Samadrita's Reviews > On the Road

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
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did not like it
bookshelves: in-by-about-america, 1001-and-more, loathed-this-book, timeless-classics, not-worth-it
Recommended for: white heterosexual males

This is the book which has given me anxiety attacks on sleepless nights.
This is the book which has glared at me from its high pedestal of classical importance in an effort to browbeat me into finally finishing it.
And this is that book which has shamed me into feigning an air of ignorance every time I browsed any of the countless 1001-books-to-read-before-you-die lists.

Yes Jack Kerouac, you have tormented me for the past 3 years and every day I couldn't summon the strength to open another page of 'On the Road' and subject my brain to the all-too-familiar torture of Sal's sleep-inducing, infuriatingly monotonous narration.

Finally, I conquer you after nearly 3 years of dithering. I am the victorious one in the battle in which you have relentlessly assaulted my finer senses with your crassness and innate insipidity and dared me to plod on. I can finally beat my chest in triumph (ugh pardon the Tarzan-ish metaphor but a 1-star review deserves no better) and announce to the world that I have finished reading 'On the Road'. Oh what an achievement! And what a monumental waste of my time.

Dear Beat Generation classic, I can finally state without any fear of being called out on my ignorance that I absolutely hated reading you. Every moment of it.

Alternatively, this book can be named White Heterosexual Man's Misadventures and Chauvinistic Musings. And even that makes it sound much more interesting and less offensive than it actually is.

In terms of geographical sweep, the narrative covers nearly the whole of America in the 50s weaving its way in and out of Los Angeles and New York and San Francisco and many other major American cities. Through the eyes of Salvatore 'Sal' Paradise, a professional bum, we are given an extended peek into the lives of a band of merry have-nots, their hapless trysts with women, booze, drugs, homelessness, destitution, jazz as they hitchhike and motor their way through the heart of America.
Sounds fascinating right? (Ayn Rand will vehemently disagree though).

But no, it's anything but that. Instead this one just shoves Jack Kerouac's internalized white superiority, sexism and homophobia right in the reader's face in the form of some truly bad writing. This book might as well come with a caption warning any potential reader who isn't White or male or straight. I understand that this was written way before it became politically incorrect to portray women in such a poor light or wistfully contemplate living a "Negro's life" in the antebellum South. But there's an obvious limit to the amount of his vile ruminations I can tolerate.
"There was an old Negro couple in the field with us. They picked cotton with the same God-blessed patience their grandfathers had practiced in ante-bellum Alabama."

Seriously? God-blessed patience?

Every female character in this one is a vague silhouette or a caricature of a proper human being. Marylou, Camille, Terry, Galatea are all frighteningly one-dimensional - they never come alive for the reader through Sal's myopic vision. They are merely there as inanimate props reduced to the status of languishing in the background and occasionally allowed to be in the limelight when the men begin referring to them as if they were objects.
Either they are 'whores' for being as sexually liberated as the men are or they are screaming wives who throw their husbands out of the house for being jobless, cheating drunks or they are opportunistic and evil simply because they do not find Sal or Dean or Remy or Ed or any of the men in their lives to be deserving of their trust and respect, which they truly aren't.

And sometimes, they are only worthy of only a one or two-line description like the following:-
"...I had been attending school and romancing around with a girl called Lucille, a beautiful Italian honey-haired darling that I actually wanted to marry"

Look at Sal talking about a woman as if she were a breed of cat he wanted to rescue from the animal shelter.
"Finally he came out with it: he wanted me to work Marylou."

Is Marylou a wrench or a machine of some kind?

And this is not to mention the countless instances of 'get you a girl', 'get girls', 'Let's get a girl' and other minor variations of the same strewn throughout the length of the book and some of Sal's thoughts about 'queers' which are equally revolting.

Maybe I am too much of a non-American with no ties to a real person who sees the Beat era through the lenses of pure nostalgia or maybe I am simply incapable of appreciating the themes of youthful wanderlust and living life with a perverse aimlessness or maybe it's the flat writing and appalling representation of women. Whatever the real reason(s) maybe, I can state with conviction that this is the only American classic which I tried to the best of my abilities to appreciate but failed.
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Reading Progress

January 1, 2010 – Started Reading
September 30, 2012 – Shelved
December 9, 2012 – Shelved as: in-by-about-america
March 24, 2013 – Shelved as: 1001-and-more
October 8, 2013 – Finished Reading
October 9, 2013 – Shelved as: loathed-this-book
October 9, 2013 – Shelved as: timeless-classics
October 9, 2013 – Shelved as: not-worth-it

Comments Showing 1-50 of 127 (127 new)


message 1: by Lynne (last edited Oct 09, 2013 12:51AM) (new) - added it

Lynne King Samadrita,

An interesting but critical review. It does always surprise me though, when in fact it shouldn't, to see someone who does not love a particular favourite of mine.

