This was a nice short biography on Kerouac which gives you the 'highlights' of his meteoric ascent to fame and headlong plunge into oblivion. This isThis was a nice short biography on Kerouac which gives you the 'highlights' of his meteoric ascent to fame and headlong plunge into oblivion. This is the second biography I have read on Kerouac, the other one being Memory Babe by Gerald Nicosia. Memory Babe is obviously much more thoroughly researched but it is almost too much in depth. Jack Kerouac: A Biography by Tom Clark was in some ways a more interesting read and it is very engaging. Like Carolyn Cassady, I couldn't put this book down. It just flowed marvelously and Clark's prose is very, very easy to read. The final poem of Clark's at the conclusion of the novel is a nice 'ode' to Jack as well I thought.
Now why did I only give this three stars? Well, for a few reasons, some of which may be unfair. You be the judge. There are a few things that Clark says in the book which conflict with what other biographers have said. I'm not sure whether he is right or wrong. Just to give you a few examples...
1) Clark like some other writers claims that Kerouac wrote the On the Road scroll (Viking) on benzedrine and coffee. However, in the 2007 release of the The Scroll, one of the introductory authors says that the benzedrine story is a myth and that Kerouac composed the mammoth manuscript only on coffee. Not sure who is right here but someone has to get their story straight. 2) Clark says that Atop an Underwood remains unpublished! Maybe at the time he wrote the first version of the book, it was still unpublished. Hopefully he corrects this in his later version. I'll have to read the 2001 version to find out. 3) This book like Nicosia's book is in bad need of some updating. As all you Kerouackians out there may know, there have been a slew of Kerouac releases in the past few years including the publication of the 1) On the Road Scroll, 2) Atop an Underwood (a while ago now), 3) Orpheus Emerged (arguably not one of Jack's great early attempts at writing but something which should at least by analyzed in a biography), 4) The Beat Generation play (very briefly mentioned in this book in reference to the final act which was used for the film Pull My Daisy) and most importantly the most recent release from the Kerouac vaults - 5) The Sea is My Brother (briefly mentioned in this book once again but the contents of the novel itself are not analyzed in depth because it was found by Jack's nephew only a few years ago). Therefore, if Clark does his homework and adds an analysis of recent publications to this book (not sure how much the 2001 edition adds to the original) and sorts out some of the conflicting stories, then we would have a great biography. He could also perform an in-depth analysis of Jack's part in And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks now that that has seen the light of day too.
There were other somewhat minor details which Clark either deliberately or accidentally left out of this book, some of which to my mind are important and should be included. For example, according to Nicosia, Jack was severely beaten up in an all-African American bar shortly before his death which could have accelerated his demise even though cirrhosis of the liver was the definitive cause of death.
All in all, this was a very enjoyable read and for those of you who want to have a basic idea of who Kerouac was as a man and more importantly as an artist, then I highly recommend this book. However, if you are a Kerouac fanatic like me, then I recommend Nicosia's book, Memory Babe, or perhaps Ann Charters' original biography on the man which I hope to read this summer. Thanks once again to Temple University Japan Library for lending me this book! ...more
An absolutely sensational novel. Want to give this six stars. One of the best books I have ever read. Everyone raves about Ask the Dust but if you askAn absolutely sensational novel. Want to give this six stars. One of the best books I have ever read. Everyone raves about Ask the Dust but if you ask me THIS is the American novel to end all American novels.
"They were chunks of rough-hewn granite, gray and misshapen. I bent down to heft one of the smaller stones. Not that it was heavy, it was preposterously, unbelievably heavy, at least a hundred pounds, and not bigger than a basketball. The others were like it or heavier. I could help him lift the smaller stones to the wall, but it was going to be a killer job for a man of seventy-six with soft hands and soft muscles who had done no physical labor in five years. He could sprain his back, or pop a hernia, or break a blood vessel. I had observed the flaming veins of his eyes. The wine had been thorough and the damage had been done. It was madness to challenge the danger, but my old man was mad, the burden of his uselessness was madness, and the sense of his entire life coming to an end in a struggle with stones was the maddest part of it all".
