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Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They're Not What You Think)

3.69  ·  Rating Details ·  261 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
Legions of youthful Americans have taken On the Road as a manifesto for rebellion and an inspiration to hit the road. But there is much more to the book than that. In Why Kerouac Matters, John Leland embarks on a wry, insightful, and playful discussion of the novel, arguing that it still matters because it lays out an alternative road map to growing up. Along the way, Lela ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published August 16th 2007 by Viking Adult
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Robert Lashley
Mar 06, 2015 Robert Lashley rated it liked it
In Why Kerouac Matters, John Leland’s bio criticism of Jack Kerouac and on the road, there are the raw materials for a fine, well thought out book; one that might convince even the most misanthropic of Kerouac detractors to rethink their opinion of him. The scholarship and criticism surrounding him has been surrounded by such a level of hysteria, deism, and emotional invective, that it was refreshing to hear one of his defenders attempt to format an actual literary argument, something that Lelan ...more
Mar 05, 2008 Paula rated it really liked it
I would recommend this book to anyone who has read On the Road and had trouble appreciating it. Leland deals not only with the books historical signifigance to a generation looking for answers, but explains what Kerouac was trying to do literarily (is there such a word?)
Feb 27, 2009 Stephen rated it really liked it
Titles like "Why Kerouac Matters," usually suggest the opposite is true.

Author John Leland seems to argue as much in this fascinating dissection of the great saint's canonical, "On the Road."

The book's subtitle is, "The Lessons of On the Road (They're Not What You Think)," and as such, Leland has given the classic a read like no other and assembled incontrovertible evidence to support his surprising assertions.

His book attempts addresses a long-standing dilemma that, "Readers have always had
Nov 07, 2007 B-MO rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Any On the Road Lovers
Interesting beginning...gets dense when family and then jazz get brought into conversation...

It is a good and quick read. Important read I think for those, like myself, who don't share western cultural ideals of self and strict rationality, but also have a sense that self-destruction or irrationality may not be the answer to combat this rationality

An early postulation from author which I liked on page 8(see notes below)....showing that Neil was needed so that Jack could be allowed to freely grow
Jan 16, 2009 Mary rated it really liked it
Like most die-hard Kerouac fans, I was hooked after "On the Road". My affection for his other books and poetry was largely engendered by that first love for the enthusiasm, even sentimentality with which he wrote "On the Road", and for the book's most widely acknowledged theme: the canonization of the marginalized. After all, it wouldn't be a counter-culture bible if it didn't signal for its readers an alternative to orthodoxy. As I grew older and re-read and re-read road, and as I grew perhaps ...more
Jan 12, 2008 Cherie rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, beats
If you are just starting to be a Kerouac fan and don't know much about On the Road, you would probably find this book fascinating. However, if you have written a thesis on Kerouac (like I have) and done tons of independent research, this won't necessarily point out too many new things and wouldn't be of interest like you hoped it would.
Oct 10, 2007 Brian rated it liked it
Recommends it for: hipsters, beatniks, and all the other cool kids.
If you looked at On the Road as an exciting tale of two cool cats finding adventure on the open road, then this book will be a bit of a downer for you.

According to Why Kerouac Matters, On the Road is more a tale of loneliness and compulsion than of freedom and adventure. It is the story of two fatherless boys who constantly criss-cross the country on a quest to discover how to be a grown-up. A discovery that, apparently, alluded Kerouac.

John Leland, the author, conducts a deep-reading of On the
Jan 25, 2008 Elyssa rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, beats
This book offers interesting insights into the messages and deeper meanings of Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road. Since I have read a lot about Kerouac and The Beat Generation, I already knew much of what the author presented.

I did, however, gain some new information and also found the author's perspective interesting and thoughtful. In particular, he exposed a lot of Kerouac's flaws and struggles, rather than mythologize him. He gave background into Kerouac's writing process. He also did not sh
Apr 26, 2012 Cari rated it liked it
Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They're Not What You Think)

...except for how they are exactly what you think.

Okay, to be fair, the lessons laid out by Leland are the ones usually missed by a lot of readers, especially younger ones. If a reader buys into the rebellion, fuck you hype and picks up On the Road, it's easy to miss the spiritual and coming-of-age themes along with the rest of what Kerouac was trying to get across, simply because that's not what the reader is focused
May 03, 2014 Mark rated it really liked it
Apparently everyone who reads On The Road initially reads it all wrong. Leland makes excellent points that the lessons of OTR are most often ignored, lost in a cultural milieu that Kerouac himself would have relentlessly chided. Taken as the icon for generations of 'agnostic and atheist" arbiters of cool, Kerouac was, initially and eventually through and through, a self proclaimed Catholic-Buddhist mystic. a real read of almost all his work shows this to be so. Even Cassady, whose relentless pus ...more
Sep 25, 2007 Shalini marked it as to-read
I want to read this just because of this little article snippet from the CityPaper ( Then again, haven't I felt this way about every formerly favorite book from my youth? I cringe when I look at old "favorites" lists, yet I can't deny the effects those books had on me. I just hope I don't have to spend the rest of my life reading books that analyze books that I used to love, just to maintain some semblance of self-respect. I've already fallen for With Lo ...more
Garrett Cash
Jun 02, 2012 Garrett Cash rated it really liked it
John Leland powerfully argues that Jack Kerouac's beat bible "On the Road" is not a book celebrating excess, immaturity, the fast line, and mindless pleasure. Instead it is as Jack Kerouac once stated "It was really a story about 2 Catholic buddies roaming the country in search of God. And we found him." Leland also tears apart the popular culture image of Kerouac as the portrait of Beat, instead saying that this has been a misreading and the image that we place in our heads about Kerouac is act ...more
Sep 15, 2010 Carrie rated it liked it
An interesting perspective on Kerouac. The first few chapters went by quickly, but I felt that the book began to drag once the author started comparing Kerouac's writing to jazz. The next few chapters were such similar topics (religion, ghosts, visions) that the paragraphs began to feel repetitive. The topics might have been better if they were combined into one short chapter.