I haven't read this book yet and I plan to do so but I absolutely fell under the spell of Jack Kerouac in The Dharma Bums. I'm more than determined to read this now sooner rather than later...


message 2: by Praj (new)

Praj I never intended to read this book and now more so.


message 3: by Veeral (new)

Veeral One star. ha ha ha ha... Don't follow any list too religiously.


message 4: by Scarlet (new)

Scarlet Well, I hated the movie and never planned to read the book anyway but I'm sorry you had to endure that (and for 3 years??! Your patience is astounding, Sama!)


Warwick Very nicely reviewed, although I think you're a little harsh! His attitudes are certainly outdated, but I find the prose style often very beautiful...rambling and inventive like jazz music. Saying that, I can't really take Kerouac anymore...he's best enjoyed when you're at that age yourself.


message 6: by Samir (new)

Samir Rawas Sarayji Great review. I've always suspected it would be one of "those" books and your review finally confirms my suspicions. Most people I know of, rave and praise the book, which already makes me apprehensive as alarm bells ring 'over-rated?' in my head. I've avoided it for a long time and when people ask me "Have your read Kerouac's On the Road?", I flinch and struggle to find a reason to the question I know will come next after I say "No". Now I can confidently say, "I have it on good authority from a trustworthy source that I don't need to read it" ;-)

Wonder if I can get away with it or if I'm going to have to plough through it one day and write an equally critical review. In the meantime, thanks for sparing me a dreaded read.


Ayesha exactly my feelings about this 'classic' ,of course you have expressed yourself much more elegantly. :)


message 8: by Lit Bug (new) - added it

Lit Bug I tried too, and lemmed it. Reminds me that there are three books, not two, that I've lemmed so far. I agree with Warwick a bit, there are some lovely passages, but it is often boring, not to forget whatever Samadrita pointed out. A little bit is permissible, too much is not.

But I did enjoy Beat poetry quite a lot, some years ago.


Paul I felt the same sort of way about Ulysses, so you have my sympathy. It would be a surprise if we all liked all the "classics"


message 10: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope I don't think I would have your strong reaction were I to read this, but this kind of book has never created any anxiety for me. Just indifference. I am becoming more choosy with the sort of thing, including reading, to which I am willing to dedicate my limited and precious free time.


message 11: by Garima (new)

Garima Strong reaction but something I strongly enjoyed ;) I wanted to read or thought that I should read Kerouac soon especially after The Savage Detectives but Mr. Bolano clearly seems like a winner here and Kerouac, well, you said it. I'm alright with Beat generation but I draw a line between what is acceptable and what is outright offensive. That being said, I'm also a sucker for good writing, so I'll read Kerouac but not this book.


Samadrita @Lynne:- I know you liked The Dharma Bums, your review helped me add it to my tbr because On the Road had me much less than thrilled. I may still give Kerouac another go with that. Gosh but I am really not sure at this point.

@Praj:-I just hated slogging through it over the years when I clearly wanted to abandon reading. You may still like it better than to give it 1 star, Praj.

@Veeral:- It's not funny. :P It was painful reading this book.

@Scarlet:-Isn't it? I deserve an award for simply managing to finish. :)

@Warwick:-I think you are right about my being harsh but after 3 years of persistently trying to like this book and failing at it, I probably needed an outlet in the form of a 1-star review. Besides I am at that age Kerouac was at the time but I still couldn't relate to it. This book doesn't really consider women as its target audience. It's about a bunch of young American men doing screwed up, "manly" things which in, no way, I can empathize with or understand.

@Samir:-You may like it after all. This book draws out different reactions from different people. You could try reading a few pages and decide whether you want to proceed with it or not. I read this book precisely for the reason I was tired of people asking me why I haven't read this yet despite being a compulsive reader.


Pulkit Singhal Haha. Crazy review. Lol@ "Recommended for" part :D.


Samadrita @Ayesha:-Glad to see someone agreeing with me. Thanks!

@LB:-I still like Allen Ginsberg so I am not completely averse to the Beat era but this book has been primarily responsible for my apathy for that age. Maybe I need to read more of Ginsberg's poems. I also have a shameful list of 'lemmed' books. It will be interesting to see your reaction to it.

@Paul:-I agree. We cannot all like the books which are widely revered and loved by others.

