on August 18, 2007
Somehow I imagined the scroll to be an incomprehensible mess that editors had to sift through in order to create something that could be published as a novel. I was very far from the truth.
The Original Scroll is an example of excellent writing. Yes, it's missing paragraphs, but the style is sharp like a knife's edge. Kerouac's text has power to concentrate reader's imagination and then send it flying into a thousand of directions at once.
I think I actually prefer the scroll to the classic editions of On the Road. The scroll feels very real and easy to understand.
on August 19, 2007
On the Road - the original road trip. The book that took the Beat movement mainstream and fused literature and the youth culture inextricably in the 50s and 60s - presented here as the legendary scroll manuscript Kerouac initially produced. It's readable and electric. The act of reading this familiar and envigorating story anew makes it fresh again. The differences are small (in the scroll Kerouac uses real names instead of of the pseudonyms used in the published novel; the scroll is sexier and feels a bit edgier and more breathless) - but enough to make me experience it in a raw new way. Kerouac's quest for Cassady is a story that puts me in touch with what life's all about: freedom, friendship, creativity, partying, love - and the wanderlust questing nature of the human soul. It's never been more needed - or more pertinent.
This is a great way to reconnect with this great classic. If you've never read it, I wouldn't hesitate to read this over the published one. This version makes it easier to reconnect the novel's/memoir's action with history. Highly recommended
on August 25, 2007
The 50th anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road" is commemorated by the release of three major volumes. They are a designated 50th Anniversary edition; "On The Road: The Original Scroll", the long-awaited controversial release of the uncensored 120-foot alleged "teletype roll" on which Kerouac blazingly blasted out his masterwork in just three weeks, six years before its publication; and a handsome Library of America edition, "Jack Kerouac: Road Novels 1957-1960", edited with textual notes by historian Douglas Brinkley, featuring Road and four other of his best known novels along with selections from his journals. (See separate review).
Whether this literary blitz will lead to a grand revival of interest in Kerouac's work by both old and new generations has yet to be seen. But it secures his reputation as a major American writer because his voice resonates with the great poignant prose of Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, and John Steinbeck, celebrating the wonders and adventures of youthful travels on the open road. In the book's first major favorable review, Gilbert Millstein of The New York Times praised "On The Road" as being to the Beat Generation what Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" was to its precedent bohemian Lost Generation.
Millions of readers and generations of authors have been influenced by the "On The Road", typically discovered by readers in their adolescence. Almost everyone who has read the book remembers when and where they first encountered it, the way one indelibly recalls the loss of virginity.
Praise for Kerouac's work is far from universal. Many academics, critics and other writers dismiss him as a primitive and pretender, his writings merely ramblings of a drunken bum, and already are expressing displeasure at his being included as an author worthy of the high-brow Library of America collection. Truman Capote, an early inductee into the series, famously scoffed of Kerouac's prose, "It isn't writing. It's typing." But like his detractor, "On The Road" and Kerouac's other books have withstood the great test of time.
It has been known for decades Road was begun in 1948. Rough draft segments of Road are found in Kerouac's journals he kept since a youngster in his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, now collected and edited by Brinkley in the recent book "Windblown World".
Before the long-delayed publication of "On The Road" in 1957, what commonly is referred to as the full "first draft" was typed out at 100 words a minute during three weeks in April 1951 on a 120-foot length of paper often called a "teletype roll". It is one long, single-spaced, unbroken paragraph. Some say Kerouac wrote it on a Benzedrine binge; others point to a letter Kerouac wrote to Cassady saying it was just "coffee" that fueled his mind. While there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that speed really was the driving factor, in the end, this is just more pieces of minutiae and trivia permeating the Kerouac mythology, and really doesn't seem to matter.
In 2001, the original scroll was purchased at a Christies' auction in New York by Indianapolis Colts owner James Irsay for $2.43 million, a world record for a manuscript. After his successful bid, the following day Irsay allegedly was offered twice the price for it, and has said that he was prepared to pay as much as $10 million.
