Tag Archives: Sal Paradise

Is Jack Kerouac a Modern Heir of James Joyce?

12 Feb

ulysses

 

In The New York Times’ Sunday Book Review, Rivka Galchen and Pankaj Mishra took up the question: “Who Are James Joyce’s Modern Heirs?

The names Lydia Davis, Nadine Gordimer, Kenzaburo Oe, and José Saramago are mentioned between these two award-winning authors, but more than specific names Galchen and Mishra delineate ideas of what Joycean literature is.

Galchen writes:

The text — and it feels more like a “text” than a book — radiates in a way we associate more with parable than with mortal prose, even as any sense of grandness also feels undermined and played with and brought down to size. “Ulysses” thus manages the strange magic of being a mock epic of epic proportions. It reveals a world holy and human.

She goes on to write thoughtfully about language, epics, radiance, and rumor.

Mishra, in turn, writes:

Few declarations of aesthetic autonomy have resonated more in the last century than Stephen Dedalus’s in “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”: “You talk to me of nationality, language, religion,” Stephen tells an Irish nationalist, “I shall try to fly by those nets.” The novel concludes with Stephen’s decision to make a writing career for himself in Europe: “Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

He argues that Joyce’s modern heirs are political writers.

As you’ve probably already guessed, I’d submit Jack Kerouac as a potential heir to James Joyce. Let me lay out a brief argument in support of this thesis:

  • Galchen suggests Joyce’s work “radiates in a way we associate more with parable than with mortal prose,” and in some ways this is what Kerouac’s work does. Readers have often criticized On the Road’s rambling prose, replete with multiple road trips, but I’d argue that the work is actually more effective because it is not a simple from-point-A-to-point-B story. Readers do best in thinking of it not just in terms of story but parable.
  • She says Joyce’s work has the “strange magic of being a mock epic of epic proportions.” Kerouac’s narrator Sal Paradise is like Odysseus/Ulysses, a flawed man on a journey. In self-mythologizing himself over the course of several novels, Kerouac created the epic Duluoz Legend.
  • Mishra quotes Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as saying “Welcome, O life!” as he desires to encounter “the reality of experience.” Kerouac echoes this in going out on the road for seven years, seizing life and writing about it.
  • Kerouac is an heir to Joyce’s language, as I pointed out in this post.
  • And his most famous passage closely resembles one of Joyce’s passages in Ulysses.
  • He suggests that Dedalus’ decision to exile himself as an artist in Europe is political. In contrast, critics at the time of On the Road’s publication noted that unlike the Lost Generation, the Beat Generation stayed in America. Kerouac was known to have deep respect for the American flag and his journeys across America show his love for the country. Whether one wants to argue if this is “political” or not, he does represent himself as an artist in America.

What do you think? Is Jack Kerouac James Joyce’s heir?

“Burning Furiously Beautiful” eBook Now Available!

30 Sep

528764_288645227899680_240973182_n

 

Happy Monday! I have BIG news to share today. Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an eBook! You can get it for $8.99 at Lulu.

Here’s a bit about the book from Lulu:

Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is the most up-to-date and accurate account of the development of American writer Jack Kerouac’s groundbreaking 1957 novel, On the Road. Using archival resources as the foundation of this book, Kerouac scholars Paul Maher Jr. and Stephanie Nikolopoulos have fashioned a gripping account of the internal and external experiences of Kerouac’s literary development.

And here’s our synopsis:

Fueled by coffee and pea soup, Jack Kerouac speed-typed On the Road in just three weeks in April 1951. He’d been traveling America for the past ten years and now, at last, the furious energy of his experiences flowed through his fingertips in a mad rush, pealing forth on a makeshift scroll that he laboriously taped together. The On the Road scroll has since become literary legend, and now Burning Furiously Beautiful sets the record straight, uncovering, among other things, the true story behind one of America’s greatest novels. Burning Furiously Beautiful explores the real lives of the key characters of the novel—Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty, Carlo Marx, Old Bull Hubbard, Camille, Marylou, and others. Ride along on the real-life adventures through 1940s America that inspired On the Road. By tracing the evolution of Kerouac’s literary development and revealing his startlingly original writing style, this book explains how it took years—not weeks—to ultimately write the seemingly sporadic 1957 novel, On the Road. This revised and expanded edition of Jack Kerouac’s American Journey (2007) takes a closer look at the rise of Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation.