@Kall:-I would have loved to be indifferent to it as well. Except I just took it up as a challenge to finish reading this one and that was painful. And you are right about devoting time to the right books. I will try and ignore lists from now on.

@Garima:-You can check out The Dharma Bums, Lynne liked it very much which made me add it to my tbr. And it could be that this book is more offensive to certain people. It was certainly offensive in my eyes. And good writing is something this book clearly does not have. Is Kerouac mentioned in The Savage Detectives?

@Pulkit:-Glad it made you laugh. :)


message 15: by Garima (new)

Garima Is Kerouac mentioned in The Savage Detectives?

Nope. But both books are compared with each other mainly because there are road trips involved and musings by writer/writers. I'll check out Dharma Bums..may be.


message 16: by Jill (new)

Jill There are those classics that I lie about to myself and others saying, "Oh yeah, one day I toootally want to read that!" and then there are those rare classics that I don't even bother to lie about; I straight up never want to read a single word from them.

On the Road belongs to the second group. Worst part is it seems to be undergoing a Renaissance of sorts. All my rich college hipster friends kept a copy of On the Road with them at all times. Gag. (And bravo for the three year effort.)


message 17: by Darsana (new)

Darsana Three times! Three times I've tried reading this massive heap of ramblings and I failed every time. I share your doubt about not understanding OTR because We are quite new to the Beat culture but every guy reader I know personally swears by this book and it keeps me wanting to give it a shot again.
Nice review Samadrita!!
Made me laugh :D


message 18: by Jr (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jr Bacdayan Bold and empowering review, Samadrita. Always glad to read reviews by a headstrong individual sticking up for her beliefs. Personally, I've never read Kerouac. I intend to, but he's not exactly at the top of my list. I admire you for finishing something you consider unpleasant. Keep it up. Continue fighting the good fight, Samadrita. I'll be waiting for that next review.


message 19: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Peto I read it in college. It didn't leave much of a mark and I remember being surprised that others around me liked it so much.

This is what Truman Capote famously said about Kerouac: "it isn't writing at all, it's typing."


message 20: by Geoff (new)

Geoff I like this book, it meant a lot to me as a teenager. Soooo many people I'm friends with on GR HATE, I mean HATE Kerouac- I don't get it. I think I read all of his books in my teens. There's some good stuff there. But--- and I'll probably incur some kind of wrath here--- I wonder if it has to do with being an American, and how this type of "road novel" myth is ingrained in our youthful fantasies. On The Road is pretty much a young American male's sort of naive fantasy. I needed it when I read it, I needed The Dharma Bums and Desolation Angels and Big Sur and The Subterraneans... they showed me a kind of intoxication with language that I hadn't been exposed to before. I came from a small town in rural Maryland, and the bookstores and libraries were shit. I read the Beats because they stocked the Beats. I also read Jack London and Ernest Hemingway, etc., because that was what was available. Very White Male American, I know, (at least London was a Socialist) but Kerouac seemed to represent a kind of liberty to my stifled life. Now, I haven't reviewed him on this site, because it's been so long since I've read him that I can't be sure adult me would give him the benefit of the doubt. But, I might suggest that Kerouac is best read young, best read when you are stifled by the chains of adolescence, and best understood in the context of United States mythos.... just my two cents.


message 21: by Lynne (new) - added it

Lynne King Geoff wrote: "I like this book, it meant a lot to me as a teenager. Soooo many people I'm friends with on GR HATE, I mean HATE Kerouac- I don't get it. I think I read all of his books in my teens. There's som..."

Geoff, I loved the "Dharma Bums" and I'm looking forward to reading this. So nice to see that you liked it...


message 22: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Puma I couldn't find enough bad to say about this one; it was torture, as my own review attests. That said, I have to sort of agree with Geoff, "best read when young" but I'd add "before you know better."


Becky Oh my... THREE YEARS? I spent one day on this book and figure that was more than it deserved.

Well, congrats for finally putting it behind you.


message 24: by Samadrita (last edited Oct 09, 2013 08:46AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Samadrita @Garima:-Your information makes me want to read The Savage Detectives soon. Bolano could purge my mind of memories of this seriously bad road trip book.

@Jill:- Lol. I suppose this is the kind of iconic book which a lot of people love to read simply to be cool to their peers or something. I have no idea. I don't think you will like this either. Thanks, Jill!

@Darshana:-At least some good came off this review if it made you laugh. :)

@Jr:-I intend to write a good review of what I think is a good book next. Thank you for your encouraging words. They are very much appreciated.

@Jonathan:-Yes I read that in a few of the reviews. It does resemble typing and of the most boring kind in addition.

