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The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
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Feb 15, 09

bookshelves: classic

So many people I trust and respect love Jack Kerouac. They consistently praise his work to me, recommend books that I should read and even buy me his books, hoping I'll love him like they do, but try as I might I still haven't found what they find in Kerouac's work.

But I do try. Every couple of years I crack out another one of his books that I've started and never finished (which is all but The Dharma Bums and Mexico City Blues), and start reading it again. I rarely get very far.

I did get through The Dharma Bums, though, and I actually enjoyed the read.

I liked it, but I didn't love it, and I think I've finally pinned down why -- the characters. I just didn't care about them, and I know Kerouac wanted me to since they were himself and all his friends.

I dug their Buddhist-Beatnik-Zen pursuits, and I've even engaged in most of their behavior (which might be another reason so many people get me to read Kerouac), but even that connection couldn't overcome the slight annoyance I felt for them all. There were times when I liked them -- enough to keep me reading at least -- but I mostly felt bored by them, and that same feeling greets me whenever I read a chapter or two of any of Kerouac's work.

I wish it were different (and I will keep trying with him because someday it might take), but for now the best I can hope for is to like his work. I can't love it, and I don't think I can venerate him like so many others do. At least not yet.

And maybe never.
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Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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Susie I am in complete and total agreement with you. I read On the Road, and I just didn't care about any of the characters. It is very early days in The Dharma Bums, but I don't care about them either.


Brad I suppose I have to read On the Road eventually, especially now that a movie is coming out. How did Dharma Bums end up for you, Susie?


Thomas Baughman Ugh. I am wholly unimpressed by The Kerouac Mystique. I 've always found his work to be pretty amateur, at best.


Susie Agreed Thomas. And Brad, I feel much the same way about The Dharma Bums. We read it for book club, and I was told that I was missing how, in the 1950's, Kerouac and his writing depicted a total freedom that hitherto had not been celebrated. I don't know. It just seemed to me to be about a guy extending his adolescence as long as he could. Somebody has to work to make the products that he consumes, because he doesn't live off the land, so how can we celebrate this? I think that if I had read these books when I was younger I may have appreciated them a bit more. But now I just wonder why I would ever want to know about the lives these people lead. They're dull.


Brad Exactly, Susie. They are dull, and that more than anything else is my problem with Kerouac. I can't imagine I'd like the characters in his books no matter what he did, but if he made them less dull I could at least like the books themselves.


Amber Tucker I don't find the characters dull, in most cases I find them pretty honest, but that's just me. Maybe, as Susie suggests, Kerouac was immature and maybe I'm immature too, but for me at least it's an "immaturity" that is more real and true to oneself than is the ruse of being a big powerful responsible normal grown-up when really most of us (from my observations) are frightened children inside. Kerouac was far from perfect, and his characters reflect that, but I find at least in novels like Dharma Bums Kerouac does leave space to acknowledge how imperfect and often hypocritical he is. Which many writers don't do in any meaningful way. Phew, just my two-cent rant, and no offence to anyone else's preferences or opinions.


Brad I think they're definitely honest, Amber. And that really is one of Keroauc's strengths. I, myself, don't find them immature. Adrift maybe? But not adrift in a way that compels me personally. Do you know what I mean? I'm not being very articulate.


Amber Tucker No, I totally get it. The Beats and their particular kind of adrift-ness are not for everyone, and nor should they be. Although that quality is far from their sole defining characteristic – in my thesis I really enjoyed looking at some aspects of Beat work (specifically Ginsberg's) that were actually very grounded and purposeful, unlike how Kerouac's stuff tends to be. I could detect it in Dharma Bums, but maybe that's just because I was looking for it.


message 9: by Brad (last edited Aug 03, 2014 04:54PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brad What of Ginsburg do you want me to read? Or, rather, what should I read?


Amber Tucker "Sunflower Sutra" and "America" are faves of mine. Both are in Kaddish. I'm currently working my way through some later work.


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

Brad Kay. They are now a priority.


Amber Tucker Hurray! We should talk about them sometime. You always have rad perspectives on literature that I wouldn't have thought of.


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