Nothing says summer like fresh watermelon! I found these at a market in the Hamptons.
How about cutting up a few slices and serving it up with ouzo?
Okay, by now you’ve probably heard about the six year old who guesses what classic novels are about based on their covers, but I can’t resist rehashing her cute take on this early On the Road cover:
“I think it’s about a car. A car that goes to Mexico, Indonesia and other places. It’s about a car that goes on all sorts of adventures. The guy on the cover is a teen, he likes to drive people places a lot. And he’s French.”
The cover she was looking at was the Signet 1958 edition. I love that she guesses that the book is an adventure in many places and correctly guesses Mexico is one of them.
The fact that she guesses the main character is French is so perfect. Of course, her guess is based on the drawing of a man in a Parisian-inspired striped shirt and scarf, which probably anyone would guess means the character is French.
Kerouac indeed was the son of French Canadian immigrants, but the kicker is that he’s usually thought of as either being very American or being anti-American. In the 1960s, beatniks were depicted as wearing black turtlenecks and berets. In reality, Kerouac didn’t wear a costume of striped shirts or black turtlenecks. If you look at most pictures of him, his clothes are nondescript. He wore a lot of t-shirts and flannel and overcoats.
That’s why it’s so fascinating to look at the 1958 edition from a historical perspective on the evolution of Kerouac’s image. As they’d do with any author, the publishing house tried to brand Kerouac. In 1958, the striped shirt and scarf flung over his shoulder imparted a worldly, European air, meant to invoke a bohemian vibe.
The only other edition published before that was the Viking 1957 edition. Of course, if you know about book publishing, you already know that Signet and Viking are both imprints of Penguin. The difference between these two covers, though, is starting. The cover of the first edition of On the Road, the Viking 1957 edition, was all black with a small rectangular abstract image in the center. Bouncing text announced the title. There was no image of a person or a car at all. And yet the book sold so well that by the next year when the Signet edition came out, the cartoony line drawing cover featured the ringing endorsement “This is the bible of the ‘beat generation.’”
It should be noted that this Singet cover not only featured the Frenchman, but in the background there was a woman in a bikini and a couple making out. Again, the publisher was trying to brand On the Road in a very specific way. The third incarnation of the cover design for the US edition of On the Road came in 1965 when the extraneous people were deleted from the design and just the Frenchman was left standing on his lonesome, without even a car. It lacked sex appeal, but someone must’ve liked it because two years later all the publisher did was switch from a cream colored background to a white background. The following year, 1968, saw a cover design of a cartoony couple embracing in a car. It marked a return to the sex theme.
Since then, the book has undergone many significant cover design changes, but what’s so interesting is that from the 1970s to the ‘90s the covers did not feature people at all. They returned to the more metaphorical design of the first edition, featuring variations of the sun or a car. It’s also worth noting that this was the time period in which Jack Kerouac fell out of popularity.
It wasn’t until Penguin released the 1991 paperback that the cover design included a people again. And this is where it gets really interesting. The romance angle is completely dropped and has not been seen in any US cover since the Signet 1968 edition. Now, the focus becomes about friendship—a bromance, if you will—and cool hipsters hanging out in gritty New York. The cover of the 1991 edition is a photograph of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, the real life inspiration for the main characters of the novel. The Penguin 1994 edition a collage of photos of Kerouac and his friends. The US doesn’t see another woman on the cover until the Penguin 2011 amplified edition, which again embraces the photographic collage style.
Other covers published between the ‘70s and today tended to be text only, feature landscape (with or without a car), or a picture of the lone traveler. They tend to be spectacularly uninspired and ugly.
In Germany and France, where the film version of On the Road has already been released in theatres, there are new editions with covers boasting the poster image for the film. Will we be seeing a US edition with the actors’ faces instead of Kerouac’s on the cover?
Which cover inspires you to read On the Road?
Last weekend was so perfect. The Poetry Society of New York held its annual New York City Poetry Festival, two full days of poetry, performance, creativity, and general amazingness out on Governor’s Island.
The last time I was at Governor’s Island, I was there to see She & Him — you know, the retro-tuned band with big-eyed Zooey Deschanel & M. Ward. I’ve gotten to the (cranky) age where the annual tradition of outdoor summer music concerts leave me fishing out sunblock and wondering why we can’t all sit down like civilized adults and listen respectfully to the music. The New York City Poetry Festival is kind of the Woodstock of poetry. It fits my temperament quite nicely because I’m allowed to just lay out in the grass, close my eyes, and listen to words that make me think and feel.
