Mike Puma's Reviews > On the Road

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
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Sep 28, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: 2010, ugh
Read from September 23 to 28, 2010

I tried; I really tried. Everything was telling me—I was telling me—this is one I’m going to like. Instead, I got Pablum for the Young Rebel Soul. I suspect I approached this novel with the same myopic nostalgia that, occasionally, contributes to the delusion that young people who are just getting their driver’s licenses and I are ‘roughly’ the same age. More random thoughts to follow.

So you want to write a novel, huh? But, dammit, you just don’t know how to start? No problem, man; it’s cool, daddy-o. Just get writing, use your friends, maybe call it autobiographical? Like it so far? Nice, man, yes, yes, yes. Now, throw in a group of sexist and homophobic racists who party to their own demise, plop ‘em in the story. Still with me, brother? Tell the story any way you want. Tedious prose? Don’t worryaboutit. If you’re smart, you’ll throw in a musical theme; give it a beat, a beat, a beat; hell, dude, the musicians (and their groupies and fans will be lining up). Promote your tale as one that captures “the voice of an era” and …AND be sure to mention that the protagonists are “rebels” then just stand back and wait; a certain portion of the ‘disaffiliated’ and ‘disaffected’ youth population will beat a path to your door (or your bookstore) ready to snatch up a copies like anxious toot-heads panting to get their faces to the coke lines laid-out on a mirror. Oh, and whatever you do, don’t forget to send your heroes across the country, hell, send ‘em back and forth, repeatedly, then do it again. Still with me, brutha? Well, if that’s not a recipe for a contemporary ‘classic’ then it’s a sure-fire recipe for a lawsuit brought by Penguin Books and the estate of Jack Kerouac. (Just between you and me, that was fun.)

It’s not surprising that so many people admire this book—the ones who “get it”—the young, the hopeful, the dreamers. Combine a ‘quest’ with a Bohemian narrator, and voilà , instant relevance to the inexperienced. But they should know that older readers often do ‘get it’ because we’ve already ‘got it’—‘got it’ and moved on. The lure of the quest—the trek—whether across the country or to the city or back to nature, has already occurred for many of us, and for many of us, that trek was merely a first step. Those who ‘get it’ should realize they’re not the first to ‘get it’ and they won’t be the last; in time, other readers—younger readers—will ‘get it’ in ways that no longer seem as important to those who are ‘getting it’ now. I admire the confidence of the reader who ‘gets it’ but I’m also aware that one person’s confidence is another person’s arrogance (I prefer to stick with the less judgmental confidence).

Quest stories often appeal to optimistic youth; they’re tailor-made for the searchers. It’s not surprising, then, to find younger readers responding positively to On the Road, or The Hobbit and its derivative sequels, or The Catcher in the Rye. It’s also not surprising that many older readers find Kerouac self-indulgent and narcissistic, Tolkien tedious (why am I hearing Judy Garland and Ray Bolger singing “goblins, and Golem, and orcs, oh my!?”) and Salinger quite literate by comparison—there are great quest stories to be had, think Salinger, Cervantes, Cormac McCarthty, etc.

If it sounds like I’m dumping on the young, I apologize, it’s not my intent. Consider what Kerouac says: “Teenagers, drunk, disheveled, excited—they ruined our party” (Chapter 9, Part I). It makes me wonder if he’d want to know his current crop of fans.


For some of us, whether we regret the life of the partier or are merely nostalgic when we remember that time of life, boozing and drugs no longer shine with the quite the same bright light. Thankfully, some of us no longer endure the hangovers; some of us no longer feel the buzz as it begins and wonder “WTF did I just take?” (even if we continue to enjoy our moments of ‘appetite enhancement’ we’re well-past thinking those moments matter of themselves or that that ‘feeling’ matters more than the moment it’s a part of).

There’s a problem inherent with autobiographical novels; if they’re bad, you’re stuck knowing that the author/narrator isn’t going to die at the end of it. Harsh? Maybe, but only if the narrator’s own deathwish, or his hero’s, haven’t already predominated the novel.