The Brotherhood of the Grape is a story about the Molise family, a working class Italian family, but with the focus on the father Nick Molise - a hard-working, talented, stubborn, proud stonemason who when he is not building some of the most beautiful structures and buildings in the city of San Elmo is busy chasing skirts or trying to get as shitfaced drunk as possible with his mates on the local Angelo Musso wine. The camaraderie that Nick Molise enjoys and shares with his drinking buddies binds them in a brotherhood of the grape.
Nick has three sons - Henry who is the narrator of the story and a writer who has come to San Elmo to try and prevent his mother from divorcing his father, Virgil a selfish, gluttonous but intelligent bank clerk and Mario a hopelessly lost dreamer who is obsessed with major league baseball.
Nick realizes that he is almost at the end of his tether but wants to complete one more job of stonemasonry, the perfect job so to speak, before he dies. He wishes to go into the mountains to build a smokehouse - a building for curing deer meat/venison which will rake them in an easy $1500. Sound like an easy way to get rich quick? Yes but add to Nick's list of growing problems the fact that he is an incorrigible and pretty bad gambler who manages to lose all his earnings. It's almost saying Nick shooting himself at the foot at the poker table each time.
What I found so powerful about this book, and what makes it such an important novel is that the message applies to anyone with family. For all of his father's flaws, for all of the nasty things he did throughout his life, cheating on his wife, lushing it up, being mean to his kids (when he bothered to take an interest in them in the first place), ultimately he is still human and someone who maybe did not know how to show love to his children or to his wife but someone who still left an indelible mark on his children for good or for bad. In this novel we can see how the recognition of time running out and grief itself can have this power of rallying all the members of the family, that is those who really care and in times like this, people really show their true colours. Henry, despite his own flaws, seems to be the son who cares most for his dad, Virgil visits his mother only because she is a wonderful cook and visits his father out of duty but not out of wanting to do it while Mario puts his baseball and his own immediate family first and his parents second. This is a great microcosmic story and example of the human struggle and the beauty and defiance of the human spirit before the looming and almost overpowering specter of death that hangs over our lives.
Fante is one hell of a storyteller. This should be required reading at all American schools if you ask me. Will definitely check out more of his books in future. Ask the Dust is good but this in my opinion blows it right out of the water. ...more
Paterson is one of the great long-poems of the latter half of the 20th century and perhaps one of the great long poems of the whole century proper. ThPaterson is one of the great long-poems of the latter half of the 20th century and perhaps one of the great long poems of the whole century proper. The book is divided into five books and to tell you the truth, in all honestee, I did not really get into the book all that much until Book IV. Books IV and V (the last two) are by far the best.
So what is this book about? Well, it's so singular that it is hard to even describe. The best way is to experience it but considering that this is a review and that yours-truly sometimes (when the fancy takes him) considers himself to be a reasonably serious, bonafide reviewer, here goes.
Paterson is about.....
1) The city and its geography first of all 2) Its history which WCW recalls and evokes through using various newspaper clippings and letters from friends (including from Allen Ginsberg who was also born and raised in Paterson) 3) Its about the life of a man, in particular parts it focuses more on the author's actual llife 4) Its about the life of women and about how they bring life into this world 5) Its about the river which symbolizes both womankind, who brings life into the world, and life itself starting at its source travelling over various rocks and then reaching the sea where it recalls the past before flowing back to the start (in a reminiscence of Joyce's famous few lines in Finnegans Wake).
Most importantly this work contains lines of great beauty and wisdom too enumerous to list here. However, this work is not for the fainthearted or for people expecting a straight linear narrative nor even a straight collected poems book either. This is something completely new and I imagine that this book must have been very revolutionary in its day for even by today's standards it's pretty out there. What was really interesting about this book was how Williams would take old letters from friends and only excise a sample (sometimes only a few lines from one page), just like a surgeon (he was Dr. Williams after all) and then place it in between his poetic lines with a wonderful stroke which sometimes blended in beautifully with lines that came before or after it. Sometimes his 'insertions' gave rather jarring effects, which I also think were intentional. The most amazing thing about this book is that on the surface it appears to be a fairly straightforward story but with complexities underlying it everywhere like dark sudden currents that an unexpected swimmer finds himself in after wading out into what seemed like a fairly calm river.