My friends and I packed a picnic lunch of hummus and baby carrots and smoked gouda and nectarines. We sat in wet grass in our sundresses and borrowed shirts. And we listened. And we considered not just the words, but the rhythm of the words. And we soaked it all in.
It was also great to see so many poets from The New School‘s MFA program there! I’m pretty picky when it comes to poetry, but I think so many of them are just brilliant.
I was quite impressed with the number of reading series that came out for the event. There was The Inspired Word, Cornelia Street, Patasola’s Parlor, New York Quarterly, and, well, two full days worth of other poetry series. For the complete list, click here.
The festival was, like any event, a mixed bag. Some poets were better than others. Some I came specifically to see, and others I had never heard of and went home and looked them up.
The New York City Poetry Festival was good for my soul.
Many summers ago, a couple of poets and I dragged some rickety chairs outside of the Bowery Poetry Club and sat in a circle, chatting about our writing, our day jobs, and life, as people passed by, sometimes stopping to talk to us. One of the girls in the group worked at a publishing house, like I did, and she offered to send us some of the books everyone in her office was buzzing about. About a week later, the package arrived, and I excitedly opened it. It’s been too many years to recall all that was in it, but I do remember it contained a book by Philipppa Gregory, which I in turn gave to another coworker because I have little patience for historical novels about the Tudor period—although I later saw her The Other Boleyn Girl on an airplane and enjoyed it—and Found.
Found started as a magazine that showcased notes, lists, drawings, and other miscellanea that readers found and sent in to the editors. In April 2004, they compiled the best of the best from the magazine and published the book Found: The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World. Having the book upped my coolness factor among the skinny hipster set I was hanging with at the time, and I began dating one of the guys. When Found’s founder, Davy Rothbart, published a short story collection called The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas, in 2005, I gave it to the guy I was dating.
I never read the book myself, but recently I read one of Rothbart’s short stories in the summer 2012 issue of The Paris Review, and it made me wonder if Rothbart might be my generation’s Jack Kerouac. While Rothbart lacks Kerouac’s poetry, they share an ear for dialogue, a captivating retelling of riding in buses and cars, an obsession with music, and an awkwardness with girls. In the short nonfiction story “Human Snowball,” Rothbart takes a Greyhound from Detroit to Buffalo to see a girl who isn’t quite his girlfriend yet or maybe ever and ends up in a carful of eccentric characters, including an ancient black man and a Neal Cassady-esque car thief. It may not have the sensory details that On the Road has, but “Human Snowball” captures characters with such honest and real details and dialogue that you feel like you know them. They’re beat characters. A little rough-around-the-edges, but sensitive and full of life.
In a bit of a Kerouac connection, actor Steve Buscemi, who stars in the film adaptation of On the Road, optioned the rights for Rothbart’s The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas. Rothbart himself is a chronic roadtripper. He’s traveled the country and toured with the punk rock band Rise Against, creating the documentary How We Survive for the dvd Generation Lost as well as the documetnary Another Station: Another Mile.
Headed over to mediabistro.com‘s kickoff party for its first-ever Literary Festival last week and had such a wonderful time catching up with friends in the industry and meeting new people! It was great chatting with Carmen Scheidel, who is so knowledgeable about the industry and great at connecting people with mutual interests. (She also happens to rock a great hairstyle!) She co-hosted the event along with Gretchen Van Esselstyn, whom unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to talk to this time around but who happens to be the person who turned me on to Goodreads. I don’t want to embarrass anyone who may be shy about having their names mentioned in a blog, but let’s just say I met designers, memoirists, world travelers, writing instructors, and freelance writers, all of whom had a love for the literary arts.
The party was held over at the Bubble Lounge in Tribeca (228 West Broadway), which had such an intimate atmosphere to it. It was all exposed brick walls, candle light, and art that transports you to another time.
I didn’t feel like cooking so I decided to check out mamagyro. Isn’t that such a cute name?! It’s fast-food Greek food on the Upper East Side.
mamagyro is at 1113 Lexington Avenue, New York City.
Donald Miller’s New York Times-bestselling book Blue Like Jazz recently was made into an indie film, and I had the opportunity to watch a screening in Times Square before the film was officially released on April 13. I’ve had the immense pleasure of meeting and getting to know some of the “characters” in the book. I was so proud of them! Penny Carothers wrote a beautiful article about her experience going to the premier and seeing an actress play her on the silver screen.