The ebook can be read in the following formats: Windows, PC/PocketPC, Mac OS, Linux OS, Nook, Apple iPhone/iPod/iPad, Android, Kindle (Amazon), Sony Reader, Blackberry Devices, Palm OS PDAs, Cybook Opus, Bebook (Endless Ideas), Papyrus (Samsung) Jetbook (Ectaco), Windows Mobile OS PDAs.

A print book is forthcoming.

Big Sur Debuts Today at Sundance Film Festival

23 Jan

Big Sur debuts today at Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah:

When I first saw the trailer for Big Sur I felt a sense of relief. While I enjoyed the film adaptation of On the Road, the Sal Paradise character (based on Jack Kerouac and played by Sam Riley) fell flat for me. Jean-Marc Barr plays the Kerouac character in Big Sur and at least from the trailer seems to embody him much better.

The film is directed by Michael Polish and the cinematography is by M. David Mullen, who worked together on Stay Cool and The Astronaut Farmer, and it is gorgeously lush.

The story of Big Sur is in many ways On the Road‘s opposite. On the Road brings to life Kerouac’s early adventures roadtripping across the country. His zeal for life explodes across the page. Big Sur, on the other hand, shows the writer in the later years of his life, after fame and alcohol had taken a toll on his life.

The first time I read Big Sur it depressed me greatly, reading how Kerouac struggled and obsessed over death, but I read it again last fall when I was roadtripping down the California coast and saw how Kerouac really was a master at style. There’s a repetition and rhythm of the book that echoes the cyclical nature of the ocean.

This isn’t the first time Kerouac’s time in Big Sur has been the subject of a film. In 2008 there was One Fast Move Or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur.

Here’s a synopsis of Polish’ Big Sur from the Sundance website:

Big Sur focuses on a moment in Jack Kerouac’s life when, overwhelmed by the success of his opus On the Road and struggling with alcoholism, he retreats to his publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin in the small, coastal California town of Big Sur, which eventually inspires his 1962 novel of the same name. Kerouac’s time begins with quiet moments of solitude and communing with nature. But, struck by loneliness, he hightails it to San Francisco, where he resumes drinking heavily and gets pushed into a relationship with his best friend Neal Cassady’s mistress, Billie.

While writer/director Michael Polish (Twin Falls Idaho) explores a less glamorous moment in Kerouac’s legacy—one of alienation and mental breakdown—Big Sur equally examines the beauty of this time in the writer’s life, witnessed in the romance of friendship and the purity of nature. Jean-Marc Barr embodies Kerouac’s intelligence and masculinity, but also portrays him at his most contemplative and vulnerable. Luscious and breathtaking, Big Surapproaches a religious cinematic experience.

Director: Michael Polish

Screenwriter: Michael Polish

Executive Producers: Mark Roberts, Eddie Vaisman, Jim Sampas

Producers: Ross Jacobson, Orian Williams, Adam Kassen, Michael Polish

Cinematographer: M. David Mullen

Production Designer: Max Biscoe

Sound Designer: Chris Sheldon

Costume Designer: Bic Owen

Principal Cast: Jean-Marc Barr, Kate Bosworth, Josh Lucas, Radha Mitchell, Anthony Edwards, Henry Thomas

 

List of Reviews of “On the Road”

19 Dec

OTRstill

[official film still from On the Road]

Yesterday, I posted my review of the On the Road film adaptation. As LeVar Burton used to say on Reading Rainbow, “But you don’t have to take my word for it.” Here are some other reviews of the film On the Road:

The Beat Museum: “Everyone knows a  book is not a movie and a movie is not a book.  The genius of Jack’ Kerouac’s novels is his prose. It’s not the story, it’s not even the relationships, it’s the prose with the language that he uses to sketch the scene to move the story and to describe the relationships.”

Buzz Sugar: “The plot at times drags, but there is so much energy in the production that I didn’t mind. … This is the role Sam Riley has been waiting for — he’s talented and looks great on screen.”

