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When I Was Cool: My Life at the Jack Kerouac School (P.S.) Paperback – February 1, 2005


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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (February 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006000567X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060005672
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,140,114 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With characteristic modesty, writer Kashner opens his memoir with a caveat to readers: this isn't an encyclopedic history of the beat generation. Rather, it's his own story of how it felt to leave home and learn to be a poet by hanging out with the great beat poets, albeit in their more gentled phase (past their road-tripping days, but still full of "crazy wisdom"). It was 1976 when Kashner, a fresh college dropout, decided to follow his dream and apply to the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, a yet-to-be-accredited division of the Buddhist Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colo. As their first (and for a while only) student, Kashner's assignments included finishing and typing Allen Ginsberg's poems; preventing Gregory Corso from scoring heroin; cleaning the home of their guru, Rinpoche; and mediating between William Burroughs Sr. and Jr., not to mention attending the odd lecture. Kashner undertook all this weirdness with fretful earnestness-e.g., forever worrying that Ginsberg would attempt to seduce him, that Corso would shoot up and he'd be branded a failure, that the school wouldn't get accredited and his parents would regret letting him go there, and that his lack of poetry expertise would be discovered by his teachers. Were this just the saga of an innocent in beat bohemia, Kashner's chronicle would be merely amusing, but his genuine love for his crazy-wise mentors makes this a curiously affecting coming-of-age story. 8-page b&w photo insert not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Novelist and poet-at-heart Kashner has produced a kind of Almost Famous coming-of-age story both about the beginning of his life as a writer and about the end of the Beat generation of writers. As the first student in Naropa's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets, Kashner unwittingly walks into an environment of "crazy wisdom" (the extreme following of desires) as promulgated by Tibetan Buddhist meditation teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (as if Ginsberg and the other Beat leftovers needed a reason to explore all things sensual). A young Jewish boy without much life experience, Kashner is the perfect witness, simultaneously in awe and aghast. This memoir retraces Kashner's awakening to the very human flaws within his mentors and himself. Kashner is no Beat apostle or name-dropping "I knew them when" so-and-so. Instead, he's an honest, sensitive, and funny storyteller, a perceptive observer who sheds light and shares discovery with his readers. His memoir is about enlightenment, the kind that comes from looking back with compassion but with eyes wide open. Janet St. John
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

It is fun to read.
Laura Lynn
These, especially his movie references, clarify and amuse, which is certainly Kashner's goal for this sweet and funny book.
Ethan Cooper
He didn't offer any clues as to how he remembered so much, which left me wondering how accurate it all is.
C. Jansen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Mimi Pond on February 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I vote this FUNNIEST BOOK OF 2004. Besides Kashner thrilling us with his fly-on-the-wall memories of hanging with the Beats, it's also a window into that screwy, throw-all-the-rules-out era known as the 1970's. There's a deadpan, screamingly hilarious observation of the young and naive Sam Kashner, a Candide of the Rockies, on every single page. Beyond the laughs are incisive observations about our most famous Beatniks, their neuroses, their addictions, and the price they've paid for fame. It's the perfect book for anyone who was once a tortured high school poet who thought life could be perfect, if only they could hang out with real Beatniks. Buy this book!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Issa on April 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
When I first heard of "When I Was Cool", I thought, Great, yet another person cashing in on the Beats. But I finally picked it up for some of the same reasons Kashner went to Naropa -- I'm still interested in the Beats, if (like Kashner) no longer quite entranced.

"When I Was Cool" is funny, full of heart and candor and (somehow) not at all pretentious (no one who admits Corso scared him enough in a backwoods cabin to make him cry and run fleeing back down to Boulder could be too concerned with trying to make himself look good -- not even ironically).

Other reviewers have complained among other things about "obscure literary references." There are none. The closest we come is when Kashner himself admits to dropping one to impress Burroughs and Ginsberg -- and the point of his story seemed to have been precisely how sort of pathetic it was that he'd do such a thing. Another reviewer, complaining of inaccuracies, wrote "*Jim Carroll's "People Who Died" isn't about his friends who died of heroin overdoses, it's about friends who died in a variety of ways", which is pretty much exactly what Kashner had written in the first place: ". . . 'People Who Died,' a necrology of all the friends Carroll had lost, SOME to heroin" (my emphasis) [pg. 138]. And to the reviewer who suspiciously wondered how Kashner could've possibly remembered whole conversations from so long ago: he was an aspiring writer living among his gods, which is to say you know he wrote EVERYTHING down.

One thing that Kashner did get wrong, however, was referring to Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche as "the leader of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism" (pg. 53). Trungpa wasn't the head of Kagyu, and it's kind of a big deal to say so.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Richard Wells on February 7, 2006
Format: Paperback
There are a lot of things to like about Sam Kashner's coming-of-age memoir, "When I Was Cool." First: Mr. Kashner wasn't cool and probably knows it. Second: he doesn't go through detox or recovery. Halleluia! A memoir without a recovery center or AA meeting. Third: his affection for these old lions, of whom only Peter Orlovsky is still with us. Fourth: the look at their everyday lives, from hemorrhoids to the keystone cops comedy of The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Fifth: Mr. Kashner's long suffering, very cool, and funny parents. And Sixth: Mr. Kashner's teenaged, wide-eyed, intimidated, growing-up self.

Its not the last book that will be written about Naropa or any of the characters, but it's the only book written by the first (and for a long time only) student of the Kerouac school, and is sometimes lovely, often funny, and very easy - it's "a report of an intimate nature," i.e., gossip.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Ethan Cooper VINE VOICE on August 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Many of us enjoy the poetry and literary works of the Beats. Probably more admire the Beats for their willingness to take on the cultural establishment and conformist society of the Fifties. But, what were Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, William Burroughs, and Peter Orlovsky like as people? This, Sam Kashner tells us in this gentle and humorous rendering of these Beats, which is set in 1976, when they were famous middle-aged (or older) men and on the faculty of The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics (don't ask) in Boulder, Colorado.

So, what exactly were these men like? For a quick answer, read the chapter in which Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso, and Orlovsky take Billy Borroughs, the son, to the doctor. Anyone who has run a pointless errand with eccentric relatives will recognize the dynamic. They don't, by the way, get treatment for Billy but they respond to his wishes and leave him, feverish and alone, at a bar. Who says the Beats were self-absorbed?

I also give Kashner high marks for style, particularly for his skilled use of images from popular culture. These, especially his movie references, clarify and amuse, which is certainly Kashner's goal for this sweet and funny book.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By C. Jansen on April 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As the first poetry student at the Jack Kerouac School for Disembodied Poetics, Sam Kashner had an opportunity to write about some wonderfully unique experiences. Unfortunately, the book just isn't very well written.
There were three main things that bothered me about the writing.
1) The chronology was inconsistent. I had a very hard time keeping track of when things were happening, and often in the space of a few pages the description of events was out of order.
2) There are quite a few obscure (for me at least) movie and literary references. Because I hadn't seen the movie or read the book, I couldn't relate to the reference.
3) The author had a tendency to go off on tangents in the middle of telling a specific story, and then resume the original story. It was hard to follow what was going on.
One other issue I struggled with is how the author was able to remember very specific things that occurred almost 30 years ago. The book contains lengthy word-for-word conversations with the Beats, and I was often left wondering how the author could have remembered so much of these conversations. He didn't offer any clues as to how he remembered so much, which left me wondering how accurate it all is.
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