The film was very different than the book. I knew this going into it. The story of this process of turning a collection of essays from Blue Like Jazz into an actual storyline is told in Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. There’s a scene in A Million Miles when Don is told that he essentially needs to change his life story for the movie. He says:
“You think they might be bored if we just show my life the way it is,” I clarified. I guess I was asking for reassurance that my life was okay.
From the perspective of a fellow memoirist, I found the process fascinating. I think memoirists, particularly those who are in the process of turning their book into a movie, should consider reading Blue Like Jazz and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and then watching the film, just to get a sense of process.
After watching the film Blue Like Jazz, I can’t help but wonder what will happen with the film On the Road. After all, both are fictional portrayals of real life. If Blue Like Jazz is any indication, On the Road will be very different than the book. A guy I interned with years ago at the Bowery Poetry Club left a comment recently in response to one of my Facebook posts, saying that Kerouac wasn’t a good storyteller. In a way, I kind of agree with him. On the Road would seemingly make a lot more sense if it was just one big road trip across the United States. Instead, the protagonist, Sal Paradise, barely hits the road before he turns back around. There are multiple trips across the country, and the story can get a bit confusing because of that. Maybe Jack Kerouac was trying too hard to stick to the truth to combine all the trips into one. Then again, maybe he knew what he was doing. There’s something so much more telling about Sal Paradise failing his first attempt at road tripping and then frenetically ping-ponging between his mother’s house and the open road than if it had all happened easily, perfectly. Can the film capture that? Will it try? Will gaining cohesive action and a clear plot lessen the reality, the rawness, the beat-ness of life?
While I do recommend Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years for an honest look at not just the writing process but the process of living life, the Donald Miller book I’d actually recommend as an example of beautiful storytelling and craft is his first book, which was republished as Through Painted Deserts. This is the book that pays more attention to the way words sound as they roll of the page. It inspires because of its beauty and simplicity, and not because of grand, sweeping gestures and actions.
Through Painted Deserts is Donald Miller’s road trip book. Here’s how the overview reads:
This classic road trip tale will inspire readers of all ages.
Fueled by the belief that something better exists than the mundane life they’ve been living, free spirits Don and Paul set off on an adventure-filled road trip in search of deeper meaning, beauty, and an explanation for life. Many young men dream of such a trip, but few are brave enough to actually attempt it. Fewer still have the writing skills of Donald Miller, who records the trip with wide-eyed honesty in achingly beautiful prose. In this completely revised edition, he discusses everything from the nature of friendship, the reason for pain, and the origins of beauty.
As they travel from Texas to Oregon in Paul’s cantankerous Volkswagen van, the two friends encounter a variety of fascinating people, witness the fullness of nature’s splendor, and learn unexpected lessons about themselves, each other, and even God.
Through Painted Deserts is the modern-day, Protestant version of On the Road. It’s about a young man looking for truth out on the open roads of America.
PS::: You may also like:
my article on Church Hopping with Donald Miller
my article on Church Hopping with Penny Carothers
With Hemingway and Gellhorn currently on HBO and a remake of The Great Gatsby heading to theatres this Christmas, The Observer’s Daniel D’Addario ponders if we’re experiencing a “Lost Generation Boom.”
The Lost Generation refers to the writers during the World War I era, many of whom became expatriates. The Lost Generation writers include F. Scott Fitzgerald, T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and John Dos Passos, among others. Hemingway popularized the term in A Moveable Feast, in which he quoted Stein as telling him a story about a man who said, “That’s what you all are … all of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.”
D’Addario also references last summer’s Midnight in Paris, but in some regard, we’ve been experiencing the “boom” for quite some time now … at least in the cocktail scene. A few years ago, speakeasy-type bars became all the rage here in New York. Dimly lit lounges served up spiked punches in tea cups. There are also Jazz Age parties on Governor’s Island, where everyone gets all dolled up in fantastic flapper dresses and Sacque suits. And the Oak Room—which in the ‘20s was Algonquin’s Pergola Room—just reopened.
However, Hollywood isn’t only obsessed with the Lost Generation. The Beat Generation, which wasn’t popular for a long time, is beginning to see a revival. On the Road, based on Beat writer Jack Kerouac’s novel, just premiered at Cannes Film Festival in May and will be released Stateside sometime later this year. Next year, Kill Your Darlings, about a murder involving Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and others associated with the Beat Generation, will be released. In 2010, Howl, based on Allen Ginsberg’s poem and the trial that followed its publication, came out. These aren’t small movies by any means. Howl starred it-boy James Franco, Kill Your Darlings will star Daniel Radcliffe, and much has been made of On the Road starring Kristen Stewart.
Perhaps we’re trying to figure out our own generation by looking at those in the past.