Jessica's Reviews > On the Road

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
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did not like it
bookshelves: bad-reads, dicklits
Recommended for: fourteen-year-old assholes

This is probably the worst book I have ever finished, and I'm forever indebted to the deeply personality-disordered college professor who assigned it, because if it hadn't been for that class I never would've gotten through, and I gotta tell you, this is the book I love to hate.

I deeply cherish but don't know that I fully agree with Truman Capote's assessment: that _On the Road_ "is not writing at all -- it's typing."

Lovely, Turman, but let's be clear: typing by itself is fairly innocuous -- this book is so awful it's actually offensive, and even incredibly damaging.

I'd be lying if I said there aren't parts of this book that're so bad they're good -- good as in morbidly fascinating, in the manner of advanced-stage syphilis slides from seventh-grade health class. Keroac's ode to the sad-eyed Negro is actually an incredible, incredible example of.... something I'm glad has been typed. For the record. So we can all see it clearly, and KNOW.

Please don't get me wrong! My disproportionately massive loathing for Jack Kerouac has zero to do with his unenlightened racial views. I mean, it was written in the fifties, and anyway, it's great that he was able to articulate these ideas so honestly. No, the real reason I hate this book so much is that it established a deeply retarded model of European-American male coolness that continues to plague our culture today.

I could go into a lot more depth on this topic, but it's come to my attention that I've been using my horrible addiction to Bookster to avoid the many obligations and responsiblities of my daily life, to which I should now return. So, in closing: this book SUCKS. This book is UNBELIEVABLY TERRIBLE. And for that very reason, especially considering its serious and detrimental impact on western civilization, I definitely recommend that you read it, if you have not suffered that grave misfortune already.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2000 – Finished Reading
September 29, 2007 – Shelved
March 1, 2008 – Shelved as: bad-reads
May 11, 2011 – Shelved as: dicklits

Comments Showing 1-50 of 211 (211 new)

message 1: by Lesley (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:50PM) (new)

Lesley Yes, a lame boy made me read it, but the lamest part is that I actually read it.

message 2: by Ariel (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:51PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ariel I read this book when I was 15 and was filled with inspiration and a love of life and a desire to be Dean Moriarty. Then, seven years later, I read it again in college, hoping for the same experience - only better because I should "understand" it more, now that I was in college. Instead, my understanding this time was that I was irritated, disturbed, and a little depressed.

message 3: by matthew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:51PM) (new)

matthew i know i read this book, but i have absolutely no other recollection of it. i do know i don't feel like rereading it. i did like "the dharma bums", at one point.

message 4: by Lynn (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:51PM) (new)

Lynn I am glad I am not the only one who thinks this book is worthless. I couldn't read it when it was new or any time since. It still sits on my shelves waiting to be appreciated. Might be the most over-hyped book of all time.

I am into the whole American hit the road thing. Just not this book.

message 5: by matthew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:51PM) (new)

matthew hm. we should form a club. i should like to be treasurer, and all of your dues are in arrears.

message 6: by matthew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:51PM) (new)

matthew are the comments always in bold?

message 7: by matthew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:51PM) (new)

matthew no, they're not. what gives?

message 8: by Jessica (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:39PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Jessica Okay, so yesterday I walked past the New York Public Library -- the fabulous one on Fifth Avenue, where I hope to live in the event of drastic environmental catastrophe, though hopefully (dare I dream?) I'LL have a decent script and costars -- and couldn't HELP but notice the gigantic BANNER for an EXHIBITION devoted to this STUPID CRAPPY PILE of TEDIOUS TYPEWRITING. I was and remain, in a word, aghast.

Will somebody please explain to me why respectable grownups like this book so much? Or perhaps better, why I don't? What am I missing here??? It's not just that I was too old by the time I read it. I first tried to read this book as an impressionable fourteen-year-old, at a time when I was easily swept away by romantic rebellion and at a personal cultural low point: I'd recently discovered Drugs, and was addled enough to believe the Doors were a terrific band. BUT EVEN DURING THIS VERY DARK AGE, I DID NOT SEE THE APPEAL OF THIS NOVEL AND ABANDONED IT AFTER A FEW PAGES BECAUSE I THOUGHT IT WAS DUMB AND THAT THE GUY WAS A JERK. That is to say, at a point in my life when even (I'm not proud of this, Booksters) Jim Morrison seemed like a genius to me, I still was not taken in by the rumored romantic appeal of this novel.