I kept finding myself eagerly moving toward the end of chapters—chapters that might only have a half or a third of a page of text. Blank pages between Parts—priceless!

I started writing this review, such as it is, when I was barely 25 pages into Kerouac’s autobiographical novel, so if my thoughts seem a little jumpy or disorganized, chalk it up to that, besides if you’ve just read OtR, you should be used to it. It had become such a plod early on that I needed to get some of my thoughts down so I could set them aside and finish this thing. BTW, since OtR has become such an effort already, I’m kicking myself for not doing Infinite Jest instead and thinking “maybe next time I actually can finish Ulysses."

I found this quote on Goodreads, "The cruellest thing you can do to Kerouac is reread him at thirty-eight." — Hanif Kureishi (The Buddha of Suburbia) To that I’d add, or 48, or 58…

Final thoughts and wish: Good reading to you, young idealist; good luck, fellow geezer.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 79) (79 new)


Maciek And here I though you'd really like this little book-orooni! I wouldn't call it tedious, though. Actually, it's anything but. As for me, I didn't know that it was autobiographical - it's marketed as fiction, so I treated it as such. PS. You really want to read Ulysses?


Mike Puma I thought I was going to like it, as well; just didn't happen. This one was torture for me. I'd turn the page and think: Oh God! Two more full pages; will it never end?Funny you'd mention Ulysses. I think I'd rather have read it than want to read it.


Maciek I always thought that Ulysses was Joyce's greatest joke. He made it as comples and incomprehensible as he possibly could, which of course granted him the eternal love of generations of academicians worldwide.


Mike Puma Somewhat harsh on the academics from someone who's working on his thesis.


Maciek Not on all of them. BTW, have you seen this? - http://xkcd.com/451/ It's so true.


message 6: by Brainycat (new)

Brainycat "Combine a ‘quest’ with a Bohemian narrator, and voilà , instant relevance to the inexperienced."

That is pure unadulterated wisdom. You win 3.7 internetz, good sir!


Mike Puma Brainycat wrote: ""Combine a ‘quest’ with a Bohemian narrator, and voilà , instant relevance to the inexperienced."

That is pure unadulterated wisdom. You win 3.7 internetz, good sir!"


This one managed to send my other Kerouac titles to the bottom of my TBR list.


message 8: by Brainycat (last edited Dec 02, 2010 02:33PM) (new)

Brainycat I was trying to think of stories about experienced bohemians, specifically on quests. Unfortunately, the 'experienced' prerequisite also seems to imply 'has a job', at least in the stores I can think of right now.

I suppose Case at the beginning of Neuromancer is living a bohemian lifestyle - Ratz even called him "friend artiste". Of course, the quest doesn't start until Case lands the gig from Armitage.


Mike Puma Brainycat wrote: "I was trying to think of stories about experienced bohemians, specifically on quests. Unfortunately, the 'experienced' prerequisite also seems to imply 'has a job', at least in the stores I can thi..."

Addin' Neuromancer to my TBR shelf; it's one I should have read already.

I mighta said 'inexeperienced' to avoid further alienating the kiddies who love OtR.


Maciek Mike wrote: "I mighta said 'inexeperienced' to avoid further alienating the kiddies who love OtR. "

I saw that.


message 11: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Puma Maciek wrote: "Mike wrote: "I mighta said 'inexeperienced' to avoid further alienating the kiddies who love OtR. "

I saw that."


You don't miss a beat.


Maciek Who me? Never sir. I might miss an apostrophe or a comma but never a beat. Never.


message 13: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Puma Maciek wrote: "Who me? Never sir. I might miss an apostrophe or a comma but never a beat. Never."

Uh huh, finally coming 'round to McCarthy's style.


