Archive | May, 2013

From the Comments Section: Kerouac and Steinbeck

31 May

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If you happened to read the comments from my post Research, Research, Research, you saw me and author J. Haeske — of the fantastic photo tour blog Retracing Jack Kerouac and the book Anywhere Road — discussing why I had posted a photograph of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row while doing research on Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”

Hopefully, I did a decent job answering the question. I’ve written about Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck before, and I thought I’d use this opportunity to revisit the archives.

Ramblin’ Jack: Just Because You Don’t Like a Book, Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t Well Written — in which I write about how I used to hate Steinbeck

Big Sur and the Best Laid Plans — in which I talk about reading Cannery Row and offer some Steinbeck and Kerouac links

Overarching Writing Tips from Big Sur Writers: Don’t Censor Your First Draft — pretty much what it sounds like; includes tips from Kerouac and Steinbeck

Road Trip: The Salad Bowl of the World — in which I write about writers writing about Salinas Valley

Road Trip: Monterrey — in which I write about Kerouac and Salinas writing about Monterrey

Sweet Ride: Penguin Book Truck — I don’t mention in the article that Penguin published both Kerouac and Steinbeck

 

Do you see the similarity between Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck … or is it just me?

Sweet Ride: Penguin Book Truck

30 May

Talk about a sweet ride! Look what I spotted at BookExpo America:

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That’s the Penguin Book Truck. Here’s Penguin’s press release on it:

Penguin Group (USA) Launches The Penguin Book Truck And Pushcart

NEW YORK, May 28, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — Penguin Group (USA) announced today the launch of its first mobile bookstore: the Penguin Book Truck and the Penguin Book Pushcart.  Inspired by the long tradition of the library book mobile and the recent popularity of food trucks, this mobile bookstore is the perfect way to bring authors and books directly to readers.

The Penguin Book Truck and Penguin Book Pushcart will make their debut on May 30th at New York’s Javits Center during the Book Expo of America.  The Penguin Book Pushcart will be at the Delecorte Theater in New York City’s Central Park for performances at the 2013 season of Shakespeare in the Park.  The Penguin Book Truck and Pushcart will also visit the American Library Association Conference in Chicago, ” Tom Sawyer Day ” at the Mark Twain house in Hartford, CT and numerous other bookstores, festivals, library events and author signings throughout the year.  In October, in conjunction with the National Steinbeck Center’s kickoff of the 75th Anniversary of the publication of John Steinbeck ‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Grapes of Wrath, (published by Penguin) the Penguin Book Truck will travel West on Route 66 from Oklahoma to California, following the route of the fictional Joad Family and stopping at numerous museums, universities and historical sites along the way.

The Penguin Book Truck and Pushcart will stock books from all Penguin Group imprints and include a wide selection of titles by authors ranging from Patricia Cornwell to John Green , Elizabeth Gilbert to Khaled Hosseini , Nate Silver to Sylvia Day as well as Penguin Classics. The selection will also be customized for individual events.

Susan Petersen Kennedy , President of Penguin Group (USA), said: “We think the Penguin Book Truck and Pushcart will allow us to, directly and in partnership with bookstores, connect writers with readers and to spread the iconic Penguin brand in fun and exciting new ways. This will be a movable feast of today’s great books.”

Featuring Penguin’s iconic orange logo the Penguin Book Truck is 27 feet long with 96 linear feet of bookshelves on both sides. The truck is LED lit for nighttime events, has awnings to protect shoppers from the elements, and cafe tables and chairs where browsers can sit and authors can sign books.

The Penguin Book Pushcart is inspired by the design of the classic New York City hotdog cart.  It will be transported by the Penguin Book Truck to various locations including bookstores, parks, beaches, sidewalks in shopping districts, summer theaters, and green markets.

To learn more, view photos and follow the schedule of the Penguin Book Truck and Pushcart, you can visit them online at www.penguinbooktruck.com or follow them on twitter @PenguinBookTruck or on facebook at www.facebook.com/PenguinBookTruck.

About Penguin Group (USA)

Penguin Group (USA) Inc. is the U.S. member of the internationally renowned Penguin Group. Penguin Group (USA) is one of the leading U.S. adult and children’s trade book publishers, owning a wide range of imprints and trademarks, including Viking, G. P. Putnam ‘s Sons, The Penguin Press, Riverhead Books, Dutton, Penguin Books, Berkley Books , Gotham Books , Portfolio, New American Library, Plume, Tarcher, Philomel, Grosset & Dunlap, Puffin, and Frederick Warne , among others. The Penguin Group (www.penguin.com) is part of Pearson plc, the international media company.

Wish I could hitch a ride to Tom Sawyer Day and of course get my kicks on Route 66 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of John Steinbeck‘s novel!

Books and road tripping? Jack Kerouac would be proud. Hm… maybe they’ll let me take a cross-country trip on the Penguin Book Truck when Burning Furiously Beautiful comes out. An author can dream….

My first thought, though, when I heard about the Penguin Book Truck was that it reminded me of a book I had edited come to life:

Parnassus

Christopher Morley’s Parnassus on Wheels.