The Film Pilgrim: “Where Salles really shines is the party/drug scenes, capturing the beatnik life style beautifully.”

Film School Rejects: “For a tale which so obviously values hedonism and free expression, On The Road is ultimately joyless and unengaging, and for a self-discovering road movie to fudge the journey so much and lose almost all lasting meaning is downright criminal.”
The Guardian: “The film is stiflingly reverent towards its source material, and indeed towards itself. It’s good-looking and handsomely produced, but directionless and self-adoring, richly furnished but at the same time weirdly empty, bathed in an elegiac sunset glow of male adoration.”
Hollywood.com: “Incorporating more of Kerouac’s writing as voice-overs or something similar would have given it more life, the kind of vivacity Kerouac sought out in spades, which is why he tolerated Dean’s vagaries for so long. More than most movies, it feels like On the Road could have gone in any direction, expanding or reducing characters, shortening the trips to concentrate on the characters more, emphasizing the effects of their missing fathers or not, and it’s this wishy-washiness that undermines the movie.”
The Hollywood News: “Visually, Salles’ ON THE ROAD is a thing of beauty. Eric Gautier’s cinematography is a wonder to behold: the colouring, the tracking of the characters, and the close quarters filming take the audience to Denver, New York and San Francisco like never before. The images conjured by Kerouac’s words come to life in a way never thought possible. But whilst it looks ravishing the film is full of problems, the first of which is a glaring problem: Hedlund is not Dean Moriarty.”
The Hollywood Reporter: “A beautiful and respectful adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s landmark novel that intermittently leaves the ground to take flight.”
Honi Soit: “Too often unnecessary scenes were included while others were not given the time to become poignant, such as Moriarty’s very brief search for his vagrant father in Denver. I’m happy to concede that part of the frenzy is intentional, to replicate the experience of its addled protagonists, but some tighter editing would not have gone astray.”
The Independent: “Walter Salles takes an orthodox approach to Jack Kerouac’s classic text. As with his adaptation of Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries, Salles seems as preoccupied with the mundane as he is with the tales of threesomes, drugs and broken friendships.”
Indiewire: “The atmosphere of his travels comes first, establishing the book’s searching nature ahead of its loose plot. From that early point, “On the Road” adopts a serious, low-key approach to establishing Sal’s world that keeps the characters grounded.”

LitKicks: “Jack Kerouac would have loved this film version of On The Road.”

Movie News: “As a work of narrative semi-fiction, Salles’ version of Kerouac’s book is appropriately graceful, dirty, and enigmatic. He’s a sensitive director and a good storyteller. What doesn’t come across, though, is why the story matters. Who are these Beatniks?”

The NewStatesman: “Once the beats’ credo of philosophy and pharmaceuticals is established, the film starts noticing those people exasperated or excluded by the party. Sal and Dean may be kings of the road behind their scratched windscreen, but Salles is meticulous in balancing the ledger. There is no liberation in the film without suffering, no beat generation without its beaten-down counterpart (usually female).”

The New Yorker: “I found Garrett Hedlund’s teen-idol depiction of Dean Moriarty particularly unsatisfying. … Hedlund’s performance neuters the book’s animating Mephistophelian spirit.”
The New York Times: “The cinematographer Eric Gautier has done brilliant work elsewhere and doesn’t seem capable of taking a bad shot. But everything tends to look too pretty here — the scenery, sets and costumes included, especially for the rougher byways and more perilous interludes, like the Benzedrine nights that feel more opiated than hopped up.”
NPR: “In fact, any film in which all the characters seem utterly convinced of their own importance and coolness from the outset has the same battle. … There is the Ginsberg-like Carlo (Tom Sturridge), a character drawn here as so self-consciously writer-like that his every appearance inspires twitches. He actually says at one point, while pondering how to describe his feelings, ‘Melancholy’s too languorous!'”
Ropes of Silicon: “The tedious result of this adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s famed novel is, however, unfortunate considering Eric Gautier’s rich, smoke-filled cinematography, Walter Salles’s direction and stand-out performances from most of the cast.”
The Telegraph: “Despite its pretty cast and sun-ripened colours, the film quickly settles into a tedious looping rhythm of Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) experiencing some kind of beatnik debauchery with co-wanderers Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) and Marylou (Kristen Stewart), before retiring to a shady corner and scribbling wildly in a notebook.”
Time Out London: “Freewheeling spontaneity is tough to convey on screen, and the drink- and drug-fuelled carousing lacks Danny Boyle-style zing. But the bull-nosed cars, jazz soundtrack and soft light of a bygone era are a joy.”
Total Film: “Even if the film has a patchwork quality, Rivera’s script mines some much-needed humour from events – from Stewart giving new meaning to the phrase ‘two-hander’ to the priceless scene where Dean drives Sal’s mother back to New York.”
Variety: “Yet despite the high level of craft here, it’s an inadequate substitute for the thrilling, sustaining intelligence of Kerouac’s voice. Admittedly, any definitive adaptation would have to adopt a radically avant-garde approach to approximate the galvanic impact Kerouac’s novel had on literary form. But even audiences content with an easy-listening version may be put off by the weak conception of Sal’s inner life.”