Msmurphybylaw Fabulous review. I just added it to my will read list. I have put it off since my bohemian daze.
I have a feeling that I will have a similar reaction as you did.


message 15: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Puma Msmurphybylaw wrote: "Fabulous review. I just added it to my will read list. I have put it off since my bohemian daze.
I have a feeling that I will have a similar reaction as you did."


I really hope you like it better than I did. Really. Really, really, really.


Msmurphybylaw I couldn't stand Dharma Bums but a friend of mine--Who is older and a writer--enjoyed it for what it is worth.
I can't make through Blood Meridian, so Snap, Snap, I'm not sure I'll dig this beat at all.
I gotta find a niche.

Well maybe not.


message 17: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Puma Msmurphybylaw wrote: "I couldn't stand Dharma Bums but a friend of mine--Who is older and a writer--enjoyed it for what it is worth.
I can't make through Blood Meridian, so Snap, Snap, I'm not sure I'll dig this beat at..."


Good luck to you. This one pained me.


message 18: by Stephen (new) - added it

Stephen Hah! Loved your review. I've never worked up the fortitude to make it past the firts few pages. Every time I start something catches my fancy more and this goes back in the must-read-someday pile And as to your quip about it being autobiographical so that you can't even look forward to the protagonist's demise... Ever hear of the unreliable narrator. I've always wanted to read an uatobiography that ended with the writer dead.

"What do you mean you're dead?" You call this living?


message 19: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Puma Stephen wrote: "You call this living?"

Exactly how I felt reading this one.


message 20: by Bill (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bill I am truly sorry Mike that your were too experienced, too literate, too adult to wonder at the wanderlust Kerouac can instill at the special moment in ones life.

I was a sophomore in college in the mid '60s when I read this and it was my special moment and I fortunately have never reread it. For it left something behind the eventually helped me stop being The Best Little Boy in the World and discovering my own expectations. Granted Salinger is far more literate, but then, I had to read Catcher for class which made a big difference at 19. [God was I really ever that young?)

And, still with me, is my promise to myself to go in my next life on a long walkabout before committing myself to a future.

Thus my 5* for a book that unbeknownst at the time changed me.


message 21: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Puma Kernos wrote: "I am truly sorry Mike that your were too experienced, too literate, too adult to wonder at the wanderlust Kerouac can instill at the special moment in ones life.

I was a sophomore in college in t..."


God, how I hated this one--sheer torture. Rereading, likewise, is fraught with danger--the lurking potential for: What was I thinking?


Magdelanye Kernos wrote: "I am truly sorry Mike that your were too experienced, too literate, too adult to wonder at the wanderlust Kerouac can instill at the special moment in ones life.... "

Reading Big Sur at 16, set a course in my life and gave me a destination when I finally ran away from home. On the road was similarly cherished and for those of us with permanent wanderlust, it did set a certain tone.

So how I do I feel, reading your review trashing my icon? I admit I laughed a bit sadly.
Like, maybe you need to smoke some reefer and just get in the groove. Too bad you missed it.


message 23: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Puma Magdelanye wrote: "Like, maybe you need to smoke some reefer and just get in the groove"

I heeded your advice, but even that didn't help. This one came at the wrong time for me; perhaps, had I read it when I was younger, ...


Magdelanye Cynicism has a tendency to obscure appreciation, and although I was already cynical by age 6 I found K at the time refreshingly unpretentous, for all his cronyism.
I loved his cronies, his energy, shared his restless dissatisfaction. My boyfriend had actually spent some months in Big Sur and had met Joan Biaz and hung with the merry pranksters. I was 18 when I finally got to big sur and the hells angels had replaced the merry pranksters. They were, contrary to all hype, super friendly and took us for rides along the coast.

its odd that so many imitators have made the original into almost a cliche. Ah, but icons are put on pedastals to be shot down!


Magdelanye Mike wrote: "Brainycat wrote: "I was trying to think of stories about experienced bohemians, specifically on quests. Unfortunately, the 'experienced' prerequisite also seems to imply 'has a job', at least in th..."