My question is this: what am I missing here? People love this book. People I respect have granted it plenty of Bookface stars. Apparently it's not just a favorite of goateed coffee-shop patrons and unkempt college students, as the New York Public Library (granted, the same institution that sold Kindred Spirits to Walmart) has apparently decided to canonize this document and declare Kerouac some kind of book saint.

Obviously, there is something wrong with me. This must be a good book. What makes this book good? And what is the goodness lacking in me that makes me think it is so bad? Because I think it is. I think it's bad. But clearly I'm missing something!

Okay, so I'm being a little disingenuous here. I do understand the appeal of the nonconformist, follow-your-dreams, freedom-of-the-road novel, but what I don't understand is why THIS book gets to be THAT book. THERE ARE BETTER BOOKS ABOUT TRAVELING AROUND AND NOT GOING TO WORK. There are even better books about trying to be a "White Negro." Way better books, before and since. So what is the DEAL here??

Please explain!

message 9: by Ariel (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:39PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ariel As I've said, I was very inspired by this book when I first read it. I think the reason it's THE popular book about all those things is because its style is so energetic. Yes, there are other books about traveling and being rebellious and being a "white negro." But they don't make you feel like you're on speed when you read them the way this book does. So the answer to your question is - everyone just wants to feel like they're on speed, or have fond memories of the time they did.

Jonathan Ames wrote an essay about his relationship to this book. You should read it. It's in "I love you more than you know."

message 10: by matthew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:39PM) (new)

matthew hm. more ames. i suppose it's not synchronicity if we're all sitting around discussing writing. homes, of "music for torching", praises his "wake up sir" quite highly, however, in what i think might be a bit of synchronicity (or, merely, the incestuousness of the literary world).

message 11: by Ariel (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:39PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ariel They're both Yaddo people...

message 12: by matthew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:39PM) (new)

matthew i'll have to look into that (after my nap); i'm unfamiliar with it.

message 13: by matthew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:39PM) (new)

matthew i was too curious... i wonder if the artists' colony, in "wake up sir", is based on yaddo.

message 14: by Rachel (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:39PM) (new)

Rachel Jessica, I think the "before and since" part of your comment is significant. My understanding is that Kerouac and the Beats, much like Hemingway and the Lost Generation, are strongly associated with a particular time. And while drinking all day in Parisian cafes and going to bullfights in Pamplona remains appealing, that stuff -- and that time -- seem pretty remote. I figure the enduring popularity of _On the Road_ has a great deal to do with its being a particularly early expression of a certain post-WWII sensibility which is still shared by many people today.

As far as go novels of approximately this time period that read as if they were written in one sitting, I prefer Ken Kesey's _Sometimes a Great Notion_.

message 15: by Rachel (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:39PM) (new)

Rachel Also, I think the fact that the guy travels all the way from the East to the West has something to do with it. If he covered only a particular portion of the country, or even made a complete journey across in the opposite direction, the book would probably not have been so well-received. Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way, you know (speaking of popular nineteenth-century paintings). And all this relates to the massive post-war migration to California, right?

I'm not saying I think this is a good reason to canonize a book. People like facile things.

message 16: by matthew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new)

matthew i want to say "i like your facile comments", but it's only my one angry eye speaking (i love everyone's comments). read my lj.

message 17: by Rachel (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new)

Rachel Matthew, I don't know what your "lj" is and "facile" is not a synonym for "concise". I do not pretend to address complexities with my short book reviews. If you think my comments pertaining to _On the Road_ are overly simplistic, perhaps you ought to address those specific points, rather than making vague allusions to my tendency to make "facile comments."

message 18: by Jessica (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Jessica A lot of these responses are really helpful. Ariel, I will definitely hunt down the Ames essay. Thanks everyone!

