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Comment: Light markings and/or highlighting. Has a sturdy binding with some shelf wear. Worldwide shipping is available!
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Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir Paperback – July 1, 1999

4.6 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Johnson's 1987 NBCC Award- winning memoir of the 1950s and her relationship with Kerouac and other beats features a new introduction by the author.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"'This is the muses's side of the story, it turns out the muse could write as well as anybody.' Angela Carter 'Rich and beautifully written, full of vivid portraits and evocations... of the major beat voices and the minor characters, their women.' San Francisco Chronicle 'Minor Characters is an avowedly nostalgic portrait that captures the excitement, the strangeness and the often mis-directed and destructive energy of those lost days,' The Philadelphia Inquirer 'Realistic rather than flamboyant, [Johnson] succeeds in portraying the Beats not as oddities or celebrities but as individuals.' The New Yorker" --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; unknown edition (July 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140283579
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140283570
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #466,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. Ebeling on November 29, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Joyce Johnson's memoir of emerging from an overprotected childhood and landing at the center of the Beat movement in the 1950's is a delight whether you choose to read it for its portrait of Jack Kerouac, for the world that was, or for the inner journey it reveals. It is a fine literary performance. Johnson plays with tense and perspective as if they form a telescopic lens sliding the past out of a fuzzy black and white still photograph into a vivid, colorful present. There is a suspenseful tension to the book from which flows a novelistic structure, never, though, at the expense of truth. Johnson gets down like no one else how it is to carry around that overprotected childhood, to always feel that you could be missing something, that the center has yet to be achieved. Her inner struggle matches the themes of the Beats who are seeking the pure experience of being through their music, their talk, their drugs and alcohol, their lovemaking, their travels and their poetry. She nails the paradox of a quarry that can never sit still, whether it is a person, like Kerouac, or her friend and guide into the Beat world, Elise Cowen, both of whom eventually disappear into their demons. She captures the loss of balance when counterculture is encroached upon by the mainstream. She manages to convey all this without telling, just through showing the events of her life. Johnson is wry but never bitter, she takes full responsibility for her own choices and actions. This is a book that invites the reader to share the wonder that this was all, indeed, real.
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Format: Paperback
This is an extremely well-written memoir about the college (and following) years of a young woman who happens to fall into the middle of the Beat circle in the early 1950s. The author comes off as a very sympathetic character, and, when I closed the book, I was sorry that Joyce had not continued the story for a few more years.
I was struck by how much the intellectual world has changed in the last half-century: In 1950, the cultural avante-garde could be found (almost by definition) only around some Ivy League schools (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, etc.), a couple of midwestern schools, and, I guess, Stanford & Berkeley. Today, "place" is not nearly so important.
This is a very nice book. If you've gone to the trouble of getting to this page, you ought to take the next step and read the book; you won't be disapppointed (although you may continue to wonder just why the beatniks faded away in the early 60s).
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By A Customer on May 10, 1999
Format: Paperback
As a long-time reader of Beat literature, and as a man, I must say that Joyce Johnson's take on those heady, wine soaked days of poetry and madness is absolutely as good and as necessary as anything Kerouac or Ginsberg or any of the more famous (male) crew ever wrote. For my money it's right up there with On the Road.
I guess I've read this book three or four times now and it never gets old.
I also recommend Ms. Johnson's novel, In the Night Cafe, another skillful invocation of the Beat period.
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Format: Paperback
I picked up this book because a friend recommended it. The Beats had never much interested me except as a movement. I didn't much like the the literature or the adulation that surrounded them. But this is primarily a book about Joyce Johnson and her experience with the Beats. She has a real talent for evoking a specific time and place and giving readers a sense of what it was like to be part of this mileu. She makes going for a cup of coffee in Greenwich Village seem incredibly exciting. This is not the story of a Beat groupie yearning to hang out or sleep with famous men but rather Ms. Johnson's coming of age. The Beats are an important part of that story but not the whole story.
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By A Customer on July 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
Wow. This book did more for me than I expected it to. I picked it up for the same reason many others probalby did - because of my interest in Kerouac. But Johnson is not telling his story, she is telling hers. And, despite obvious difficulties and social aspects that let us know it is the fifties, it is really a timeless story, something that can be identified with today. She has put into words what every female person who feels like they don't quite belong in the society in which they grew up has difficulties articulating. I found myself talking to the book - "Yes, that's IT! Exactly." I read this book twice this month.
Her unique and fresh writing style should not be overlooked either. She wrote this book at a good time in her life as well, it is reflective and filled with the insight and intelligence of years and experience.
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Format: Paperback
I first read this book in a community course on the Beats. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to use it in a coming of age course I teach at my high school. Johnson's perspective is clear and fresh, and I found myself admiring her courage. At a time when women too often felt pressure to become June Cleaver, Johnson took some personal and professional risks, and although some were probably foolish, you appreciate her willingness to live her life her own way.
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Format: Paperback
Joyce Johnson's title "Minor Characters" refers to her book's focus on the women who loved, dated, married, fought, and partied with the major male figures of the Beat Generation, including Kerouac, Ginsburg and Burroughs. Joyce herself was Jack Kerouac's girlfriend for a while around the time that his classic "On the Road" was published. It's a shame that the Kerouac connection seems to always be used to push this book, because Joyce was not Jack's girlfriend for all that long, he was absent for a lot of that time and on top of that, her story is interesting, exciting and poetic in its own right even if she'd never dated him.

Joyce recounts how she escaped an overprotective and oppressive childhood that makes the reader wince, as her parents pry into her private life and grill her on her (nonexistent) activities with boys, when they aren't pushing her to become a pianist instead of encouraging her obvious love for and gift of writing. Joyce's efforts as a young teen at fitting in and belonging to the burgeoning Bohemian scene are very relatable to any young girl who's drawn to an exciting new creative world, full of older and potentially dangerous men that are definitely not OK to bring home to Mama. Along the way, Joyce meets and befriends Elise Cowan, another early Beat muse who unlike Joyce comes to a sad end, and Hettie Jones, the wife of poet LeRoi Jones, and she devotes some time to telling each of their stories as well as her own.

I pretty much liked all the women in the book much better than the men before the story was over, but I don't think that was because the author was pushing a feminist agenda.
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