The Sheltering Sky The Sheltering Sky by Paul BowlesPaul Bowles


message 26: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Puma Magdelanye wrote: "Mike wrote: "Brainycat wrote: "I was trying to think of stories about experienced bohemians, specifically on quests. Unfortunately, the 'experienced' prerequisite also seems to imply 'has a job', a..."

Thanks for the suggestion--another one where friends and folks I follow have vastly different opinions. I'll check it out.


Magdelanye the world has room for endless opinions and variations.
Diversity, not unity is the key

now how is this for synchronicity. I had just posted my recommendation to you when this came up on my playlist.

Another pivitol book,lots of controversy
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwkxzx...


Steve Well said, Mike -- not at all incoherent. I liked the quote at the end, too. As a fellow pentagenarian, I find the geezer perspective ringing ever truer.


message 29: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Puma Steve wrote: "Well said, Mike -- not at all incoherent. I liked the quote at the end, too. As a fellow pentagenarian, I find the geezer perspective ringing ever truer."

Sometimes I sound curmudgeonly even to myself. Thanks for likes today.


Msmurphybylaw We curmudgeons need a little support now and then. I still dig this review, Mike.


message 31: by Mike (last edited Apr 30, 2012 02:32PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Puma Msmurphybylaw wrote: "We curmudgeons need a little support now and then. I still dig this review, Mike."

Thanks; I still suspect I sound like a real douche to some of the less experienced, the less worldly, those with fewer aches and pains, the younger crowd.


Maciek Mike wrote: "the less experienced, the less worldly, those with fewer aches and pains, the younger crowd. "

You rang?


message 33: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Puma Maciek wrote: "Mike wrote: "the less experienced, the less worldly, those with fewer aches and pains, the younger crowd. "

You rang?"


My favorite smart aleck.


Maciek I do try!


message 35: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Puma Maciek wrote: "I do try!"

And a fine job you do, sir.


Maciek I would expect nothing less from myself! I do have my standards.


message 37: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Puma Maciek wrote: "I would expect nothing less from myself! I do have my standards."

I have standards myself--and I try to live down to them.


Magdelanye Mike wrote: "Maciek wrote: "I would expect nothing less from myself! I do have my standards."

I have standards myself--and I try to live down to them."


curmudgeonly standards, might I suggest,Mike, are in fact rather high. Isn't the essence of curmudgeonliness a real begrudging of benificence? A witholding of approval,a lack of joie de vivre and a definate reluctance to give:
time,attention,consideration
to anything deemed unworthy of the curmudgeons interest. A real spoilsport.

which kind of spoils your curmudgeonly image I fear, because you have revealed yourself to be full of joie de vivre and appear to be a generous and encouraging soul,not at all spoilsport.

As for smart alec standards,I suppose that would be a self-inflicted obligation to play devils advocate lite :->


message 39: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Puma Magdelanye wrote: "Mike wrote: "Maciek wrote: "I would expect nothing less from myself! I do have my standards."

I have standards myself--and I try to live down to them."

curmudgeonly standards, might I suggest,Mik..."


I do have a pretty good time, when I'm not beating myself up for it.


Magdelanye Mike wrote: "Magdelanye wrote: "Mike wrote: "Maciek wrote: "I would expect nothing less from myself! I do have my standards."

I have standards myself--and I try to live down to them."

curmudgeonly standards, ..."


I could not resist this bit of silliness with all the M wrotes...was curious to see how far it would go LOLROB

seriously tho, Mike, as long as it is not at the discomfort of another, or you enjoy beating yourself up (as you most likely were taught by supercritical parents), then a good time is good :->


message 41: by Traveller (new)

Traveller Magdelanye wrote: "
The Sheltering Sky ..."


Cripes you people really make yourselves sound old and curmudgeony! Now, I know a really old and curmudgeony old bloke who still posts regularly on the internet - at age 87. Well, I hope none of you are 87 yet.

..and if you are, I apologize, then you sound just right for your age! Hahahahaha. Ok, just for me to have been able to say that, I'll give your review a like, Mike - whether I really liked it or not, shall be my little secret.