On a related note, R.I.P. Norman Mailer. Now I'll have to track down his "WN" essay, too, for an overdue reread.

message 19: by matthew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new)

matthew my apologies, rachel; mine was, in fact, a facile comment (i'm aware of the definition). i was merely recording, for posterity, the evil (and incorrect) inner voice that i carry 'round in my head. the imp of the perverse, if you will. absolutely no malice was intended. my lj is my livejournal, wherein i explain that, last night (before writing the comment), i got sucker punched, from behind, and, now, have a swollen eye and a bloodied shirt. i did say i loved everyone's comments... all in all, this is why, apparently, i get punched in the face with a certain frequency.

message 20: by Jessica (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Jessica Oh, Matthew. That's terrible. I'm really sorry to hear it. I was previously going to suggest that you might not spend so much of your social time on the internet, but after hearing this story I have changed my mind. At least Rachel can't punch you through the computer!

message 21: by Rachel (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:42PM) (new)

Rachel One of the nice things about the Internet is that people can't punch you the way they can in real life. Another nice thing about this kind of communication is it gives you a better chance to evaluate, in advance, whether you ought to share what your inner evil voice is saying. As you indicate that you love everyone's comments, it may be difficult for you to imagine that, as far as most people are concerned, some remarks are far more worthwhile than others.

message 22: by matthew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:42PM) (new)

matthew thank you for your sympathy, jessica. in reality, i need to spend more time away from both the internet AND bars, but, for the life of me, the only place i can think to do it is church, and i just can't.

rachel, i was drunk, and had recently been punched in the face; my critical faculties were somewhat impaired. i meant that i loved everyone's comments on this thread, not everyone's comments, full stop. your criticism has merit, however. i have apologised.

Michael Thank you for your review. The smugness level regarding this book and its fans can be astounding sometimes.

message 24: by Ruth (new) - rated it 1 star

Ruth I couldn't finish it.


message 25: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant A glance at my shelf of novels will reveal the shame I bear. Not only On the Road but all the other even more unreadable Kerouac books. I read them all. And now I have to wait for the inevitable day when my daughter finds out. I will tell her that those were different times, hitch-hiking was still legal, all our brains were fried from pyschedelical experimentation and all that. But ultimately I know that this is no excuse. I Was A Teenage Kerouac Fan.

message 26: by Lesley (new)

Lesley Paul, admitting you have a problem is the first step.

message 27: by Tosh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tosh i hate to be a party pooper, but I love this book. It's a classic's great. You either like it or you don't. Don't be a square people.

message 28: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant I like the way months old threads can be resurrected just like that.

Jessica Amen, brother.

I suspect that this book has ruined scores of otherwise promising young men by poisoning their impressionable minds with deeply mistaken ideas of what it means to be cool. Thus, I blame Kerouac for much of the trouble I've had through the years in finding appropriate boyfriend material. I also blame him for lots of other things he likely had nothing to do with, including goatees, leather jackets, nineties cafe culture, stupid poetry, the concept of "slams," cheesy tattoos, grungy college students, Aaron Cometbus, modern rock, rebellious gestures, annoying writing, bad drugs, high gas prices, and guys who think they are edgy because they smoke Lucky Strikes.

I'm aware that few if any of these things are Jack Kerouac's fault, but I don't care, I blame him anyway. It's nice to have a scapegoat.

Jessica I can't really speak for my generation, but I'd say my personal On the Road was Weetzie Bat, a YA book I first read in the seventh grade and revisited throughout adolescence, which made an indescribably massive impression on me. You could apply many criticisms I've flung at On the Road to this book and then some.... Although definitely not for everyone, it's one of my favorite books of all time.

Obviously there are a lot of differences between the two, but I imagine that WB did for me as a kid what OtR did for a lot of other people. It really informed some basic ideas I was developing as a teenager about values and aesthetics, and for me it stands apart from the standards to which I hold other books. I'll bet many girls my age who came across this book when I did (the early nineties) feel the same way.

This doesn't really answer your question, but that's what it made me think of.

message 31: by Tosh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tosh Manny you are totally wrong because you know better. Jessica I understand why you hate a certain culture that came out of this book and you do acknowledge that it's not really Kerouac's fault regarding its culture - but still I guess it comes out if one enjoys this book or not - and I for sure do. I think it''s a fantastic book because it hints of adventure that is quite beautiful. And that with the writing is enough for me. Kerouac himself as you pointed out was not intuned with what happened afterwards - but that's the case with art - it changes even without the artist's approval. Nevertheless at its very least it is a book that deals with the conservative lifestyle of the postwar years.

message 32: by Tosh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tosh Wrong direction is better then no direction. Think about that!

Jessica Robert, I'd meant to ask if your daughter had read it! FLB is an angel.... Dig it out, I think you might like it. Probably reads a bit fey now, and some of the multicultural efforts made me cringe even at the time, but still.... I love this book. I love this book. I love this book....

