Monday, November 9, 2009

Relative Reads Review - On the Road

I was given the great fortune of growing up in a family of readers. Both of my parents read, and so do the majority of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. In fact, my Great-Grandma had cataract surgery in her 90's, because she couldn't bear to not be able to read. I thought it would be interesting to read some of the books THEY have discovered and enjoyed over the years, so I asked them to send me some recommendations, and the fun began! I have a list of the titles various family members have suggested on the side of the blog, so if you want to see what will be coming up you can take a peek.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac (read inspired by Uncle Jim)
published 1957
310 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

On the Road chronicles Jack Kerouac's years traveling the North American continent with his friend Neal Cassady, "a sideburned hero of the snowy West." As "Sal Paradise" and "Dean Moriarty," the two roam the country in a quest for self-knowledge and experience. Kerouac's love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz combine to make On the Road an inspirational work of lasting importance.

My thoughts:

Those of you who have read my Relative Reads posts before might notice a difference from past installments - this book isn't recommended by a relative, but INSPIRED by one.

This summer at the lake, as I was pestering everyone for book recommendations, I started talking books with my Uncle Jim. He mentioned that he had recently read On the Road, but that he hadn't been that impressed with it. When I asked why, he said he thought it was because so much of the book mirrored his own life as a young man that it just wasn't that interesting for him. Well, obviously that peaked my interest - my uncle used to be a beatnik??!!? So he graciously sent me his copy of the novel, and I have to say, it was an interesting reading experience.

I have to be honest and say that stream-of-consciousness narratives are difficult for me to read. I'm sure it's part of my own dislike of feeling "out of control", but the lack of structure often makes it a challenge for me to keep track of the actual story. I think perhaps it's a higher-level mental skill that I just never developed. Anyway, that narrative style made this novel a struggle for me.

That being said, I'm glad I worked my way through, because I get why it was such a mind-blowing story for its time - this was probably the first articulation of the idea that life's too short, so grab as much of it as you can, as fast as you can, and don't worry about the consequences. Dean Moriarty is a true larger-than-life hero, and the relationship between Dean and Sal is full of passion and complexity. And, despite my struggles, there were moments in the narrative that made me stop and catch my breath - here are some of my favorites -

"We turned at a dozen paces, for love is a duel, and looked at each other for the last time."

"A pain stabbed my heart, as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world."

"Why think about that when all the golden land's ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you're alive to see?"

"I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn't know who I was—I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I'd never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn't know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn't scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost. I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future."

I found this video of Kerouac reading just a bit of his novel, and the meter of the narrative became apparent. I almost think hearing this novel aloud might enhance it for me - now if I can just find a good audiobook version.

This was certainly an experience. It's fascinating to put my uncle in the place of Dean and Sal - I've only heard a few of his stories, but I'm pretty sure he could write a book that would rival this one. I don't know that I can recommend On the Road, but I don't regret the reading of it myself.

Finished: 10/22/09
Source: on loan from Uncle Jim - thanks!
Rating: 5/10

This book counts toward:


Andi said...

I tried reading On the Road a few times, but I was unsuccessful because the style kept throwing me off. However, I did eventually listen to it on audio, and I had a much better time that way. The copy I listened to was read by--of all people--Matt Dillon! He did a great job, and while it was still tiresome in spots, I really appreciated the book even if I won't be revisiting it any time soon. Great post, Eli.

I'm so not a blogger said...

I loved this book. Could of been the time period that I read it,I was a teenager and travelling(well sort of) and i found it quite inspiring.

Aarti said...

I must admit that On the Road is one of those classics that has never really appealed to me. I agree that stream of consciousness can also be REALLY hard!

Zibilee said...

I am not very fond of stream of consciousness writing, so I have avoided this book for a long while. I really would like to give it a chance, especially after reading through some of the quotes you posted, but I am not sure how successful I'd be. Great review on this one. I will have to mull it over some more and decide if it would be for me.