One thing that slightly annoyed me about this book was the endnotes - while some of the notes at the back of the book provided useful background information on people who appeared in the book, most of the notes were about differences between the various WCW transcripts. To give you one common example, "the" was not used in Transcript A but it was in Transcript B and stuff like that but I understand that this was purely for people researching Williams stuff including PhD students but it did detract a little from the reading experience.
This is a book I will return to over and over again to extract more from it. ...more
Brilliant. I'm starting to agree with Charles Olson - William Carlos Williams is one fine prose writer, perhaps better at prose than at poetry.
WhiteBrilliant. I'm starting to agree with Charles Olson - William Carlos Williams is one fine prose writer, perhaps better at prose than at poetry.
White Mule is the first instalment in the Stecher Trilogy, a story which centres around the daily life of the Stechers, Norwegian immigrants living in New York City. First there is the father Joe Stecher who runs a small press and who has to keep a tight watch on things at work. He seems like a fairly typical working man, putting his job ahead of everything in order to put more bread on the family table. His wife, Gurlie, hassles him constantly about not making enough money or not pushing his boss enough to give him a raise. Gurlie is an interesting character. She likes to try and boss Joe around, at times really dotes on him and doesn't seem too happy about being stuck with two girls - she wanted to have six boys. Lottie, the eldest daughter, is probably the most interesting character and the reader is able to see the different sides to her when she is alone, with friends, at the park or around her mother. And finally there is the baby Flossie, who is not too healthy after she was born. They soon find out that either Gurlie is unable to produce enough breast milk or for some other reason Flossie has an aversion to it and Joe, quite by accident, discovers that his baby loves condensed milk. She starts to rally much better but about 6 months later, a family doctor tells Gurlie to take her to the countryside to get fresh air and more sunlight before New York City kills her. And so the last few chapters are set in the beautiful, plush hills of Vermont. As my wife is due to give birth to our first baby (a daughter) in early January, I'm really glad I read this book - it gives me a little bit of an idea of what to expect.
Williams is a real wizard with words. He conjures up a world so vivid, I felt like I was really there. I felt like I was riding in the carriage along with Charlie (the carriage driver) as they rolled over the hills of Vermont. I also love how Williams blends conversation in with his 'narrator talk'. You have to really pay attention because there are no inverted commas to tell you who is telling what. But I like it - he makes you work your imagination.
This is definitely the best American novel I have read in a while. The only novel that I have read recently which possibly tops it is The Brotherhood of the Grape by John Fante - another great American writer born from immigrant (Italian) stock.
Can't wait to read the second volume of the trilogy - entitled In the Money. My guess is that Joe Stecher, or his printing company, make a lot of money in the second book...but we'll have to wait and see. Thank you to Rikkyo University Library for lending me a copy of this great, great novel!...more
Great close-up look at the delta blues singers, who in my opinion, created some of the most haunting, beautiful and timeless music. Skip James came acGreat close-up look at the delta blues singers, who in my opinion, created some of the most haunting, beautiful and timeless music. Skip James came across as an arrogant so-and-so in the book but an amazing artist all the same. Muddy Waters came across as very cool in this book and Guralnick paints an accurate portrait of Waters as a man whose determination and talent lead him to become THE blues player at the forefront. Highly recommended for blues enthusiasts/aficionados. When I was holed up in a hospital in Osaka with a broken jaw, a great friend of mine brought this book to me, which helped me enormously because I was going out of my mind with boredom. ...more
Very good collection of poems from Snyder. This book consists of five sections - 1) Far West (poems written when Snyder worked as a logger and on a trVery good collection of poems from Snyder. This book consists of five sections - 1) Far West (poems written when Snyder worked as a logger and on a trail crew in the Western mountain country of Oregon etc.; 2) Far East (poems written in Japan between 1956-1964 while he studied Zen Buddhism); 3) Kali (poems inspired by his trip to India where he met up with Ginsberg and Orlovsky and studied some famous Indian religious texts); 4) Back (poem written upon returning to the States but with new eyes having now lived in the East); and 5) Miyazawa Kenji (translations of poems written by this poet from Iwate Prefecture with whom Snyder says he shares a common poetic and aesthetic affinity).