“On the Road” Review

18 Dec


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On Friday, December 14, I attended a special sneak preview of On the Road at IFC Center in Greenwich Village. It was history in the making. At long last, Jack Kerouac’s seminal road novel had made its way to the silver screen. Kerouac himself wrote a lot about going to the movies, and he wanted his novel turned into a film. In fact, he even wrote to Marlon Brando, asking him to buy it and star in it.

Francis Ford Coppola bought the film rights decades ago. I have a friend who wrote a screenplay that he showed to Coppola, and there have been numerous actors associated with the film adaptation, but the project always seemed to stall. Finally, Walter Salles came on as director and Jose Rivera as screenwriter, and soon after an impressive cast lined up, and the film looked like it would finally take off. And it did! It debuted at Cannes Film Festival in May 2012. Throughout the summer and into the fall, the film showed at theatres across Europe and South America. Those of us in the States read reviews, watched clips, argued about whether the novel could be adapted for film in a successful way, and debated the choices for the cast while we waited for the quintessential American story to come to us. At long last, when it was announced that a sneak preview of On the Road was taking place in the neighborhood Kerouac used to hang out in, people lined up on the Avenue of Americas for a chance to see it. As my good friend Elizabeth and I waited in line, an older man offered us $50 for our movie tickets. Considering we were so excited we were taking photos to commemorate the event, we probably weren’t the best people to try to scalp from. Needless to say, I watched the film, and, for whatever it’s worth, I can now give you my review of On the Road, which opens in New York and LA on December 21 and the rest of the country in January.

Let me start with a caveat: I am perhaps a bit too close to the subject matter to review On the Road objectively. After all, I am writing a book about the true story of On the Road. I have also heard and read reviews by a few other Beat scholars and fans and watched many Youtube clips from the film. I came in with lots of preconceived notions, and I watched the film more as a critic than as your average moviegoer. That said, I did not go into it as a literary snob wanting it to fail. I came into it wanting to see Kerouac’s work done justice.

***

On the Road is wonderfully nuanced. And to me, it’s the nuances in the acting, directing, and screenwriting that make On the Road a worthwhile adaptation of the novel. Everyone involved in the film understood that Kerouac’s novel is not just about some crazy kids driving at high speeds across the country, getting high, and getting laid. They understood that depicting this wild behavior — the film does not censor anything — was necessary not for shock value but because it underscores the complexity of the characters. In particular, the film does justice to the theme of the loss of fathers. Burning Furiously Beautiful, the book I’m coauthoring, delves into the personal life stories of the real-life people the characters are based on, giving further insight into their behavior and lifestyle. Understanding the characters’ back story elucidates their desires and actions, and the film adaptation neither glorifies nor critiques the characters. It gives them space to reveal themselves to the viewer.

Interestingly, the character that fell flat to me was the character of Sal Paradise, based on Jack Kerouac and played by Sam Riley. The actor, screenwriter, and director did a great job showing him to be an observer, which was true to Kerouac’s nature. However, the film itself was not seen through Sal’s eyes. He seemed like just another character. The landscape, the jazz shows, the parties were depicted through a neutral perspective. Not only did this make it difficult to understand Sal’s motivations and character — this is most evident in the scene with Terry (“the Mexican girl”), which isn’t developed enough for us to understand why it’s included — it meant we lost his voice. While critics over the years have focused on the road trip antics, for me, the strength of the novel was its insanely beautiful poetry. The film adaptation was more about the story and less about the literature.