@Geoff:-It's great to hear from someone who loves this book. I think you are right in saying that my younger, more ignorant self may have given this book a higher rating but I doubt I'd have related to the young White American male fantasy realization part. My problem with Kerouac is his thoroughly limited world view at the time he wrote this book, it's too narrow and too solipsistic and the really monotonous writing. Whereas I never had this problem with Hemingway or London or any other American writers. I'd have probably given Kerouac a higher rating if there were any redeeming characteristics in this one. But sadly for me, there aren't.

@Mike:-I agree with you there. It was torture to put myself through this as well. But I'd go on to add, best read when young before you know better AND maybe "if you are not female".


Samadrita @Becky:-Thanks! I kind of stubbornly refused to give up on this book. Maybe I should have.


Becky Samadrita wrote: "@Becky:-Thanks! I kind of stubbornly refused to give up on this book. Maybe I should have."

For sure. I have like zero patience these days with books. I give it a little bit to hook me, and if it doesn't, or if it makes me mad, I don't bother finishing it.

Because like Sweet Brown says, "Ain't nobody got time fo' dat."


message 27: by Rowena (new) - added it

Rowena One star- interesting!So many of my friends love it. I'm going to read your review once I read the book.


Katherine Samadrita, I couldn't agree more. I only rated it three stars to honor the 16 year old me who really wanted to enjoy it, but your review reflects my current feelings toward it now. Nice job!


Brian Remember our chicklit/dicklit discussion? This is dicklit.


Jacqueline the beat generation is truly proof that a white guy can do or say literally anything and someone, somewhere (read: everyone, everywhere) will tout it as genius. attempting to read things from that gen just constantly reminds me that if a woman, or a PoC, or even someone working class wrote the same thing nobody would be praising it's subtle genius - they'd be calling it what it is: nonsense. modern people who love the beat gen weird me out a bit because they're almost always romanticize and pine for that period of time and the "freedom" that came with it, while ignoring how horrible it was for pretty much anybody who wasn't a white dude.

you're spot on in what you say about their treatment of women. kerouac made a conscious effort to reduce them to nothing and/or sex objects. people say the lack of women in the beat gen was just a reflection of the time period, but the prominent members of that generation - inc. kerouac - basically ignored all the women writers unless they were fucking them. in on the road, kerouac straight up leaves out the presence of the women who were around at the time. unless of course, he was having sex with them.


message 31: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Brian wrote: "Remember our chicklit/dicklit discussion? This is dicklit."

....hunh, I thought dicklit was more like Tom Clancy? But I can see how this would be dicklit.


message 32: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Geoff wrote: "I also read Jack London and Ernest Hemingway, etc., because that was what was available. Very White Male American, I know, (at least London was a Socialist) but Kerouac seemed to represent a kind of liberty to my stifled life"

heyyyyyy you leave my dead alkie boyfriend Jack London outta this

.....My reaction to this book is so weird because I know I read it at least two or three times as a teenager but I remember basically none of it. I think it taps into a certain American 'out on the open road' fantasy. But to be sure I'd have to read it again, and, well, no.

Samandrita, you might like Joyce Johnson's memoir Minor Characters -- it's a women's-eye view of the Beats, and very very well-written.


message 33: by Lit Bug (new) - added it

Lit Bug Brian wrote: "Remember our chicklit/dicklit discussion? This is dicklit."

I get it now, Brian - I figure the chicklit book I was fretting over is better if this sums up dicklit.


message 34: by Dolors (last edited Oct 10, 2013 06:54AM) (new) - added it

Dolors Ha! Maybe you needed to get stoned into get the novel, Samadrita.
I think Kerouac might be easily qualified as a kind of psychosocial itinerant, but his influence on contemporary poets like Ginsberg (whom I adore) was huge, so I can only respect him for that. In spite of himself.
But yes, of course, his ecstatic, antic and "babble flow" of spontaneously written language can provoke migraine and stomachache.
If you want to give him another try, maybe you should read his rules for reading, writing and getting inspiration:

http://www.poetspath.com/transmission...

Nicely argued review with your usual poignant and resonant voice, though. You are always a treat to read! :)


message 35: by Aubrey (new)

Aubrey Jacqueline wrote: "the beat generation is truly proof that a white guy can do or say literally anything and someone, somewhere (read: everyone, everywhere) will tout it as genius. attempting to read things from that ..."

Hm. I'm having second thoughts about reading 'Howl' now. Ah well, I'll figure that out when a copy actually shows up.