I enjoyed the 'Far East' poems the best which makes sense considering that I live in Japan. I could relate to many of the experiences Snyder talked about in a first-hand manner. However, in other sections, I found some of Snyder's poems a little obscure, demanding of the reader a fairly high-level knowledge of various flora and fauna. I always feel like I have taken a zoology or botany class after reading one of his books. Just like one of his poetic role models, Ezra Pound, this book would be an even more enriching read if some notes or even pictures were supplied for the layperson wishing to understand these poems more deeply.
In my opinion, not Snyder's best book (for that make sure you read Turtle Island) but definitely one worth checking out. ...more
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 amoThis 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 indeed evident throughout the book, I disagree. Nicosia exposes all the drug and sex debauchery, scandals and many low points in this man's very, very troubled life while at the same time giving us an intelligent analysis of the value of his art immortalized in his books. I was particularly impressed with his deep analysis of Mexico City Blues, Town and the City and Visions of Cody - three of my favourites. Through this book, I also came to discover lots of other 'minor' works by Kerouac such as Old Angel Midnight (originally called Lucien Midnight) and various articles he wrote for magazines like Esquire. To my mind, this is 98% a perfect biography - that is, provided that all of the information in the book is accurate and true. It's well written without being verbose or pretentiously academic, it is nicely paced, it contains plenty of information for diehard Kerouackians and is well referenced for people like me who want to check out his sources even further. I was only disappointed by one thing - the last chapter of the book. While I am grateful to Nicosia for having spared us some of the more unpleasant details of Kerouac's final months and years, I was left wanting to know a little more about what exactly happened to him between 1965 and 1969. I always wanted to know why he died so young. Also, I was really moved by his final novelette, Pic, and wanted to know more than the half a page or so that Nicosia wrote on this largely overlooked piece. For anyone who has not read it, do yourself a favour and pick it up. It is a small book and reads fast but was intensely visual. It was a like a movie playing in my head when I read it. There are other mysteries I still want to solve such as why Ginsberg never introduced him to Bob Dylan. Especially, after reading how Kerouac composed a spontaneous talking blues song which he recorded on a friend's tape recorder sometime during the 60s and also how Bob mentions Kerouac as one of his early influences. I'm sure they would have dug each other. My second and only other 'gripe' with this book is that it needs to be updated yet again (especially the bibliography section). LOADS more publications by Kerouac have seen the light of day in recent years - including the original scroll of On the Road, the release of his journals (Windblown World), Atop an Underwood (which showcases his fascinating early writings 'brimming with promise'), Orpheus Emerged (one of his early but rather poor attempts at writing a novel but which historically shows just how much his writing grew thereafter), the Doctor Sax screenplay (brilliantly narrated by Robert Creeley and others and released by the Sampas family as 'Doctor Sax and the Great World Snake') and most importantly, The Sea is My Brother (his very first novel) which was just released publicly in its entirety (Atop contained excerpts) for the first time last month. After learning from Nicosia's book that several audio recordings of Jack exists (including one kept at Northport Public Library), I was left both wanting more and amazed at the amount of material out there on this man. Rest assured more material will be released in future by the Kerouac estate. All in all, Nicosia has written a brilliant book and really done this artist justice. I think Kerouac would have been mighty proud and impressed by how he captured the full scope and panaroma of his 47 years on this mortal coil. As I have not read any other biographies on Mr. K., I can't say how good/bad this is compared to the others but I have heard many people say that the biography by Ann Charters and the one by Paul Maher are both really good. If you want to dive in and REALLY learn how this guy lived, almost down to a day-by-day description, then this book is for you. Many of the 'hangups' that harrowed and chased Jack all his life reminded me of a lot of the same troubles I went through about 5-10 years ago and so I felt strong sympathy for the man, despite his outrageous and increasingly more offensive behaviour. Many people branded him as 'childish' and although he would pout and throw child-like tantrums, I dislike how adults in the modern world dismissively look down on any behaviour by grown-ups which could be called child-like. Kerouac believed that the children would inherit the Kingdom so I think his 'childishness' (although I dislike the term) was actually something he embraced consciously, rather than unconsciously because the disciplined dedication to his art also shows how mature and grown-up he was at the same time. A lot of people took his behaviour at face value but we have to remember that he was best friends with Cassady - a man whose very life was his art (according to Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead). Kerouac behaved in certain ways to get a rise out of people - either to make them bring out their true emotions or make them expose their hypocrisy and bigotry, of which Kerouac himself was no exception. Although this behaviour might be annoying and frustrating to those on the receiving end, it is truly unique when you think about it and rather devious and clever. The main thing I got out of this book was that Kerouac was a man of strong values, first Catholic-based, later Buddhist, even later on he sort of fused the two together. He believed in compassion, kindness, piety and being honest and frank both to friends/others but more importantly to oneself and one's dreams and visions. He was uncompromising in this respect, frustratingly so many of his friends in this book do testify. It his refreshing honesty, so evidently absent in the 21st century which I admire the most. I also realized that he was an extremely sensitive man which both allowed him to record what he witnessed during his life in this world in excruciatingly beautiful detail but it came at a cost. By publishing his work, he was exposed to attack from all sides. The frequent caustic comments from the press and sometimes even friends really pierced him deeply. I came away feeling that Kerouac must have felt really misunderstood during his lifetime and may have even realized that he was truly ahead of his time. And all those people who said his writing was just 'typing' (Truman Capote etc.) just 'didn't get it'. There are certain people in this world who fly in the face of convention and think outside the box to create something ingenuous and new and sadly, very sadly, it is often these people who are misunderstood and in the case of Kerouac even ridiculed. But people are starting to get it I feel. Every year seems to bring out a new Kerouac publication. Kerouac was a genius, although I know some of you may disagree. Check out the video 'What happened to Kerouac?' for a nice overview of the man's life. Fellow beat poet and friend, Gregory Corso, I think summed it up well: 'you have three levels: talent, genius and divine'. When the interviewer asked whether Kerouac was a genius or not, Corso did not even hesitate when he said, 'oh yeah, yeah. Easy. But not divine'. Maybe he wasn't divine, but yet again who is? He was human and he loved humanity and was crushed by what he saw around him - Man destroying fellow Man. He also loved animals as his brother Gerard told him not long before he died to promise not to harm any living thing. I wish Kerouac had lived a little longer to finish one of his final works which he told an Italian journalist in 1966 he was working on called 'La Familia Humana' (The Human Family). 40 years after his death and people are still talking about him. We are all part of the human family. Sometimes I think Jack was sent to remind us of this simple fact. Thank you Jack. In this Faustian age of insincerity and immorality spiralling out of control, you are sorely missed. ...more
This was required reading in my French class when I was living in Provence back in 1996. My version had the original French (by that I mean the Old FrThis was required reading in my French class when I was living in Provence back in 1996. My version had the original French (by that I mean the Old French which is so different from Modern French that it is almost unrecognizable in parts) alongside the modern-day translation. Great tale. The style of this book reminded me a lot of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Highly recommended for French scholars in particular. ...more
This was a pretty good biography on Dylan and the first one I read on our 20th century bard. While the bio by Heylin is more detailed overall, there aThis was a pretty good biography on Dylan and the first one I read on our 20th century bard. While the bio by Heylin is more detailed overall, there are some interesting stories in here about Dylan when he was growing up that did not appear in Behind the Shades. Sounes is also a lot less arrogant than Heylin but Heylin is undoubtedly a better biographer (even though I wish he would stop being so subjective in his analysis of Bob's albums). This is a good place to start if you want to find about Bob's life but Behind the Shades is better. With every year, it seems like more and more bios are coming out on Bob. ...more
Fascinating. The majority of Neal's letters in this collection are from the 1950s. Most of the letters from the 1960s are very short and it is sad toFascinating. The majority of Neal's letters in this collection are from the 1950s. Most of the letters from the 1960s are very short and it is sad to see that Neal had mostly given up on his writing ambitions by this stage which is a real shame because some of his letters from the 1950s are up there among the best that I have seen among the beats. Even Carl Solomon (there is one letter from him in here) writes to Neal, somewhat negatively, hoping that Neal will continue to work on his writing because he sees his potential. The famous and infamous Joan Anderson letter is a case in point. Oh how good it would be to have the whole thing in its entirety. Instead, we are forced to be content with less than half of the original. As Kerouac points out, this letter features the best of Proust, Joyce and others and this is the letter that inspired Kerouac to adopt his spontaneous bop prosody style, which lead to his pounding out On the Road on his typewriter in about three weeks.