Anyway, what I had actually wanted to say sans the rude interjection I made above, was that I saw the film, but not read the book, of The Sheltering Sky, and it was, wow.. I still remember it after years, it was bleak, terrible, made such an impression on me.. So, what is the book like? Have you read it?


message 42: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Puma Traveller wrote: "Magdelanye wrote: "
The Sheltering Sky ..."

Cripes you people really make yourselves sound old and curmudgeony! Now, I know a really old and curmudgeony old bloke who still posts regularly on the..."


Haven't read TSS or seen the film, alas; maybe someday. Thanks for the Like.


message 43: by Traveller (last edited May 01, 2012 10:08AM) (new)

Traveller Was just teasing a bit, Mike, with your and Magdelanye's to and fro.. :)

But I really am acquainted with a very opinionated old gentleman of 87 who spends a lot of his time on the internet, either bemoaning the fact that it's not the good old days any more, or otherwise making remarks such as: "70 years ago, we never had the luxuries people have today..." etc. etc., so I couldn't help smiling a bit at some of the comments made in the review and in the thread.

He is an object of wonder.

But I'm exceedingly glad that your every other sentence doesn't start with: " 80 years ago.." or "70 years ago, when I was..."
:)


message 44: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Puma Traveller wrote: "Was just teasing a bit, Mike, with your and Magdelanye's to and fro.. :)

But I really am acquainted with a very opinionated old gentleman of 87 who spends a lot of his time on the internet, eithe..."


Well, back when I...nevermind. It's all good, Traveller, thanks for the comments.


message 45: by knig (new)

knig The sheltering sky is amazing: much better than the film. And, I also never warmed up to 'On the road', couldn't finish it. On the other hand, Bukowski's Factotum really worked for me.


Jeffrey Keeten I read this so long ago that my memories are a bit crusty (working that age theme). A case could be made for the influence of Kerouac on modern literature. I remember when I read it in the late 1980s that I had read so much other stuff influence by it that I certainly did not feel overwhelmed by On the Road's reputation for originality. People who read it in 1957, I assume, must have had a different impression. Great review Mike, you've got me thinking.


message 47: by Traveller (new)

Traveller Knig-o-lass wrote: "The sheltering sky is amazing: much better than the film. And, I also never warmed up to 'On the road', couldn't finish it. On the other hand, Bukowski's Factotum really worked for me."

In that case, I must get hold of it. I've read other, shorter fiction by Paul Bowles and I liked it.


message 48: by Geoff (new)

Geoff I like Kerouac. Read him when I was a teenager, and it was perfect for that time in my life. I haven't revisited his books, nor do I want to. I feel like the me now would have very little in common with his work, and very little to learn from it. But I believe he was important in fomenting my early interest in literature. And I think he can write beautifully at times. Is it a bit juvenile? Sure. But this isn't literature for mature, broadly-read people- it's for people going through their first pangs of adolescent idealism and notions of independence. Kerouac gets crapped on a lot on this site, and I always think "well, okay, but have you ever contributed anything as resonant to the body of American Literature"? I would assume not. It's perfectly fine not to like Kerouac, I probably wouldn't enjoy his stuff at this point in my life, but he is without a doubt important to a lot of young Americans finding books for the first time.


Magdelanye Geoff wrote: "I like Kerouac. Read him when I was a teenager, and it was perfect for that time in my life. ..."

Thanks for your sober comments,Geoff
and Traveller,possibly I should be offended at your recognition of my curmudgeonly tendencies which I try so hard to overcome, but I was laughing too hard.

K-o-L: I actually saw the movie first, which inspired me to search out the book. I was blown away by the visuals, and caught up in the story to the extent that I found myself bawling at the end.So what's not to like?


message 50: by knig (new)

knig The visuals were good, but, the diffculty arises in that so much of the book is about 'mental maps', thoughts, impressions and moods: thats always a challenge to present in film form.


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