 

 

Research, Research, Research

29 May

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Just a few of the books we’ve been using as research for Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”

Sweet Rides: Literary Modes of Transportation

28 May

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As I mentioned, I’ve been thinking a lot about transportation. So much so, in fact, that I was inspired to start a new board on Pinterest devoted to modes of transportation. It’s called Sweet Rides. I found some sleek cars that would make Neal Cassady‘s fingers itch, but I also looked at alternative vehicles and the writers and literary characters who might use them. I thought about Mark Twain and river boats. Wes Anderson and trains. Che Guevara and motorcycles. Anne of Green Gables and rowboats.  Poets doing spoken word on the New York City subway.

Are the Beatniks Anti-American?

27 May

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmerican flag outside Kerouac’s birth home

I came to read Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti with little to no preconceived ideas about the Beat Generation. I had heard of Gilligan but never Maynard G. Krebs. I associated goatees with Ethan Hawke and turtlenecks with Sharon Stone. I liked the poetry bit in So I Married an Axe-Murderer but associated it with the spoken word poets of 1990s coffeehouses. So when I picked up The Portable Beat Reader, edited by Ann Charters, I had no presupposed knowledge of the writers in it or the culture they apparently inspired, apart from having discovered the book in a photo spread of a teen girl’s magazine. The kids in the spread looked like how I looked–or, rather, the cooler version of how I wished myself to look. That seemed as good a reason as any to beg my mom to buy the book for me.

I discovered humor and beauty and sensitivity in the words of the poets and novelists associated with the Beat Generation. When I read Kerouac explain the definition of “beat” as being both beat down and beatific, I understood and believed his words. It enlightened the way I read On the Road, and yet I read it sympathetically in the first place. I was a lot like Sal Paradise, hanging out with a friend who was wilder than I was. I longing to hit the road, to escape the humdrum of the suburbs and walk the city sidewalks of New York.

It was only later that I discovered that many others viewed the Beats and their work quite differently. It was only through reading biographies and nonfiction books on the Beats that I came to see that these writers were referred to as “beatniks,” and that that had a negative connotation. The term was a derogatory amalgamation of “Beat” and “sputnik,” and not being up on my history in my teen years, I understood it simply to mean they were “far out,” like a satellite in the space race. I had certainly heard of the Cold War, but it took me longer to understand that “beatnik” suggested the writers were somehow anti-American.

The idea of the Beats as anti-American took a long time for me to wrap my head around. Kerouac had written such a beautiful novel about America. He seemed so in love with the country and even made me fall in love with it in a new way. Before then, as the daughter of an immigrant, I had considered travel as something to do outside of America. I’d been to Europe but never the West Coast. Reading the Beats, I wanted to know more about this splendid vision of America they described. Sure, Ginsberg challenged America, but growing up decades later than him I was encouraged in school to think independently as he did. One could speak up in love. One must speak up in love.

As I continued to study Kerouac in particular, I learned about how he had been in the Merchant Marine during World War II. So much of what I read emphasized that he’d gotten discharged from the US Navy after being diagnosed with “schizoid personality.” It took more digging to hear a story like this one of how much Kerouac respected even the American flag:

At a party with Kesey’s Merry Pranksters Kesey came up and wrapped an American flag around me. So I took it (Kerouac demonstrates how he took it, and the movements are tender) and I folded it up the way you’re supposed to, and put it on the back of the sofa. The flag is not a rag.

The Beats were far from squeaky clean, but anti-American? I don’t see it. Perhaps the Beats didn’t jive with sock hops and malt shops, but maybe that’s a good thing because those 1950s stereotypes whitewashed the truth and left out large segments of the population. Some of us had fathers who spoke with an accent the way Ricky Ricardo did. Some of were intelligent but didn’t like stuffiness. Some of us liked to play our music LOUD. Some of us were friends with the outcasts. Some of us were misfits ourselves.

This Memorial Day, remember that many who died fighting for our country were just kids looking for a chance to escape from home or hoping for a chance to make something of their lives or desiring to be a part of something bigger than themselves. And think about today’s generation of Americans, those who may be a little rough around the edges or a little outspoken but who are so full of life, liberty, and justice.

You may also be interested in Memorial Day: Kerouac in the Merchant Marines.

Shunning Cars … and Life

24 May

Last summer I relayed the news that Generation Y hates driving. Now it turns out, everybody hates driving.

According to the recent The Exchange article “Why More Families Are Shunning Cars,” the CNW Research of Bandon, Ore., reported that in 2012 the percentage of US households without a car was the highest its been in the 22 years they’ve been tracking this data. The percentage? 9.3%.

Citing a cultural shift, The Exchange says that people today don’t rely on cars as much because:

  • more people live closer to cities and public transportation
  • since they now don’t need a car on a daily basis, these people simply rely on car rentals, which have become more flexible
  • retirees now live in retirement communities that they seldom leave
  • teens prefer to keep in touch virtually than in person
  • the economy is still in the gutter

The economic factor is a fascinating one when it comes to the history of motor vehicles. I’ve been proofreading (what feels like) a lot of books on cars and motorcycles lately and also thinking about cars and road trips while writing Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” and it’s been rather interesting to discover just how much the Great Depression and various wars have had on Americans’ driving habits.

