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Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters Hardcover – July 8, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. At times loving, at others blistering, sarcastic, often uncomfortably self-lacerating and intimate, these 200 letters, collected in a heroic editorial effort by Ginsberg biographer Morgan and independent editor Stanford, cover the years 1944–1963, the most fertile in the creative lives of Kerouac and Ginsberg. A disbelieving Ginsberg writes to Kerouac in 1952 that On the Road is unpublishable, while Kerouac asks Ginsberg to treat his magnum opus as the next Ulysses. Kerouac immediately praises Howl in 1955, and in return Ginsberg gives Kerouac the manuscript while recounting, like any hopeful author, how freebies have gone to Eliot, Pound, Faulkner. Throughout, the sometimes sporadic letter writing is filled with fragments of works in progress and pungent observations on the authors and publishing people who influenced them, from Dante and Gide to Malcolm Cowley and Sterling Lord. There also is plenty of gossip about Peter Orlovsky, William Burroughs, and others in the circle. A growing rift concludes the 1950s, as literary fame mixed with alcohol weighs on Kerouac, though these soul brothers reunite through letters of the early 1960s. On receiving GinsbergÖs work, Thelonius Monk exclaimed, "It makes sense." In its strange way, so does this intense and offbeat correspondence.
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From Booklist

In August 1944, Allen Ginsberg sends a letter to his close friend Jack Kerouac in care of the Bronx County Jail, where he’s incarcerated as a material witness in a murder case. So begins a profound 20-year correspondence about books, spiritual quests, sex, love, and the struggle for recognition. Morgan, author of The Typewriter Is Holy: The Complete, Uncensored History of the Beat Generation (2010), and editor Stanford showcase 200 high-voltage letters, most never before published, that embody the energy and psychic hunger that fueled the creativity of these giants of American literature. Ginsberg and Kerouac frolic and dive in the ocean of language, trading urgent confessions, bracing criticism, and mutual inspiration, using their passionate missives as proving grounds for their radical writing, core beliefs, and personal dilemmas. Here are intense inquiries into art, truth, and Buddhism; wild tales of narcotics, world travels, and their brother Beats, especially William Burroughs and Neal Cassady; and fresh insights into such seminal works as Ginsberg’s Howl and Kerouac’s On the Road. This incandescent collection deepens our understanding of an essential literary revolution. --Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; 1St Edition edition (July 8, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670021946
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670021949
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #742,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
One afternoon in 1944, two aspiring writers met in an apartment a few blocks from the Columbia campus in New York City. The younger of the pair was a 17-year-old poet from New Jersey named Allen Ginsberg. Skinny, bespectacled, and excruciatingly self-conscious, Ginsberg was instantly smitten with the other student -- a blue-eyed, 21-year-old, French-Canadian football player named Jack Kerouac.

Decades later, Kerouac would wryly recall that his first impression of Ginsberg was of "a lecher who wanted everybody in the world to take a bath in the same huge bathtub which would give him a chance to feel legs under the dirty water." After seeing the shy poet say goodbye to each step in his apartment building as he moved out, however, Kerouac recognized Ginsberg as a kindred spirit. Their creative alliance became the central axis of an ever-expanding circle of writers, artists, musicians, and fellow travelers that Kerouac christened the Beat Generation. Many of the authors lionized by academia during the post-war era have been forgotten (read any Conrad Aiken lately?) but the best novels and poems produced by this group - which eventually encompassed William Burroughs, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Diane DiPrima, Michael McClure, Anne Waldman and others -- still seem fresh, hip, and relevant.

The result is a Beat revival that has been ongoing since the '70s. A feature film based on Ginsberg's breakthrough poem "Howl" is coming out this September, featuring the hot actor of the moment, James Franco, in a nearly uncanny performance as the young Ginsberg in San Francisco. Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Son Volt's Jay Farrar recently teamed up for a Kerouac tribute called "One Fast Move or I'm Gone.
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Format: Hardcover
I respectfully disagree with the "greenhornet" review, which complains that Kerouac letters from this collection also appear in the Ann Charters collection. What "greenhornet" fails to take into consideration is the fact that Ginsberg's letters TO Kerouac are not included in the Charters collection, so you get no sense of the "back and forth" flow of the correspondence between these two literary giants and therefore miss (at least) half the story. This collection, however, shows how Jack and Allen's relationship changed over the years. I must say that I absolutely love this book. Check out this ecstatic Buddhist advice from Kerouac: (p. 308). "The mind has its own intrinsic brightness but it's only revealable when you stop thinking and let the body melt away. The longer you hold this position of cessation in light, the greater everything (which is Nothing) gets, the diamond sound gets louder...the transcendental sensation of being able to see through the world like glass, clearer...all your senses become purified and your mind returns to its primal, unborn, original state of perfection Don't you remember before you were born?"
Hooooo weeeee now, that's some cool advice Jack is giving Allen. Because Kerouac and Ginsberg are my two favorite authors, I've actually replaced (on my bookshelf) the Charter books with this collection.
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Format: Hardcover
I also absolutely love this amazing collection and wish I had an exceptional soul mate to collaborate with and share my innermost thoughts with like these two had in one another. There are so many ideas, delightful stories from places like bughouses, creative mini poems, literary references, truth, and glimpses into their lives and souls... I am having fun exploring their references each morning after a night of pure pleasure in the company of this book.
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By Lilly on December 29, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am a fan of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and just had to have this book. It is very interesting to see their letters to each other, and i loved the book so much that the pages are worn down by my paragraph- long annotations, and several sentences being underlined and joded down for reference. I actually don't even like reading too much, but Jack Keroucs and Allen Ginsbergs work's never fail to impress me. Great price, and great shipping!
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Format: Hardcover
Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters is a collection for fans who are well versed in Beat literature and all it's peripheral characters as there's very little biographical data given. I'm that fan. I never get enough of Jack and Allen, and this inside peak into their intimate relationship, which they both hoped would someday be published, was food for my soul. It was more than an intellectual relationship; it was more than two writers sustaining each other through all the long years of not getting published. It was soulful, spiritual twining. Jack was not always nice to Allen. At times he was down-right mean, and then there was this on Jan. 13, 1950:

"What is the mystery of the world? Nobody knows they're angels."

Followed a few days later by:
"Jesus, Allen, life ain't worth a candle, we all know it, and almost everything is wrong, but there's nothing we can do about it, and living is heaven."

"If we were not haunted by the mystery of the world, we wouldn't realize nothing."

The letters are full of "I love you, Allen," "I love you, Jack," especially towards the end, when Jack was caught in the downward spiral of alcoholism that eventually led to his death at age 47.

I felt every word.
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