in. It' ...more
Oct 05, 2011 Erin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best stuff:

I feel much the same in later years whenever I part from a man I love. The anxiety is not so much over leaving as over an impending fading of identity.

I'd learned myself by the age of sixteen that just as girls guarded their virginity, boys guarded something less tangible which they called Themselves. They seemed to believe they had a mission in life, from which they could easily be deflected by being exposed to too much emotion.

I started walking forward. I was going to thank him for
I have very little interest in (or patience for) Kerouac, as a writer or an icon. I grant that he was hugely influential to a great many people but I personally find his writing shallow and monotonous and the man himself much worse, and Johnson's memoir did little to dissuade me from that viewpoint. However, I have a great interest in the lives of women who felt marginalized at times that were supposed to be freeing and in that sense, Johnson was hugely informative, both about the ways a culture ...more
Nov 02, 2012 Audrey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would give the first 2/3 of this book four stars and the last third 2.5 stars. That averages to a three-star review I think. I really liked reading about this dorky, literary misfit who was at an awkward age growing up during the coolest time in history surrounded by some of the coolest people who ever lived (I'm told). Then she starts dating Jack Kerouac and her head gets up her ass and she can't get it out.
Jan 19, 2009 Elise rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a Beat Memoir but rather a lonely girl (grown old) telling of being used by a man, who climbed his way up the publishing pole. It's monotonous and depressing. I recommend reading female Beat writers Elise Cowen (Ms. Johnson's "best friend" who was not fortunate enough to be given housing by her unlike Kerouac and killed herself). She was a talent. Also, read the works of Di Prima and Anne Waldman. Ignore this. It's gossip-for-cash and unworthy.
When I first read on the road I was very interested in the women in the story. I was interested in what kind of woman would be able to leave the standard domestic life of the 50s and be part of something different. To me one of the best things about that book was that I could read through it and see myself and my friends reflected in a different time. In a way it was reassuring. When I read this book however I didn't find myself identifying with the main character at all. I think part of the pro ...more
Tatiana Brown
Apr 26, 2016 Tatiana Brown rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Joyce Johnson is a woman that proves the beat movement would be nothing without the female influence. In the 1940's and 1950s, women weren't expected to be much of anything and maybe that's why I felt constantly floored me throughout this book with her absolute destruction of that ideal. I do the love the beats, this is something that I'm learning to accept, but the lack of female writers ever spoken about in the same breath as Allen Ginsberg or Jack Kerouac is actually disgusting to me. Johnson ...more
Axel Marazzi
Nov 02, 2014 Axel Marazzi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Terminé «Minor Characters», de Joyce Johnson, una autobiografía de la autora, que vivió la generación beat desde adentro.

Tuvo una relación duradera con Kerouac y conoció a Ginsberg, Carr, Orlovsky.

Estuvo con Kerouac cuando no lo conocía nadie y vivió el momento de explosión de «On The Road».

La etapa en la que Kerouac sufrió la fama y se refugió en el alcohol y el hermetismo.

Joyce fue la única relación en serio que mantuvo Kerouac a través de los años, a quien le escribió mientras estaba en el T
Dec 29, 2007 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a young woman, Joyce Johnson often felt that she was an unexceptional person who just happened to hang out with some really exceptional people. To explain - Joyce's life took a dramatic turn when friend Allen Ginsberg set her up on a blind date with his friend, a little-known writer named Jack Kerouac. This was a time when male artists had a template of how to be true to themselves, of being "on the road." For women, there was no such model. Johnson portrays the details of her personal journe ...more
Jun 19, 2008 Robert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Minor Charactors is the perfect title for this book because it is a memoir about one woman in particular (Joyce Johnson) but also about various other women who were very much part of the Beat movement...but seldom glorified in the legends.

What made this book particulary enjoyable is that at the time of writing it Joyce Johnson did not have permission to use Jack Kerouac's letters so the story is told more through her perspective of events than simply a reconstruction of correspondence (for that
Sophie Zucker
Jul 31, 2014 Sophie Zucker rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Johnson traces her life as parallel to that of the Beat poets, tracing her own lifelong love of counterculture with her inability to access it, so that you feel like you know what's going to happen years before she and Kerouac even meet. Johnson was with Kerouac before his rise to fame, and during it; she charts his own success, but really, she writes about her life on the edge of the Beats, and how she never fully entered the circle she was so enamored with.

I loved this book. The prose was exce
Sep 08, 2016 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
A quiet and slightly understated memoir from one of the women of the Beat generation - a one time companion to Jack Kerouac (when he wasnʻt going home to Mother). Between the lines, we see the misogyny of these self involved men who relegated all women to minor roles, and we meet some incredible young women who nurtured these men. Yes they were young, really young, these women and the men were much older, as a rule. Curious. Though I read this through in one session, finding it compelling, it di ...more
May 02, 2010 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in The Beats
Published in '83, it is Joyce Johnson's memoir of her time w/ The Beats, and her affair w/ Kerouac. We don't get into that until half way through this short book. Much of her point is The Beats were pretty much an all-boys club. Yep, not sure anyone would argue that point w/ her. I've outgrown The Beats decades ago, but it was still interesting to read about them and NYC mid '50's. Intro by Ann Douglas (???)is mostly an attempt to say there were female Beat writers - but really, her examples wer ...more
Oct 16, 2008 Amity rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was one of the most heartbreaking books I've ever read. Beyond the strained attempts to feel closer to the mighty Jack Kerouac, Johnson gives heartbreaking insights into the shadow life of an aspiring female novelist and the social stigmas attached to the lifestyle of a female "beatnik." She speaks in authoritative terms of the independence which often found young girls orphaned from their parents, lost, and in severe cases teetering on brink of insanity. Quoting Allen Ginsberg, Johnson see ...more
Taylor Church
Jul 17, 2014 Taylor Church rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Certain books upon finishing make you ache for the author. Not only do you feel the pain they felt, but you yearn to be a part of their life, perhaps entering into their private circle of trusted ones. Unfortunately this is not the reality. Many authors are long dead after you read their work,or have retreated to some hermetic and undisclosed location. Alas, I will not seek out the author who is now in her eighties. I will however procure her other works post haste. This was maybe the best and m ...more
Emily Dahl
I started this book slowly, in fits and starts, before absolutely destroying it today. I was fascinated by the author's story, about living as an un-acknowledged member of the beat generation -- even more what that means living it on the edges, as a woman.