An all-too-brief history:

  • cars and motorcycles are relatively new innovations, and they were making leaps and bounds until the Great Depression
  • there was an economic boom following WWII and suburbs became more popular–think Levittown–so the car became integral to family life
  • during the Cold War, the emphasis on patriotism no doubt led to Greyhound campaigns like this one, featuring a veteran who after fighting for the USA wants to travel to see the entire country, and the tv show/extended commercial See the USA in Your Chevrolet

Life in America hadn’t really changed all that much from that time when the economy improved, people moved out to the ‘burbs, and cars became a fact of life.

Until recently.

There were, of course, recessions here or there after the Great Depression, but it wasn’t until December 2007 that the US experienced the Great Recession or the Lesser Depression, whichever ominous phrase you want to use.

The same day that I read–while I was on the subway, mind you–that more people are “shunning” cars, I also read a Newsday article reprinted in amNewYork as “A growth spurt in NYC” that said, “New York City had the greatest numeric gain in population between 2011 and 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau estimates out Thursday.” Granted, the article seemed to be specifically comparing growth in cities (see this New York Times article as reference), but unless it’s indicating that people are simply moving from one city to another it seems to suggest that more people are taking to city life. And perhaps that’s the–ahem–driving force behind the decline in car ownership.

So… what do automotive trends have to do with literature?

Arguably the most popular of all authors who wrote about traveling by car and philosophized about the culture of his generation didn’t own a car: as I pointed out in my Hipsters Hate Driving post, Jack Kerouac was a hitchhiker, a bus rider, and a passenger, but rarely a driver, and yet he wrote the great American road-trip novel On the Road.

Now, let’s go back to that point The Exchange made that today’s generation–Generation Y, Millennial, whatever you want to call them–seemingly prefer virtual, rather than interpersonal, relationships. Here’s how The Exchange put it: “Teenagers using social media to keep in touch seem to feel less drawn to the open road than their parents did at the same age.”

The issue at hand is not that today’s generation doesn’t like driving or that they’re moving to the cities in droves. The cultural shift that needs to be more adamantly addressed for both the sake of our personal well-being and literature is that people prefer living life virtually than experiencing it first hand.

Kerouac lived life to the fullest. He famously told Steve Allen that he spent more time experiencing the content that would end up in his book than actually writing it:

ALLEN: Jack….How long did it take you to write On the Road?

KEROUAC: Three weeks….

ALLEN: Three weeks! That’s amazing! How long were you on the road itself?

KEROUAC: Seven years

Of course, as Burning Furiously Beautiful points out, it was only the scroll version on On the Road that Kerouac wrote in three weeks; it actually took him years to write the novel. But that doesn’t change the fact that Kerouac was out there living life, adventuring, experiencing, gathering tales to tell.

If today’s generation spends their life behind the computer screen or is too busy snapping photos for instagram to be present in the moment, that will shape our literature.

Clip: A Time to Dance

22 May

The latest in my Ecclesiastical “A Time to…” series posted on Burnside.

Clip: A Time to Mourn

8 May

Burnside published my visual art take on the verse “a time to mourn.” You can see it here.

Brunch with Artists & Entertainers at the Lotos Club

7 May

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Last month Scripps College invited me to attend a lovely brunch amongst friends and fellow alumni at The Lotos Club:

Alumnae Panel: The Arts and Entertainment Scene in NYC

Mitra Abbaspour ’99, Associate Curator, The Museum of Modern Art

Barbara Barna Abel ’84, Casting Director and Coach, ABEL intermedia

Elizabeth Robbins Turk ’83, Artist, 2010 MacArthur “Genius” Award Winner

Moderator: Veronica Gledhill ’06, Senior Fashion Market Editor, New York Magazine, Online and 2012 Outstanding Recent Alumna

with an update on the College
from President Lori Bettison-Varga

Oh, how I wish they’d do more of these. It was truly inspiring to hear these women tell their stories. They were so impressive yet so humble and honest in talking about their individual journeys as artists.

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Elizabeth had secured The Lotos Club for the event, and I could’ve sat in that sumptuous library all day long. But I guess that was the point:

The selection of the name The Lotos Club was to convey “an idea of rest and harmony.” The spelling of Lotos comes from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, The Lotos Eaters, two lines of which were selected as the motto of the Club:

 In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon

The endless afternoon setting provided the ideal atmosphere to indulge in creative and stimulating thought and conversation.

Of course, as a good Greek, I should point out that Tennyson’s poem was inspired by The Odyssey.

The circular staircase was breathtaking. I had to stop and take a photograph.

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The Lotos Club has an impressive history and has counted amongst its members President Taft, Mark Twain, and Oscar Wilde’s brother Willie.

 

Clip: Green Wedding Shoes

7 May

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The lovely editors at Resource Magazine asked me to cover a story on indie, DIY weddings for their Spring 2013 issue. I got to interview Jen Campbell of the blog Green Wedding Shoes, who is so sweet and creative.

You can pick up a print copy at your local Barnes & Noble or keep sitting where you are right now and get the digital edition.