A good friend of Brinkley, Irsay dispatched his private jet to pick him up and accompany him to the auction as an "advisor". Irsay helped organize an extensive tour of the scroll, now encased in a long glass topped and sided table, with the scroll unfurled several feet and connected to two adjacent Torah-like cylinders which curators may occasionally carefully wind to reveal another segment of the text. It has been restored by adding backing and treating the front with a preservative. After a final tour date in 2009, Irsay plans to donate it to Lilly Library at the University of Indiana.
The "scroll" has hundreds of hand-written edits by Kerouac and many sections of lines deleted by cross-outs. John Sampas, Kerouac's literary executor, told MSNBC these would not be included in Viking's "uncensored" release. The original famous opening line of "On The Road" stating Kerouac first met Moriarty soon after Kerouac separated from his wife appears in Scroll recounting he first met Cassady after the death of Kerouac's father. The actual scroll ends abruptly, without the long, haunting Wolfeian paragraph closing the novel, pertaining to unsuccessful searches for Neal Cassady's father in Denver. The scroll was entrusted to his friend Lucien Carr for safekeeping, and Carr's dog chewed up the end. "Original Scroll" appendages a supposition of several pages in an effort to complete the manuscript and show its last words were close to the 1957 first edition. This was written by editor Howard Cunnell and is somewhat a leap of faith.
Sampas has claimed Viking's 1957 "censorship" was due to explicit references to sex and drugs. The "F" word was scratched out by Kerouac on the first page of the scroll text but interestingly does appear in The Original Scroll, although Sampas averred scratch-outs would not be included. The scroll was published despite potential libel problems involving characters' real names. Cassady and Ginsberg signed releases for their pseudonymous inclusion in Road. Neal Cassady's wife, Carolyn, who did not, lives in Great Britain, where libel verdicts are easier to obtain, and angrily denounced as a "travesty" plans to publish the scroll.
Four Kerouac scholars put Original Scroll together. Cunnell filled gaps and made calls on original deletions, corrected spelling, inserted paragraph breaks, and edited it for a more cohesive read. Cunnell, Joshua Kupetz, Penny Vlagopoulus and George Mouratidis wrote superbly insightful introductory background material and analysis, the book's first 97 pages.
An enduring question about the scroll concerns whether it actually was typed onto teletype paper. There are arguments for and against this. Carr, a news editor at New York's United Press International bureau, supplied Kerouac with teletype paper in the early 1950s. Some say the "scroll" was taped together in 12-foot segments.
Scroll examiners including Cunnell say portions of it have a scored line down one side, suggesting it may have been hand-ruled and cut to fit the platen of Kerouac's typewriter, indicating it was not teletype paper. However, Cunnell in Original Scroll also makes some errors, not the least of which is that the Burroughs house in Algiers was located next to a bayou. In fact it is about two blocks from the river and miles from the nearest bayou.
Brinkley in "Windblown World" acknowledges Carr gave Kerouac teletype paper, but refers to the scroll as "Japanese art tracing paper". In a 1979 New York Times article, Cassady biogarhper ("Holy Goof") William Plummer wrote that Kerouac "fed into his typewriter a bulky roll of Chinese art paper". The paper used also has been referred to variously as onion-skin, "nearly translucent", and as architectural drafting paper. Kerouac told fellow beat writer John Clellon Holmes that he planned to write the manuscript on "a roll of shelf paper."
In her bitter "Nobody's Wife", (2000), Kerouac's second wife Joan Haverty quotes him saying "'See what I found in that cabinet over there? This whole big roll of paper the same width as typing paper.'"
Gerald Nicosia's critical biography "Memory Babe" states Kerouac found "20-foot sheets of Japanese art paper" in the same apartment Kerouac shared with Haverty - whose previous tenant was her friend Bill Cannastra, beheaded in a subway accident. The apartment was in the same building as that of Carr. This may be Brinkley's "Japanese art paper" postulation source. Cunnell maintains the roll was taped together from eight pieces of very thin sheets owned by Cannastra.
After Kerouac presented the scroll to publisher Robert Giroux in 1951, unfurled it in his office and exclaimed "Here's my novel!" Giroux was shocked by the one long unbroken single-spaced paragraph and rejected it outright. Startled by the format and complaining printers would not be able to compose from it, Giroux said it "felt rubbery, like Thermo-fax paper."