Jacqueline Aubrey wrote: "Hm. I'm having second thoughts about reading 'Howl' now. Ah well, I'll figure that out when a copy actually shows up."

oh no don't have second thoughts based on anything I've said. I wouldn't put Ginsberg on the same level as his Ginsberg-lite beat gen peers. I actually maintain that Howl's probably the only thing that generation has produced that's worth reading. (but if you're talking political rather than artistic aversions to reading it, yeah Ginsberg was a real pos.)


message 37: by Aubrey (new)

Aubrey Jacqueline wrote: "oh no don't have second thoughts based on anything I've said. ..."

Ah, thank you for that. I know very little of the Beat Generation beyond a few general tidbits, so it's good to hear that the one piece generated by it that I'm interested in is worth looking into.


Samadrita @Rowena:-Sure thing. I'll await your thoughts on it once you do.

@Katherine:-Good to know that. I am glad my older avatar read it and was able to see this revered classic in its true light.

@Brian:-I agree. But dicklit of the sexist, homophobic and racist kind.

@Jacqueline:-I am glad our thoughts regarding this work of literature are so similar. "kerouac - basically ignored all the women writers unless they were fucking them." - That's also the impression I got from the way the male characters talk about the women - as long as the women are doing things in accordance with their wishes they are good. The moment they assert themselves, expletives are hurled at them.

@Moira:-I am adding it to the tbr right away. Thanks!

@Dolors:-I like Ginsberg actually. So far he is the only one still keeping my interest in the Beat poets/authors alive. My one major problem with the book was the writing which is repetitive and very uninteresting. I'll possibly read Kerouac only if I have no better book to read at hand.

@Aubrey:-Howl and Ginsberg aren't bad actually. And I didn't mean to be discouraging with this review because it would be really interesting to know your thoughts on 'On the Road'. And my feelings about the Beat Generation are similar to Jacqueline's.


message 39: by Aubrey (new)

Aubrey Ha, well, truth be told, I had little interest in OtR before this review, Samadrita. As I'm not that much of a masochist, I'll stick with Howl once I acquire a copy and let you know how that goes.


message 40: by Geoff (new)

Geoff As far as Beats go, try Burroughs, he's pure pain sugar, fun and insane! The Nova Trilogy and Naked Lunch will at least burn your brain, if they have no other effect.


Samadrita Geoff wrote: "As far as Beats go, try Burroughs, he's pure pain sugar, fun and insane! The Nova Trilogy and Naked Lunch will at least burn your brain, if they have no other effect."

As per what I have heard of Naked Lunch, it's really not my thing. But I'll try and read the first few pages and see if it works for me. Thanks for the reco, Geoff.


Aubrey wrote: "As I'm not that much of a masochist...."

You are right. Only a masochist like me would care to slog through this while hating it in the extreme. :(


message 42: by Aubrey (last edited Oct 10, 2013 11:50PM) (new)

Aubrey Slog through enough of that sort, and you'll be better equipped to avoid said slogs in the future. Then you have more time to devote yourself to thousand-page masochistic bents of the farthest limits of the written word nature. It'll be fun.


Samadrita Aubrey wrote: "Slog through enough of them, and you'll be better equipped to avoid said slogs in the future. Then you have more time to devote yourself to thousand-page masochistic bents of the farthest limits of..."

I think it's not a slog if there's something about the book which is keeping me interested, encouraging me to read on. The number of pages and the denseness of the prose become immaterial then. OtR was a real slog for me because I hated the book and its pretensions.


message 44: by Alex (new)

Alex But white heterosexual males are so damn cool...


Samadrita Alex wrote: "But white heterosexual males are so damn cool..."

The sexist, racist and homophobic ones more so.


message 46: by Zanna (new) - rated it 1 star

Zanna I read this years ago when I was young, naive and under the influence of an abusive person who recommended it to me. I despised it then, so now I doubt I could read a page without going into a rage. Well done!


Samadrita Zanna wrote: "I read this years ago when I was young, naive and under the influence of an abusive person who recommended it to me. I despised it then, so now I doubt I could read a page without going into a rage..."

Zanna, I am glad our thoughts regarding this book are so similar.


message 48: by mark (new)

mark monday I love an angry, articulate review.


Samadrita mark wrote: "I love an angry, articulate review."

I think this was more of a rant, don't know whether I was able to articulate my anger well.


message 50: by Murali (new)

Murali Behara By, even Ayn Rand may not approve, are you referring to the quality of prose or the undeserved self-importance of the male characters in there. Well I've not read this but based on the several lone-star reviews this sounds like literature porn, that happens to be a 'classic' ;-)


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