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Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters: Volume 2 Hardcover – November 8, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The peripatetic urgency, Buddhist catchphrases and casual prose of On the Road (1957) and Dharma Bums (1958) made Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) the star of the Beat generation. Kerouac's "craft of spontaneous prose" (in Charters's words) let him use his letters as rough drafts for some of his autobiographical fiction. Devotees of those novels can troll for their favorite episodes among Kerouac's complaints, requests, loans, repayments, reports, retorts, rebukes and resolutions. "[W]hen I write a book it's just a chapter in the whole story," a 1960 missive to Neal Cassady explains, "but there wd be no literature in the world safe to say i would rather read than my own remembrance of things." Editor Charters (also Kerouac's biographer) uses her annotations and commentary to make the sometimes hasty, expressive missives cohere as an account of the novelist's life. A first volume of letters appeared in 1995; this second starts with the publication of On the Road and continues almost to the day Kerouac died. The years 1957-1960, the height of Kerouac's career, occupy more than half the volume. Later letters record his struggle to care for his ailing mother, his efforts to finish his later books and his troubles with money and health: "I drink more than ever, my hands tremble, I can't type." Frequent addressees and subjects include Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg ("I still think he's a false prophet, sheep's clothing and ravening wolf"). By turns witty, slovenly and empathetic, the letters provide a look into Kerouac's psyche and into the exhilarating, frustrating, ramshackle milieu he helped create. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Charters's carefully selected letters shed a revealing light on this self-analysis and his attempts to capture 'the objective beautiful sad ungraspable world as it is.' For Jack Kerouac's eternal admirers, the beat goes on." -- Memphis Commercial Appeal, January 9, 2000

"Selected Letters presents the bare, bleeding bones of jack undergoing his final tribulations... ." -- Valley Advocate, December 9, 1999

...moments of frank self-inquiry are rare, and gradually the reason becomes clear: menace and doubt confronted Kerouac whichever way he looked. -- The New York Times Book Review, James Campbell

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (November 8, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670861901
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670861903
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,907,938 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Good book. I knew that Jack had his problems later in his life but this book really shows that he got off track in the late 50's rather than the 60's. This book reads real fast in that you can't put it down. It reveals the relationships that Jack had with the other Beat Poets among other people. I recommend this book to all interested in Kerouac and the Beat Generation.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By C. Middleton on September 3, 2008
Format: Paperback
For any biographer or historian the original letters of the subject is a valuable and extremely important source of information in order to gain insight into the time period, and/or the person under study.

In part 2 of Kerouac's Selected Letters, the text truly gives the student or curious, a penetrating look into this enigmatic and ultimately tragic American author. For many, Jack Krerouac represents an important shift in American literature but also a significant historical (literary) mark of an entire generation. Ann Charters, (Kerouac's first biographer) editor of this volume, has done a pain-staking and beautiful job with this book - we come to know him as a man, the artist and his concerns; generosity, relationships; his struggle with the demon drink and, most importantly, the development of his unique prose style, leading to his now iconic status.

The letters begin in the year (1957) when "On the Road" was published. At this stage of Kerouac's life, from the tone and content of his letters, he is excited, finishing incomplete manuscripts, organizing "get- togethers', writing his publisher and working on new projects. As the years progress, sadly, his drinking accelerates, he becomes more and more misanthropic and, in the end, paranoid. It is true - it was the booze that killed his body but it was fame as an author that murdered his soul. More than likely, it was both.

Ann Charters suggests that these letters were experiments in style and possible new ideas for future projects, his friends perhaps 'sounding boards' where the reader can see his development of what is famously known as "spontaneous prose".

Kerouac was also a prolific poet. Some call his "novel", Mexico City Blues, one long, epic poem.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By greenhornet on April 5, 2011
Format: Paperback
It was always an annoyance to Jack that he wasn't considered one of America's "major" writers and hopefully the belated interest in the last years have done much to put that to rest. Kerouac was not only On the Road and the Dharma Bums. He wrote many wonderful novels... And some of his poetry, especially his haikus, I personally feel were top notch, little Emily Dickinson (as he himself would put it) gems. But what a sad, funny book this is! Boy, has any writer's decline ever been so well documented by himself? Jack certainly was a mess in the end, and I'm sure even he appreciated the Celine-like quality of his descent. "I'm fat, dejected, ashamed, bored, pestered and shot." -Dec. 1959. "Now look at me, I big [yes, I big] happy international wreck." -Dec. 1961. But fiesty: "I'm an artist, old-fashioned, devoted." -March 1957. But, Lord how sad! "And the months roll by, and turn into years..." -Jan. 1962. If anyone has ever been to Lowell, I feel you can appreciate the works even better. To think that Jack spent his latter years in a split-level home on a suburban street is in itself fantastically weird! The ricochetting back and forth between Florida and the Northeast becomes a maddening yearly migration. But what other major writer ever got a kick out of ordering the Encyclopedia Britannica? And actually sitting around and reading it? Out in the fenced-in, well-shaded yard? Sipping boilermakers? "I like it, I like it, I tell you I like it Literature." -Dec. 1965.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By kerouac's ghost on December 16, 2004
Format: Paperback
First, the recommendation is to read the companion book, and predecessor, Selected Letters: 1940 - 1956, before starting this one. Both books are really two volumes of the same story.

Those familiar with Kerouac's writing will recognize the characters, scenes and events from the letters as the basis for his groundbreaking novels. Via his letters, you get the unvarnished versions of the later quasi-fictional accounts (and the legend aside, Kerouac's novels were quite polished in their own way - no syllable written by accident). However, these letters (and the excellent non-intrusive editing/comments by Ann Charters) serve as the best biography (auto-biography) written about Kerouac (and I've read them all). Perhaps no person in literature experienced as many self-inflicted highs and lows as Jack Kerouac. He could go from the highest peaks to the deepest vallies from one letter to the next.

In addition, the ceaseless restlessness that gripped him his entire life has never been documented any better, or with more frustrating clarity, than in these letters. One day, Kerouac thrills at the prospect of a cabin in the woods in utter isolation(to get away from the partying New York scene); the next day he has plans to live on a commune type ranch with all his friends - or move to Mexico, or Colorado or San Francisco or any number of addresses on Long Island or Florida. Many of these moves he actually followed through on only to find, in very short order, that his urge to wander had returned. At these times you notice Kerouac dropping lines to friends outlining why his new paradise has been destroyed and how perfect the next paradise is going to be.
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