However, I was increasingly frustrated by the author's vagueness. To me, it read that she took it as a given that you'd be reading the book to hear about the beat men. Which, I was interested in reading about. But I was more interested in read
Nov 25, 2012 Phyllis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really fascinating, often grim autobiography by Joyce Johnson, a writer involved in the 1950s beat literary scene. Throughout the book the talents of women in the beat scene are ignored by the men, who dismiss the women as hangers-on or treat them like surrogate mothers. I have to admit I'm a little dismayed at all the reviews of this book that say WHY, SHE WASN'T REALLY INVOLVED IN THE BEAT SCENE AT ALL!!! because that's the main point of the book and the explanation for the title. Even if you' ...more
Another reread which did not stand up quite as well although I am still glad Aneesa recommended it. This time through I felt more like Joyce J was manufacturing a story where there with binaries of gender, accomplishment, attention, and worthiness and it felt less credible. She was always chasing adventure while at the same time pushing it away. I know this is part of the point but it seemed like this recounting was another way to chase importance/authenticity/credibility. In my 20s I related bu ...more
Jan 19, 2016 SK rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Joyce has a way of writing that draws you into both her inner thoughts and into the stories of her friends and contemporaries that fill the pages of this book. As some one who was 'on the edges' of the beat movement - and yet, right in the middle of it: spending 2 years involved with Jack Kerouac in various ways - Joyce gives a great overview of the time period while at the same time bringing you into the day to day life of writers at the time. I really liked following her story; her work, her o ...more
Dec 28, 2014 Susanna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, coming-of-age
"Minor Characters" feels like less of a personal memoir and more a memoir of an era, but Johnson paints a quietly engaging portrait of what it was like to be acquainted with many of the great artists of the Beat period (literary and visual) -- and what it meant to be a woman with artistic aspirations in that milieu. The book centers somewhat on her relationship with Kerouac, but it really is about New York and the scene and her experience in it. I found it engrossing, and an interesting counterp ...more
Darran Mclaughlin
Fairly enjoyable memoir about the Beat Generation from a female perspective by a former lover of Jack Kerouac. It's interesting as it gives a insight into what it was like for the women in this scene and it fills some out the details on the legend of Jack and Allen and William and the rest, but it wasn't especially well written and it hasn't left a very big impression on me. Only worth reading if you are interested in the bohemia of 50's New York and fancy a light book on the subject.
Mar 18, 2013 Monica rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't remember too much about this book that I read about a decade ago. However, whenever the beats come up in conversation, as they do from time to time living in SF, I recall the reality of women of this generation that Joyce Johnson brings to life in her memoir. Even in subcultures, pervasive societal norms around gender, race, and class are present. As radical as the Beats were, they were still playing out many of the gender norms of their day.
Apr 05, 2008 Christopher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The cover suggests that Jack Kerouac sits at the center of this memoir, and he does cast a wide shadow over the events in Johnson's life, but it is at its heart a story about what it means to be a young woman in 1950's America--hungry for liberation, yet still unsure of what such freedom means. I really liked this book. We all live contradictory lives, especially at an early age. Eventually the fog clears and a path is revealed--will we recognize it when this moment arrives?
Jan 17, 2011 Ellie rated it liked it
I liked this books because a) I'm a New Yorker; b) I'm a readers; and c) I'm fascinated by that time in NYC & those artists.
For these reasons, I loved the book.
However, I did not love the writing, at all. And I was not interested, unfortunately, in Maynard & wished she'd keep her focus on others & write less (or not at all) about herself.
Still, if you're interested in beat writers & their time and place, this is a must-read.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957-1958
  • How I Became Hettie Jones
  • Memoirs of a Beatnik
  • Off the Road: My Years with Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg
  • Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution
  • Baby Driver: A Story About Myself
  • Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac
  • Jack's Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac
  • Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats
  • Go
  • Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They're Not What You Think)
  • You'll Be Okay: My Life with Jack Kerouac
  • The Beat Book
  • Kerouac: A Biography
  • Jack Kerouac: Angelheaded Hipster
  • First Third & Other Writings - Revised & Expanded Edition Together With A New Prologue
  • Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs
Born Joyce Glassman to a Jewish family in Queens, New York, Joyce was raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, just around the corner from the apartment of William S. Burroughs and Joan Vollmer Burroughs. Allen Ginsberg and Kerouac were frequent visitors to Burroughs' apartment.
At the age of 13, Joyce rebelled against her controlling parents and began hanging out in Washington Square. She matri
More about Joyce Johnson...

Share This Book

“I'd learned myself by the age of sixteen that just as girls guarded their virginity, boys guarded something less tangible which they called Themselves.” 24 likes
“And isn't it amazing that suicide is illegal when society is so indifferent to human life?” 2 likes
More quotes…