The author also seemed to reach a bit at some times to justify Kerouac's lifestyle. I'm not sure I completely believe
Jul 17, 2012 Jonas rated it really liked it
Found this book randomly at the Chicago Public Library. I saw the author, John Leland. I read this book awhile ago (years ago) called HIP, THE HISTORY which was a real eye opener and also written by Leland. This guy really has a knack for tying things together. And the subject matter is always cool. Fun reads, educational, plenty of style. Not literary masterpieces, but Leland is just a guy you would want to smoke weed with all night and talk about cool shit and listen to records. Can't complain ...more
Nov 30, 2007 Kimberly added it
Shelves: needtobuy
From what I have read, it doesn't look like the kind of book you'd want to read right after devouring On The Road at age 20...but I'm not 20 anymore, and I'm not sure if I could tolerate On The Road at this point...
Greg Converse
Aug 08, 2011 Greg Converse rated it really liked it
Well, anyway, he was an industrious Canadian Catholic who explored Buddhism and then drank himself to death. The point of this book is to show that he was not just the wild, drug-addled speed freak with no moral center that his critics painted him to be. He had a conscience, a steady work ethic and a confidence in himself as an artist.
Nov 18, 2007 Peg marked it as to-read
"With its two Beat Generation protagonists, the classic On The Road seems a manifesto for youthful rebellion. On the book's 50th anniversary Leland argues that it actually reflects our traditional family values.
Deidra Purvis
Nov 08, 2015 Deidra Purvis rated it really liked it
This is a must-read for anyone who has read Kerouac's On the Road. The insights gained have altered my appreciation for On the Road. Leland is insightful, well researched, and often playful in his analysis of On the Road and of Kerouac.
Jun 12, 2011 Alice rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Read this years ago. From what I recall it wasn't too dense to read but the problem was I didn't care for "On the Road". I've since forgotten why I read a book about "On the Road" in the first place.
I also agree with Tara and Anthony, however I think this book raises some good points that normally wouldn't be associated with Kerouac. (Conservative Catholicism, the "family man," and the journey of growing up).
Feb 16, 2012 Adria rated it really liked it
Interesting analysis of On the Road and Kerouac's journeys and inabilities to get his act together. Much as I love Kerouac's writing, in reality he was such an asshole! Still a cool read, though, and lots of fun Beat tidbits.
Jan 17, 2009 KatieB marked it as to-read
Recommended to KatieB by: John
I need to finish "On the Road" first before I tackle this book!
Jay Matthews
Aug 07, 2012 Jay Matthews rated it really liked it
The title describes the book better than any one-liner I could write. An excellent job, and a must-read for any fan of On the Road.
Deanna Hoard
Oct 22, 2013 Deanna Hoard rated it it was ok
A good book but, with so many out there, I wish I had spent my time on something else. I read it because I am a huge Kerouac fan.
Jan 09, 2009 Carmen marked it as to-read
Shelves: non-fiction
Even though i started this, i am marking as "to read". I wasn't in the frame of mind to get into it, so i'll try again later.
Sep 29, 2007 Bob rated it liked it
Leland makes several interesting and original points, but there's a lot of padding. Would've made a terrific magazine article.
Jun 19, 2012 Chelseydenise rated it it was amazing
An amazing insight and take on Jack's ''On The Road'' novel. If you like Kerouac this is a MUST read.
Jan 26, 2014 Charity rated it it was ok
Checked this out on a whim. I actually wrote a paper in college about how much I didn't like Kerouac. Unfortunately my professor l-o-v-e-d him. Who knows maybe I'll learn something
Nov 05, 2010 Haylee rated it did not like it
This books was like a bad senior thesis. I should have known when there were no reviews on the back cover. It wasn't horrific or anything, just stupid.
Bxrchk rated it liked it
Jul 17, 2015
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John Leland (born 1959) is an author and has been a reporter for the New York Times since 2000, and former editor in chief of Details, and he was an original columnist at SPIN magazine. Robert Christgau of the Village Voice called him "the best American postmod critic (the best new American rock critic period)," and Chuck D of Public Enemy said the nasty parts of the song "Bring the Noise" were wr ...more
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