Overall, though, the dialogue for the characters and the acting was phenomenal. Viggo Mortensen needs to star in a biopic on William S. Burroughs. Amy Adams took on the persona of Jane. Kristen Stewart brought a depth to Marylou that Kerouac himself didn’t. Kirsten Dunst showed great emotion in her scenes. Tom Sturridge played Carlo Marx with intensity but also surprising humor; his dialogue was quintessential Ginsberg: dramatic and over the top. Elisabeth Moss’ Galatea was a nice contrast to the other characters, while Danny Morgan’s Ed was a bit too goofy; these two characters are the reason the characters end up at Old Bull Lee and Janes’s place, but if it weren’t for that they could’ve been edited out for the film. Garrett Hedlund was charismatic. He lit up the screen.

My most pressing criticism of the film is that it felt a bit too much like a period piece for my personal preference.  I was impressed that the film was historically accurate, and yet I found myself distracted by those details. For example, when the focus was on the exterior of the Hudson, it made the story feel removed instead of vibrant; yet the shots within the car or from the viewpoint of the passenger were beautiful. Likewise, there were times when the wallpaper in a room jumped out at me more than it probably should have. I’m by no means suggesting the story should have been modernized, but the setting and props should not overpower the story. There were also scenes like the one at the jazz club which felt staged, almost cartoonish. I would’ve liked something a bit more raw, a bit grittier or impressionist.

In contrast, the New Year’s Eve party was sheer brilliance. Here were fast cuts and disorienting angles. Here were sweat and thrashing limbs. Here was jazz you wanted to dance to. Here was the energy that made you want to shout go, go, go! There were also beautiful quiet moments laced throughout the film. Poetic landscape. Honest heart-to-hearts. Subtle glances. Almost any time the characters were on the road, the dialogue, the filmography, and the acting were spot on.

The film adaptation of On the Road may enlighten some people’s perception of Jack Kerouac.

Jeff Bridges Interviews Garrett Hedlund, Who Plays Dean Moriarty in “On the Road”

13 Dec

I’ve been connected with so many people these days who are interested in the different writers associated with the Beat Generation. Katie, who is researching Joan Burroughs, turned me on to Interview Magazine‘s feature on Garrett Hedlund, who plays the Dean Moriarty character in the film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

What initially caught my eye was photographer Robbie Fimmano‘s moody portraits of Hedlund. The black-and-white photographs are stunning. I wish I could post them here, but I don’t want to impose on his or the magazine’s copyright, so instead you can check out the online gallery here. He’s looking a bit like Johnny Depp in some of the photographs.

Actor Jeff Bridges, who apparently played his father in Tron (I say apparently because do you really think I watched Tron?), interviewed Hedlund for the magazine, and it starts off kind of cute and silly because they’re calling each other “Dad” and “Son.” Hedlund is from Minnesota and is Swedish, just like my mother, and he talks a little bit about coming from Minnesota in the interview. He also reveals that even though he played Dean Moriarty, the character based on Neal Cassady, in On the Road, he relates more to Sal Paradise. You can read the full interview here.

The film is finally opening in the States on December 21.

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

21 Nov

I am so excited to have been tagged by Maria Karamitsos for the The Next Big Thing Blog Hop.  Even though I’m not a mother, I love reading Maria’s blog From the Mommy Files, which is full of humor and light.  She has the gift of storytelling.  Her blog entries read like snippets of a novel-like memoir, with dialogue, reflection, and a strong voice, despite the fact that much of her writing is focused on what could be a very technical topic: molar pregnancy.  Take for instance, her post “The Influence of the Lost Child,” in which she talks to her two adorable little girls—”BooBoo BeDoux” and “Bebs LaRoux”—about the baby she miscarried.  It’s a difficult and heartbreaking subject, yet she injects humor in it through the personalities of her daughters (“it’s tough to be 3, after all!”) as well as tenderness and faith.  I’m really excited about the book she’s writing called Positive About Negative: Adventures in Molar Pregnancy.  Maria also tagged some other Greek authors for the Blog Hop, and it’s great discovering all these writers.