The back dust jacket photo of "Scroll" shows Kerouac holding long, unfurled footage of a paper roll, connected to a large roll of paper, clearly not taped together. The book speculates that Kerouac used this particular roll for his second novel, The Dharma Bums.
The Road scroll now is yellowed with age the way foolscap or newsprint-type teletype paper degrades quickly due to acid content. While this continuing literary mystery deserves proper forensic examination, in the end, it too, really doesn't matter.
"On The Road: The Original Scroll" is well worth buying and reading, and ultimately, may appear to some (as initially it did to me) to be a better, more contextually significant book than "On The Road" as published that fateful day of September 5, 1957. The astute introductions alone are worth the price of admission and provide a rich history of the several drafts of the book ultimately published as Road. Reading the actual scroll text is a revelation worthy of the long wait and lends great insight into the factual material of the evolution of the subsequent drafts.
But after reading "Scroll", more than 35 years after I first encountered "Road", in re-reading the text of the common edition as we know it today, my feelings remain quite mixed. True died-in-the wool fans will undoubtedly at some point place both books next to each other so they can plainly see the differences. In some ways, the 1957 version is more easily readable, with its paragraph breaks, tighter more grammatical sentences, and the indisputable polish of a much-revised text more likely at that time to have garnered the public acclaim (and disdain) for its content. My penultimate feeling is the two books should not be compared for quality, and that each can stand on their own feet for what they are: Writings of a genius who is less significant for his description of "kicks" compared to the deep themes of the loss of his father and brother he sought to find in Neal Cassady, and, in later books, his pantheistic interwining of Catholic and Buddhist spirituality. The works of Jack Kerouac, like a grand old cypress tree refusing to break in a hurricane, have withstood ravages of the ages, and placed him amongst the immortals.
Published in 1957, this autobiographical novel by Jack Kerouac captured the spirit that was seething underneath 1950s conformity. Myth has it that he typed it non-stop for three weeks, using one long continuous sheet of paper. I understand it went through several drafts after that but it still holds the immediacy of that marathon typing session, the staccato rhythm of the words creating improvised rhythm across the page with little, if any punctuation.
The narrator, Sal Paradise, is on an epic quest, one that takes him back and forth across the country with Dean Moriarity who is based on the real-life Neal Cassady. Dean, the reform school escapee who specializes in stealing cars, is Sal's mentor. And it is the automobile that is their chariot, which keeps them constantly in motion. Dean's madness is glorified, as is his ability to do whatever he pleases. There are a lot of drugs in the book, but liquor seems to be their drug of choice. They leave the heroin for a character loosely based on the real William Burroughs. Women drift in and out of the story, usually as one of Dean's lovers who he treats terribly. Dean treats everyone terribly though, abandoning Sal on several occasions, once while Sal was suffering from dysentery while they were in Mexico. Sal, however, always forgives Dean, seeing him as a god-like hero, no matter what he does.
There's more to the book than the story though. The book is a trip, in every sense of the word. With the simple force of his writing, Kerouac took me on an adventure. With him I crisscrossed America, hitchhiking, walking, taking buses. With him I sat in a car driven by Dean Moriarity, speeding for hours at 110 miles an hour and not even thinking about a seatbelt. I met the pathetic women who loved Dean and didn't feel a bit sorry for them. I felt the quest in Dean's heart for his hobo father who he constantly searches for. And, I experienced the jazz, felt the heat and smelled the sweat in the many small bars, felt my head reel from the whisky and the sound all around me, stayed awake all night listening to sounds and being alone with the music in a room full of people. Yes, I felt I was there with the travelers, enjoying vicariously the thrills and the chills and knowing this would be my only entry into that world. Jack Kerouac eventually became an alcoholic and died an early death, but I'm personally grateful for this book he left behind and the experience of reading it. Highly recommended.
on January 17, 2008
On the Road, Jack Kerouac's epic of road travel and search for meaning in the late 1940s, was written in three weeks time, typed on a long scroll, which was really several pieces of paper taped together. Kerouac's writing has a stream of conscious, spastic nature, although it went through many years of revisions before being published. The story fictionally recounts true events in the writer's life, particularly those with Neal Cassidy (Dean Moriarty in the book), whom Sal, the Kerouac character, seems to have had an infatuated crush on. From New York to California and Mexico Sal drives, or rather rides, and comes across various characters and cities. The novel helped to launch the Beat movement and has influenced countless writers, artists, and readers alike, and has been deemed one of the best novels of 20th-century American literature. Significantly, it made America a literary subject.
