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Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957-1958 Paperback – June 1, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; First Printing - First Thus edition (June 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141001879
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141001876
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 4.9 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,488,653 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

They met in early 1957, eight months before the publication of On the Road made Jack Kerouac the most famous young writer in America. Some of the bitterest, saddest letters Kerouac wrote to his 21-year-old lover, Joyce Glassman, reveal the personal cost of the hysterical media attention that followed. Yet their early correspondence shows a side of Kerouac not always evident in his fiction: tender, spiritual, and supportive of Glassman's efforts to write her first novel. Now known as Joyce Johnson, she supplements the text of their epistles with commentary whose sensitive, rueful tone will be familiar to readers of her memoir, Minor Characters. The loving but independent air she assumed in her letters, Johnson notes, came from painful rewriting to eliminate all hints of hurt or need; as he wandered in and out of her life, Kerouac kept reminding her he didn't want to be tied down, even as he urged her to come visit whatever city he'd alighted in. Spiced with marvelously evocative period slang like dig and swing, and references to friends such as Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, this poignant epistolary record of a 22-month love affair also brings to life an exciting moment in American cultural history, when the Beat writers gave "powerful, irresistible voices to subversive longings." --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In a hip, literate correspondence marked by high diction and '50s slang, 21-year-old Johnson (born Glassman) and 35-year-old Kerouac chart the flowering of the Beats and their complicated love affair. An initial matchmaking move by Allen Ginsberg led to Johnson's and Kerouac's first meeting in Greenwich Village, followed by 22 months of romance, withdrawal and, eventually, friendship. Through her understated commentary and narrative links, NBCC-Award winner Johnson (Minor Characters) provides tender insight into Kerouac's troubles, particularly his unease at becoming the Beat spokesman with the 1957 publication of On the Road and his "convoluted attachment" to his mother, Memere, which made it impossible for him to sustain relationships with other women. Johnson's presence throughout makes the story hers--that of a sheltered Barnard grad who considered writing "an illicit and transgressive act" and who must have found in Kerouac a kindred soul. Yet it was her desire for a more lasting union than Kerouac would give that led to their breakup: "'You're nothing but a big bag of wind," she told a dallying Kerouac, and left. Although the Kerouac romance dominates the text, the author's brief description of her happy marriage to James Johnson, which ended with his death in a motorcycle accident, puts the affair in perspective and shows readers a greater reason for the sadness that suffuses the book. First serial to Vanity Fair; 3-city author tour. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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I was also the little girl who wanted to snoop in everyone's closets, and yes - read your diary, so this book held my fancy.
Amy Hamilton
With the possible exception of the late Carolyn Cassady ("Heartbeat" and "Off The Road") Johnson presents a great deal of insight into Kerouac's character.
Lawrence D. Zeilinger
She is so amazingly insightful and humble and has this ability to tell a story without being competitive or passive aggressive.
Patti Linnell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Kristine I. O'Daly on June 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In Doors Wide Open, Joyce Johnson has accomplished the seemingly impossible--expanded both historically and emotionally on her award-winning memoir, Minor Characters, illuminating with even more candor and care her relationship with Jack Kerouac. We readers are the beneficiaries of both her legal freedom and personal willingness to continue her story. With so much dubious scholarship and questionable intention to be found in books on Kerouac and the beats, from an assortment of writers claiming to be "insiders," Johnson provides a voice both vulnerable and true as she returns to a time and place she remembers perhaps as well as anyone still living. In her correspondence with Kerouac at a pivotal point in both of their lives, we bear witness to the twin agonies of genius and celebrity, and glimpse through a lens of most tender intimacy the very real people behind the mythology that so swiftly became the beat movement. Highly recommended.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Ted Ficklen on June 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Almost 30 years after his premature death, we are just beginning to see Jack Kerouac objectively as an artist. Joyce Johnson's collection of letters shows a side of Kerouac more like Big Sur than On The Road--he's not so much the travelling hipster as the thoughtful artist. Kerouac never quite got to the point in his artistic development where he pleased himself with his own writing. He was always ambitious and always frustrated with words. He was hammering out a new style of prose, but much of his audience seemed unaware of his influences. There were too many readers out there who just wanted to be beatniks and not enough who had read Thomas Wolfe and Theodore Dreiser and the others who inspired On The Road.
The Selected Letters of Jack Kerouac as edited by Ann Charters now take up two volumes. I have not compared those two books with the proof I read of Doors Wide Open, and I do not know whether there is any overlap, but I enjoyed Joyce Johnson's collection. There are not enough female voices among what we call the Beat Generation, but hers is a complement to Kerouac. I think their relationship inspired him to open up in ways he could not to others. This is a great addition to Johnson's earlier memoir, Minor Characters, which was published more than ten years ago. It is good to have the Kerouac letters, but it is a fine thing to see this woman come out of the shadows and find her own voice after all these years.
When can we expect Joyce Johnson's first novel?
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amy Hamilton on August 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
If you ever felt disconnected to yourself - this is a great read. I was also the little girl who wanted to snoop in everyone's closets, and yes - read your diary, so this book held my fancy. It is a wonderful book about a woman in the 1950's (who could have been in the 1990's) who was struggling to BE in New York City. She was struggling to be a writer, a friend an artist and herself. I found Joyce Johnson's voice honest and sensitive and this book made me want to go read her novels - not Jack Kerouac. If you have ever loved anyone you suspected was just too cool for you, this book will also be meaningful, you see how that cool person may be suffering their own provate torments as Jack was.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David A. Bede on August 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
For anyone interested in the lives behind the novels and poems of the Beats, Joyce Johnson offers a priceless glimpse at the realities of a world most of us can only imagine. Delineating a love affair that was short but tremendously influential on both of them, Johnson reveals something of her own personal growth during a time when being a young woman on her own was an act of rebellion in itself, as well as the impact of sudden fame and fortune on Jack Kerouac's already fragile psyche. Although the insensitivity to Johnson that shows through in Kerouac's letters to her will come as no surprise to those who are already familiar with his personality, his letters do feature a rare directness with one who knew him well. If his carelessness with money and women and his blind devotion to his mother remain as striking as ever, both his letters and Johnson's interpretation of them give us something of a better understanding of how these characteristics came into being.
Along the way, there are images aplenty of the stage the affair played out on: beatnik parties, Village pubs and restaurants, jazz concerts, and New York suburbs back when they were distinguishable from the city itself. Other important figures, notably Allen Ginsberg, appear throughout the text in candid shots we would never find in their own work. Johnson discusses them all in the style of one who knew them personally. For this reason among others, this book is not a very good starting point for learning about the Beat Generation, but it is an excellent complimentary piece for anyone who already has some familiarity with and interest in that era.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Roxana Kahale on November 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Joyce Johnson's reminisence of her love affair with Jack Kerouac is a bittersweet tale of her passion for Kerouac, the insecurities involving the relationship, the interaction with many of the beat generation characters, such as Allen Ginsberg, the saga of the Orlovsky brothers, the end of Elise Cowen often mentioned in beatnik reviews. Particularly touching is her description of the last time she saw her lover and his coming back into her life and memories, through the package of letters delivered by Kerouac's estate.
Through this book we get to know more about Kerouac the man, the son, the struggling writer and the fascination of a young woman living alone in New York in love with the persona and gloomy side of the writer. It is highly recommendable
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