Tosh, I really respect your tastes on the whole, so.... I won't try and argue. There's no accounting anyway. I really did hate OTR when I read it, but I'll admit it's impossible for me to separate it from its context and effects.

message 34: by Tosh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tosh And Jessica I respect you for expressing your thoughts on why you don't like this book - but I felt I needed to put my 2 cents in.

message 35: by matthew (new)

matthew aaron cometbus introduced me to the word "hella", before i moved to california... and. i. still. don't. know. what. he meant. by. it!

block seems, verily, to've made her mark on your (and somewhat later) generation(s), jessica. though i mostly forget both books (and i did read them - likely within a year of one another), i must admit to liking block better, though not without a number of reservations, if i can use the word in such a context. weird, totally period-understandable, racism may have had something to do with it (or i'm confusing it with "been down so long it looks like up to me" [which i loved anyway]). has any other male, above, say, five years your senior, actually read her? i ask in all seriousness. i did like kerouac's "dharma bums". does that make me a rectangle with sides of equal length? or like school on sunday?

Jessica The more proper Bay Area usage is "helluv," or "hell of."

Matthew, to answer your question, I think there might be a few Canadian gay guys who've read the Weetzie Bat books. That might be it, though. Yeah, they're pretty racist. Well, probably not racist exactly, but definitely cringe-invoking and admittedly sort of along the same lines as the Kerouac with his sad-eyed Negroes.

message 37: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant Three American writers who I loved as a teenager but whose sentimentality now makes me queasy:


I think they're in the category "only to be read by 15 year olds". (Okay, I exaggerate slightly, many of Bradbury's short stories are great and also very weird.)
Could be that the people who insist on labelling On the Road as a 20th Century Classic were all 15 when they read it. Could be that this is one 20th Century Classic which will drop out of the charts in a few years time, when the baby boomer professors of English have all been pensioned off.

message 38: by Tosh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tosh No I disagree with that Paul. I recently read the Scroll version of On The Road and thought it was incredible. That is why my thoughts are on this book at the moment. in many ways I think Kerouac is even underrated!

message 39: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant Okay, we shall see, if we live long enough. I wonder who now reads books like Desolation Angels, Big Sur, Visions of Gerard, etc.

message 40: by brian (last edited Apr 08, 2008 09:26AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

brian   kerouac certainly spawned a whole school of horrible literature, but marshall's Black Sabbath analogy stands: it ain't his fault. i bring this up as it feels that jack is commonly viewed by those who look backwards and filter jack through a lens of bukowski, thompson, etc... on the surface, yes, there are similarities, but to me, kerouac always worked in the tradition of melville or whitman: lost and confused ramblers hungry to understand the soul of america. and i think jack, like his predecessors, succeeded - he perfectly articulates that time when highways were being laid all across the country and suburbs were popping up everywhere and americans were mobile... paul makes a point with the sentimentality, but for me it's forgiven, to a degree, such as hemingway's outdated code of masculinity, or, for that matter, hemingway's particularly stolid form of sentimentality.

Jessica K., I'm sorry. I'd like to apologize in advance, I really would. But can I come over and use your pool? I promise not to steal your husband or diet pills, or sabotage your acting career!

M.: It sounds like you're suggesting that people who don't like this book are jaded.

Is that what you're saying?

I don't think hating On the Road in any way indicates a preference for ironic distance or a distaste for sentiment. I personally love sentiment to the point of being wildly sentimental. In fact, what I remember most about this book is the self-consciousness, studied hipness, and scenestery posturing. I appreciate what you guys are saying and I'm sure it has a lot of merit, but for me, this book seems at least as much a grandfather to the throwaway-era-milieu genre of McInerney and those guys, as it does an example of unironic authenticity. I don't think this is just the intervening years and associations talking; OtR may have an exciting style and an honesty of sentiment, but I believe it has this other dimension too, and while it's admittedly been awhile since I read this, I maintain that this element is very present in the text itself and is an enormous part of the book's allure.