I wanted to like this book. I really, really did. I was prepared to be blown away and taken on a literary adventure of meaning and wonder, excitement and energy. I read, and waited, to no avail. I read some more, but it soon became apparent that this would not be the book for me. Despite this, I grudgingly soldiered on and completed it a few days later than I had anticipated to (I usually breeze through fiction without struggle), as I continuously put it back on my shelf only to talk myself into trying again. I'm glad I did, but found that the book's legend is far more interesting than the actually story.
Split into four sections, each consecutive one involving a different road trip with more details and a shorter time-span, I found myself also becoming consecutively more involved as the book went on. The first section I found, unfortunately, tedious and little more than a listing of things he did and places he went. The following section was not as eye-rolling, and the third was tolerable. The fourth was actually interesting. There was throughout, of course, the occasional poetic and insightful passage, but they were few and far between and not really worth the effort to find. The most unfortunate flaw of the novel is that it is actually quite uninteresting. It would have made an intriguing (and bearable) novella, but its length feels frustratingly unjustified.
Furthermore, and this is no fault of Kerouac, the book is hardly what popular culture has touted it to be. The text is not rebellious, but actually quite conservative. It is not forward-looking, but nostalgic. The roads that the men travel upon are by the 1950s (the book was published in 1957) of little significance as Eisenhower was quickly building up interstate freeways. Kerouac's memoirs are really a sort of nostalgia for a disappearing era. And the characters, really, are hardly rebels. Instead they drift from place to place seeking excitement, only to find the same dull existence in each setting. In the second half of the book Sal begins to grow tired of the road, and of Dean, as he sees more and more of the same. Also, Sal often feels content to be a spectator rather than a participant, watching the antics of others from a safe distance. Truly, the men are misfits. In an age when men were expected to be unemotional, solitary bread-winners, Sal is thoughtful and sensitive, indeed, tenderness between men (not sexual, as that was omitted from the original draft) is an important aspect of the novel, and he is continuously asking his aunt (mother, in life), whom he still lives with, to send him money. In this way they were unique, disenfranchised maybe, but they were not rebelling against anything. Mostly they get drunk and try to get laid in a familiar fraternity style. The characters are lonely and insecure, not hipsters or nonconformists. Their journey is about a search for stability, not spontaneity. These are not criticisms of the novel, but merely observations, and are actually the elements that make story vaguely readable.
For all these reasons and more it is an important piece of Americana, and it is an interesting commentary for its time, about its time. However, great literature it is not. In fact, I can't bring myself to recommend that people spend their time going through Kerouac's thoughts, which usually amount to things being "mad," or his journal-like passages of events that tend to feel more like the notes he took about an account to be later revised into a yet-to-be-finished version. For another road story of the same period, published around the same time, take a detour and check out Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, which is phenomenal literature, rather than a literary phenomenon. Some may say it is a victim of its own hype, which nothing can ever live up to, but I've read some classics where that hype has been more than appropriate. Kerouac, the man and his book, is one that people tend to have very strong feelings about, either positive or negative, and perhaps he does speak to the heart of some readers. This reader, however, was unimpressed and unmoved. On the Road's importance today is more in what it symbolizes, rather than what it is.
Just a note this time. I will not try to repeat what others have so clearly stated. This version of the work with Matt Dillon is amazing. I really enjoyed his vocal version of Dean. The reading of the work is clear and precise and studio perfect.
