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The Portable Beat Reader

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4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  5,807 ratings  ·  78 reviews
Beginning in the late 1940s, American literature discovered a four-letter word, and the word was "beat." Beat as in poverty and beatitude, ecstacy and exile. Beat was Jack Kerouac touring the American road in prose as fast and reckless as a V-8 Chevy. It was the junk-sick surrealism of William Burroughs, the wild, Whitmanesque poetry of Allen Ginsberg, and the lumberjack Z ...more
Paperback, The Viking Portable Library #102, 645 pages
Published November 1992 by Penguin Books (first published 1992)
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Community Reviews

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Anton
A necessity. Not a book you need to plow through in its entirety, but reassuring to have on the shelf, to dip into now and again to check one's cynicism, recalibrate the moral compass. However naive the Beats' idealism sometimes seems, and however unfortunately susceptible to caricature they've become in the popular imagination, they remain an essential component of American literature and culture. Whether their ethos is really livable, possible, or even desirable is beside the point: they conti ...more
Amy
I read this book when I was 16, and by 17, I was off on an adventure that lasted until I was 35. I still, to this day, long for freedom and for the open road. Of a childish life of multiple romances and endless celebration from town to town, countryside to countryside. Thank you Ginsberg. Thank you Kerouac. Thank you Thank you, William S. Burroughs. Xoxo
brass
I brought it with me to New York in 1994 to The Beat Writers' Conference @ NYU. I was still leaking breast milk. I touched knees with Allen Ginsberg while he rambled on and signed his name next to 'America'.

Fuck the Government. I am a romantic like that.
Ann
Poets, drug addicts, criminals, alcoholics, hedonists, ne'er-do-wells, agitators, college dropouts, social revolutionaries; the Beats were the voice of the Lost Generation born (mostly) between two world wars, looking for fresh artistic outlets and ideas away from those approved by contemporary academe. They found them.
Christopher
A beautiful, wide swath of Beat goodness. C'mon y'all, they only changed the world.
Julia
Marking this as read because half is more than enough.
Devin Proctor
Boo fucking hoo.
Stephanie
If memory serves me, I probably bought this book when I was 19 or 20 years old. I read several selections at the time, largely from authors or poets I already had interested in, and then this book sat on my shelf for a number of years. Fast forward to summer vacation 2008, and wanting something to pass the time. Being over 600 pages, it takes quite a bit of time to get through, but by in large the gems highlighted are truly worth your time. The book is divided into three chronological sections, ...more
Rachel
I wasn't sure how to rate this book. It was a well edited volume, I'm just not crazy about the raw material. However, having published on Kerouac, I know feel better having more Beat under my belt. And it was nice not to have to read these works in their entirety.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy any of them. I really love Ginsberg's poetry, and I'd never read Kaddish before. There were other good pieces as well, but there were also several that really didn't deserve to be published. Because part
...more
Beth
I read about 1/2 of this book in November, while I was on my trip to Rome, and I really enjoyed it, but found some of the featured authors a bit plodding. And yet, I picked it up to fill in some gaps in my historical knowledge of the movements of that period and some history of the city I live in (San Francisco), and influences to my social circles and lifestyle. I had no idea how much of an influence this small group of notable "Beats" had on society and later generations.

I remember watching c
...more
Dana
I must admit, that there was a good portion of this book that I just skimmed. I found most of the beat poems to be dry and self important. That being said, the sections that were about the poets themselves, was extremely fascinating and there were some poets that I didn't think I would enjoy, and now find myself searching for their work to read more about them.

While I didn't read a portion of this book, I'm still giving it four stars. This is a well rounded sampling of beat poetry and it gives
...more
John
While it is great that this exists, as there are few anthologies of 'beat' writers, I think that the selections fall short of an accurate depiction of some of the writers featured. While this is only of mild annoyance to someone well-read in the beat cannon who can simply go and pick up their copy of 'On the Road' for further review, it is actually of a much more sinister nature when in the hands of someone just starting out with the beats, as the anthology does not include a fleshed out depicti ...more
Zac
now THAT was a long read at just over 600 pages. i never was much of a beat fan, but as either as a joke or just because she heard me say the word "beat", a friend of mine gave this to me to stave off boredom. it KINDA helped. i don't dig kerouac and burroughs so much. neal cassady was kinda ok. i actually preferred the female-written poems over most anything else in the book. it does a good job at expanding from the majors and it did have an excerpt from my favorite poet, charles bukowski, on h ...more
Williwaw
I'm getting ready to see the movie, "Howl," so I read the poem this morning, along with "A Supermarket in California." Is Ginsburg the 20th Century Walt Whitman? Certainly, I think he wanted to be something like that.