So I mean, sure thing daddy-o, my bitching about what Kerouac has reaped can be mostly written off with the Black Sab analogy, but there are things in this book that I just couldn't stand. And while the strength of my animosity must be related to what came afterwards, I think I still wouldn't have liked it, even if this genre stopped with JK. I hated the lifestyle he was describing, I hated the way he described it, I hated the main character, and I hated the general tone. I felt I was reading something by a boring jerk who'd written a book to try and make himself look cool. This doesn't mean there was no genuine feeling or truth in it, and I'm sure there were a lot of other aspects to this novel, but that was the one I took away from it.

Jessica In other words, I hell of hated this book. I thought it was hell of lame.

message 43: by Ken (new) - added it

Ken i am feeling the love from everyone here feeling the hate.

message 44: by matthew (new)

matthew i know what hell of means, now - i've lived in the bay area for coming on two decades. i even employ the phrase (or word, depending). i just don't understand aaron's first (for me) use of it. he was describing a diner he was eating at, and said they had hella (sic) coffee. did he mean it was really good? that they had many varieties (this seems unlikely)? i just don't know.

i was referring to kerouac's racism. i don't recall block's.

message 45: by Jessica (last edited Apr 08, 2008 09:48PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Jessica Well, I'd love to have at in response to all this, darling, but.... not in front of the children. It could completely fuck them up, and they've got a heavy enough load already, haven't they?

message 46: by Tosh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tosh When I read On the Road now I think of it as a piece of literature from another era - like a PG Wodehouse, who I adore. It strikes me as an original pulse of a particular time. Basically my baby years and what my parents went through. But 'Jack' is a real character and that is what he had to offer. I can't comment what came afterwards - because one has no control of that. Especially the artist. But you know Kerouac was a big influence on Bowie - and therefore glam rock. So there you go. You either rock or you don't rock.

message 47: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant This discussion is focussing on one very interesting concept : cool. I would be fascinated to see if we could get some idea of what it means - what it meant then (post WW2) and later (hippies) and later still (Gen X, whoever the hell they are); and is cool something whites borrowed from blacks who they took to be unselfconsciously cool? Yes, I could go and reread me some Mailer and Burroughs and stuff, but I'd so much rather hear what you all have to say.

message 48: by Tosh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tosh Well the basic rule if you think you were cool, one's not cool. But Paul there was an interesting book that came out some years ago by Louis McAdams (the spelling maybe wrong) regarding the history of cool. And for sure the birth of cool came from Black Americans via the late 40's.

My father who basically spent his teenage years in Black Jazz clubs in Los Angeles, was probably in Downtown 'Cool.'

The Beats (and if we have to keep in mind that this isn't a formal club by any means) are an off-shoot of the Jazz scene at the time - which was basically black. People like Charlie Parker were a mega-influence on American Beats -as well as on the Boris Vian Paris St. Germain scene.

Being a child of the 'Beats' (see Semina Culture for my background) it was very innocent in that the media didn't jump on the scene till the mid-50's - and then presto the term 'Beatniks' which was invented by mainstream media - and then you had Kerouac presented in a very mainstream world - where i felt he was totally uncomfortable with the attention, etc.

But overall I think in the terms of cool, it's people who have 'it' naturally. It's a hard word to define.

Jessica For some reason this is making me think of a essay in that old Might Magazine anthology (Shiny Adidas Tracksuits & the Death of Camp, anyone read that?) about "Why Black People are Cooler Than White People." It's been years since I read that, but I feel like it could somehow be relevant here. I feel like it wasn't really so much about race as it was about this whole defining "cool" question.... wish I had that, and the Norman Mailer White Negro essay handy, but I don't. I feel like being "cool" has to do with being marginalized, and then transcending all the categories that marginalized you, and winning some prize the uncool wouldn't have been able to imagine existing. I guess that's where this whole AfAm appropriation theme comes in.

Has anyone read Dandies: Fashion and Finesse in Art and Culture? I feel like this gets at it too. When I think of "cool," I don't think of high-school cafeteria having-the-right-jeans kinda cool, I think of out-behind-the-cafeteria-wearing-the-perfect-battered-Chucks kinda cool. Which I feel like was what OtR was really trying to convey, though I guess this isn't a universally held opinion.....

Talking about "cool" isn't very cool!

I'd love to flip through this dandies book and find something of dubious relevance to this topic, but right now I'm trying to put together a cover letter. It's for a job that requires writing experience, of which I have none! Too bad you can't put Bookface on your resume. These hours typing nonsense should add up to a job.

Jessica Also, Paul, I don't think hippies were ever cool.

No offense.

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