I'm very happy that this has finally been put out unabridged. David Carridine put out a version through Penguin in the mid-eighties on cassette, that was really fantastic as well, but was, unfortunately, abridged. Carridine's Sal Paradise was truer to the vocal spirit of Jack Kerouac, almost imitating him it seemed, which you won't find Dillon trying to repeat. Nevertheless it's entirely absorbing.
Some people have complained about Matt Dillon's "sluggish" reading in places with the material. I disagree with this sentiment vehemently. I believe the emotional honesty which you can hear from Matt Dillon's voice, shows that not only does he know the material, has listened to Kerouac's and Burroughs's past voice recordings but grasps the larger meaning of the words themselves, which is the true point of the book. He intonates like Jack without trying to imitate him ... which would really be a sin.
Well worth the money and the time spent listening.
Thank you, Matt Dillon.
Thank you, Jack Kerouac.
on August 16, 2007
My review is about this particular release of the book, not the author's fine story itself.
Jack Kerouac's On The Road is a magnificent book I read every single summer. I already own a couple of well-worn paperback versions, along with the hardcover 40th Anniversary Edition, so as a great fan I could hardly wait to get my hands on this latest version, touted as the 50th Anniversary Edition; but imagine my dismay, then, when I found my new, much-anticipated purchase to be the exact same book as the 40th Anniversary Edition, except for a different dust-cover!
I guess I don't know what I was expecting...perhaps an expanded introduction, maybe additional pictures of, say, Kerouac, Cassady, Ginsberg. SOMETHING! At the very least, you might think there would be a change to the typeface, different paper used, or an alteration to the layout, but, no, NOTHING!
And when I get around to reading it, I bet I find the very same typos in the very same places.
Again, this is not a rant about Kerouac's masterpiece, which is perhaps my very favorite read; I'm simply expressing my disappointment in the 50th Anniversary Edition, which hasn't changed one bit in ten long years. It's still a fine release, however, one worthy of most anyone's library; but it could have been, should have been, made into something special -- something memorable and collectible.
They might have changed the dust-cover, but the editors failed to remove the dust for those of us who already own the 40th Anniversary Edition and were anxiously awaiting another, unique version for our bookshelves.
If you already own a copy of On The Road and desire something truly "different" to add to your Kerouac collection, try On The Road: The Original Scroll.
On the Road: The Original Scroll
on December 27, 2005
I first read this book when I was 17 yrs old in Austin, Texas. I promptly left on a 5 yr adventure back and forth across the country with a stay of no more than 3 months in any one home and no more than 6 months in any one city.
Obviously this one made an impression with its story of criss- crossing the nation. It's set in a time that I didn't really know that much about when I read it (late 40's , early 50's). I really knew nothing of the Beats and their ultimate influence on the counterculture of the 60s. This is a great story from the perspective of seeing the country in this era through the eyes of people influenced by the Great Depression and a World War. It is written in a language almost musical in nature.
One thing I noticed- I have read this book at least 10 times over the years. I re-read it last year, at age 30, and finally realized that these groups of characters are not good people for the most part. These guys I looked up to as a kid are really a bunch of misogynistic con men who lie, cheat and steal their way through life. I am puzzled how I could have missed this before other than due to Jack Kerouac's ability to make you understand and care for his characters and paint them in a very sympathetic light.
All in all essential reading for anyone interested in 20th century American Literature
on June 14, 2007
So I finally sat down and read "the legend," the book that has shaped the minds and lives of millions of artistes and pseudo-intellectuals over the past 50 years. Going into "On the Road," I assumed a book so legendary could only be one of two things: it was either going to be a five-star masterpiece, a life-changing book of indescribable beauty---or it was going to be a disaster, a wreck of over-wrought, pointless ramblings.
I wasn't expecting it to be both at the same time.
How can I describe "On the Road"? Have you ever been to a party where everyone is drinking and getting high, smoking weed and maybe doing a few other illicit drugs, and you're the only sober person? Do you remember how wildly entertaining all the other chemically-altered people are, how funny and silly and strange they are that first hour? And do you remember how, in the second hour or so, they started seeming less and less funny, and indeed even started to get on your nerves a little? And how, after two or three hours, you couldn't help but be thoroughly irritated at how LAME and STUPID everyone is, and GOD why didn't they realize it? That, in a nutshell, is "On the Road."