There are some good letters that he wrote in the 60s to Ken Kesey though - one sprawling, rambling letter to Kesey really showcases his incredible knowledge of the automobile and also the inexorable and exhilarating flow of his prose which left me spellbound at times.
The letters back and forth between him and Jack are the most interesting and the letters between Neal and Carolyn also show how tempestual their relationship really was. I arrived at a few conclusions about some of the people after reading this book. 1) I think Carolyn was very patient with Neal and an incredibly strong woman. 2) I think Kerouac is an incredibly complex person, both selfish and generous, incredibly sympathetic but at times incredibly spiteful and mean. Fits the T of an artist, doesn't it? 3) Ginsberg was really the 'glue' that kept them all together as a group and if it weren't for Ginsberg, none of them, not even Kerouac, may have even gotten published. He was committed, devoted to getting everyone he believed in published and endlessly and incorrigibly forgiving, no matter how many times Jack or Neal or Peter Orlovsky let him down. 4) Burroughs - once again an incredibly complex and intelligent person whose style of writing was very different from the others and is somewhat the 'brains' behind the Beat movement and certainly the best read of the group. He was very mean to Peter because he was jealous that he was Allen's lover. 4) Huncke (who appears only once here) - an incredibly sly shyster but a fascinating one. He was not a writer but a 'raconteur' who introduced the beats to the underground scene of Times Square etc. 5) Corso - a loudmouth genius poet clown who matured beautifully. He could be quite obnoxious when he was younger based on the stories that you read and hear but he probably aged the best of all the beats. At the end of his life he seemed so angelic and interested in fighting the good fight. 6) Diane - someone who tragically fell in love with Neal, had one of his children and was basically abandoned by Neal. 7) Natalie Jackson - another mixed-up girl who got involved with Neal and who met a tragic fate. 8) Anne Murphy - basically a real slut who was probably Neal's major love at the end of his life 9) LuAnne - an incredibly free and uninhibited and strong woman who could move on to the next stage of her life regardless of whatever afflictions came her way. 10) Neal's dad (Cassady Sr.) - a hopeless drunk who seemed like a nice enough person. He could have been a decent respectable citizen of Denver if it weren't for his drinking.
There are more people mentioned in here, including the Merry Pranksters, but you should just pick up a copy of this and check it out for yourself. As Carolyn Cassady says in the Introduction, this book is bound to become a classic within the great beat canon. Highly recommended. Cassady had his flaws and was far from being an 'angel' but one thing you've got to say about him - he never gave up celebrating life and that's how he will be remembered. As well as being Dean Moriarty the legend and Sir Speed Limit, the driver of the bus Furthur. If you want to read even more of his letters, you can pick up a copy of As Ever, which features his correspondence with Ginsberg or Grace Beats Karma, which is a volume of his letters to Carolyn and others while he was in prison....more