Howl is very trippy! I was moved by the language, but I am not conversant with all the personal references. It seems that one needs to know something about the Beat circle in order to fully understand this poem. I think "Howl" might be the short version of Kerouac's "On the Road" (
...more
Julie
Well edited selection for a reader just jumping into "Beat" writing. Lots of historical information that is relevant to the understanding of who influenced who, and what was happening during the time of the writings.
Jennifer
From New York to San Francisco, this book is essential for anyone looking to further delve into the stories behind the authors of the beatnik era. A great reference point for anyone reading Kerouac, as character analysis is provided (a great in between book before beginning On the Road or Dharma Bums for your second or third time).

Ann Charters gives a colourful portrayal of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs and Cassady, as well as the not so famous beats of the time, in her introduction to each of t
...more
Simon Bate
a book to dip into any time you feel a bit of beat coming on....
Ayne Ray
An excellent anthology including analytical narratives and representative examples of some of the best works of the Beat movement, covering the most recognized figures (Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Cassidy, etc.) as well as those less familiar to the general reader. While I thought the author’s definition of what constituted a Beat writer was too expansive, as it included many who were more influenced by the Beat authors than were actual Beat writers themselves, it is a relatively minor quibble ...more
Lauren
Just awesome. I've been on a "beat" kick this summer, set off by Gary Snyder's "Mountains and Rivers without End" and I am so glad that I spent the last two weeks pouring over this anthology. While some of the writing itself was lack luster I was happy to discover some gems, fall back in love with Allen Ginsberg, and read all of the wonderful histories and critical writings on the movement. Neal Cassady's letters, of course, were astonishingly beautiful.
Jason
I read this as an undergraduate for a special topics course in beat literature and mostly enjoyed it. The beats aren't perfect, and a lot of their writing is too precious and pretentious, but this is a pretty good introduction into the movement, providing enough beat literature for a novice while possibly encouraging a little more digging for people who connect especially well to the themes and works in this book.
Dave
I really like this collection. The selections are illustrative of body of works and the critical notes and background are good. I do think Bob Dylan's inclusion in this anthology is a bit odd. I mean INFLUENCED by the Beats okay (but then again, that would also include half the creative writing department of where I went to college)but as an example of Beats? Nope.
Jillian
I remember reading this high school and loving it.
Nicholas
An excellent overview of the Beats. Includes hard to find pieces by lesser known writers like Herbert Huncke, John Clellon Holmes and others who were just as indispensable in defining what would become the 50s and 60s counter-culture as Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg.
Deborah
This book was a big deal for me at the time. It marked the point at which I stopped reading exclusively sci fi and fantasy and became interested in subversive literature. The Beats were an amazing antidote to the crushing, numbing, hopeless high school experience.
Matthew
Ann Charter's collection is a great place to start if you are interested in dipping your toes into the Beat Generation writings. Sections from the famous writers are included and the collection's pieces seem to flow together as a cohesive read.
Libby
May 22, 2009 Libby rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: lush
I've been told that my Beat fetish is the sign of having an immature teenage mind...then again the person that told me that has a secret Twilight obsession - I guess thats what Mr Freud would call classic projection.
Karen
Oct 18, 2009 Karen is currently reading it
I'm doing an English paper on Kerouac and figured in order to know him a little better I needed to know about the people e influenced and was influenced by. Consequently, I have a ton of rading to do!
Abby Sominski
When a guy you are dating shoves a book in your hands marked up with all his comments and suggestions you are off to a bad start but it is a classic and I did like most of it, probably the parts he left alone.
Marena817
For my first serious adventure down the rabbit hole of the Beat Generation, this collection shook me to my core and I have emerged with much more self confidence in my own endeavors.
dedleaux
A trip to San Francisco rekindled an interest in Beat writers, picked up this book at the Anarchist Bookstore, and it has proved to be interesting and informative as well as entertaining.
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  • Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution
  • Turtle Island
  • Some of the Dharma
  • Off the Road: My Years with Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg
  • The First Third
  • Go
  • Memoirs of a Beatnik
  • The Beat Book
  • Collected Poems, 1947-1980
  • A Coney Island of the Mind
  • Gasoline & The Vestal Lady on Brattle
  • The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats: The Beat Generation and American Culture
  • Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir
  • Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs
  • I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg
  • Word Virus: The William S. Burroughs Reader
  • The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry
  • Jack Kerouac: Angel-Headed Hipster
Kerouac: A Biography The Portable Sixties Reader The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction, Compact Sixth Edition Beat Down to Your Soul: What Was the Beat Generation? Girls Who Wore Black: Women Writing the Beat Generation

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