There's no point to this novel, beatniks be damned. It's just a series of stories about Sal Paradise (aka Jack Kerouac) and his journeys back and forth across the country with assorted friends, primarily his best friend Dean Moriarty (aka Neal Cassady). The characters never develop, they're the same people at the end of the book they are in the beginning, and no "goals" or "achievements" are ever realized (primarily because few are ever set). Indeed, there are a few passages where Kerouac almost seems to be needling the beat generation this novel both named and inspired. There are moments where he hints at how pointless and silly the characters' lives are, but never really delves too far into that thought.
The psychology behind the book is interesting, to me. There's more than a hint of self-loathing in some of the passages, and the way Sal Paradise self-sabotages his personal relationships is kind of sad (particularly his relationship with Teresa in the California farmlands). He is not a suave character, and has a knack for innocently saying exactly the wrong things.
Sal's idolatry of Dean is fascinating, too. Dean is a free-spirit, yes, but he's also basically a scum-bag: a serial philanderer, he stays with women only long enough to knock them up and start cheating on them. In one scene he seems particularly okay with the idea of smashing some guy on the head and stealing his money, and there are several parts in the book that display a latent pedophilia, his fascination with girls as young as nine, ten or eleven and his friends warning him not to touch them. Dean is portrayed both as a well-hung lout who can bed a woman in the time it takes most men to utter a pick-up line, but also as a "deep-thinker" fascinated with the mystical and unexplainable. He comes off, intentionally, as a madman, and his psychosis only seems to deepen as the novel progresses. But Sal's narrator-voice continuously paints him in adoring, nearly religious tones, referring to him as a metaphorical seraphim and even, one time, god.
The book is at its finest when it is dealing with people OTHER than the main characters in Sal's life. Passages dealing with the random people Sal encounters on the roads across America are the most brilliant in the book. These mini-portraits of Americana are terrific writing, aided greatly by Kerouac's skill with metaphors which he unrolls in long, unforced, breathless takes. Kerouac's writing style is quite good, and when he's observing the lives of these strangers the novel is a breezy, easy read. Unfortunately, he's far too enthralled with his friends---sad, directionless friends, one-trick-ponies who never change and whose actions become predictable by their very unpredictability---and by the end of the novel you're left wishing everyone would've just sobered up and gone home.
on August 9, 2011
I won't review the actual book here - it's a classic, the subject of many other books and college courses and I'm sure innumerable papers and critiques. All I'll discuss is what I thought of the format of the book as well as what I thought of this particular edition.
I was a little worried about the idea of long, unbroken scroll. I'm not a marathon reader, in fact quite the contrary, I tend to read in short bursts due to time constraints and eye strain. When I read about the "original scroll" version of On The Road, I was concerned that I would be turned off by the long, unbroken stream of words. That turned out not to be a concern, partly because the story is episodic even if it isn't formatted that way, and partly because it was a fairly easy read that moved in only one direction - there was very little referential content in the book. Given the names and a brief dossier on about 5 characters or so, you could pick this book up and start reading at any random page.
The book features several commentaries that place the book in historical, political and social context. This is actually crucial for the contemporary reader, because the book is like a time-capsule of a bygone era, and I doubt I would have understood it at all without some background. For a first time reader, these essays cheapen the experience somewhat, because you form an opinion of the book before you've read it. However, I suspect that, again for the modern eye, the prejudicial effect more likely works to offset the different culture in which the modern reader lives than it does to form the reader's impression of the book.
This book purports to be the original scroll, and it appealed to me to read the book Kerouac wanted to publish vs. the edited and censored work he ended up conceding to. Again, to my eyes, there was nothing shocking or sensational about the original - the publishers at the time disagreed.
My guess is that reading this edition is about as close as the modern reader can get to experiencing On The Road the way one of Kerouac's contemporaries would have. That is not to say that the experience is close at all - like seeing a technological advance from an earlier age, one wonders what all the fuss is about. For those wanting to read this famous work, and hoping to see it in the light of a bygone culture, this edition seems to serve that purpose well.