I’m tempted therefore to write about my memoir about being Greek American, but since my book on Jack Kerouac is coming out first my answers to the Blog Hop questions are about that book.

What is the working title of your book?  Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road

Where did the idea come from for the book?  Paul Maher Jr. had written a book entitled Jack Kerouac’s American Journey: The Real-Life Odyssey of “On the Road” for the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Kerouac’s seminal work.  I had read this book one summer and some months later began reading Paul’s blog.  We began talking and decided to revise and expand his book because we knew that a film adaptation of On the Road was coming out and we wanted to provide a resource for those interested in finding out more about this famous novel.  It was important to us that the book had a strong narrative, contextual information, and new research because we wanted both the teenager turned on from the film and the literary scholar who’s read every book by Kerouac to enjoy it and find value in it.

What genre does your book fall under?  It’s literary criticism and biography.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?  Isn’t that the million dollar question?  There’s been a lot of talk over the years about who should play Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty in the film adaptation of On the Road.  Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Colin Farrell, Marlon Brando, you name it, they’ve been associated with it.  I almost never go to the movies and don’t really know the young actors of today well enough to say who would be age appropriate to cast.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt?  Zac Efron?  These actors are too old to play the roles now but if I were casting the film back when I first read On the Road as a teenager, this is who I’d pick:

  • Sal Paradise — Johnny Depp and Ethan Hawke would be excellent choices for Sal Paradise, particularly because they both have a deep appreciation for literature.  Depp is a known Kerouac fan and just started his own publishing imprint, and Hawke is a published author.
  • Dean Moriarty — Woody Harrelson would make a great Dean Moriarty.  He can play both earnest and wild so well!  Matthew McConaughey would be great as Dean too.
  • Carlo Marx — I loved James Franco’s portrayal of Allen Ginsberg in Howl, but if I had to select someone else I might go with Adam Goldberg.
  • Old Bull Lee — The choice of Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee for the Walter Salles film is brilliant, but again if I had to choose someone else maybe I’d with Ewan McGregor.
  • Marylou — Drew Barrymore would be so much fun to watch as Marylou.  Do you remember her in Mad Love and Boys on the SideAlmost Famous hadn’t been made yet when I was a teenager but Kate Hudson (think Penny Lane) would be my runner-up pick.

 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  Burning Furiously Beautiful tells the true story of  Jack Kerouac travels on the road and how it took him years, not weeks, to write On the Road.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?  We decided to self-publish Burning Furiously Beautiful.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  The first draft, so to speak, had already been written and published as Jack Kerouac’s American Journey.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?  There have been so many biographies of Kerouac written over the years, and each offers its own perspective.  Burning Furiously Beautiful uses Kerouac’s journals and letters, as well as archival material from other people who knew Kerouac during the time he was on the road and writing On the Road, to tell a the specific story of the making of a novel that continues to generate interest today.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?  Obviously, Paul Maher Jr. inspired Burning Furiously Beautiful as it was his original idea.  I, however, had been researching and writing about Kerouac since I was an undergrad many years prior to this and brought my own knowledge and skills to the project.  I was very much inspired by the fact that the film adaptation is soon to be released here in the States.  There’s a whole new generation coming to Kerouac’s literature, which is immensely exciting to me.  Reading Kerouac when I was in high school opened up so many possibilities for me as a reader and writer.  I hope that the film will pique people’s interest so that they’ll go back and read Kerouac’s books for themselves—not just On the Road  but his other great works as well—and that they’ll watch Pull My Daisy, the film that Kerouac himself spontaneously narrated.  Burning Furiously Beautiful is important because it contextualizes On the Road and provides a fascinating look at Kerouac’s life and writing process.  This is critical because there’s so much myth surrounding Kerouac and the 1950s.  I became engrossed in odd little details like the fact that the Kerouac’s didn’t have a phone and took their calls at the store below their apartment in Queens.  It’s so different than today when it seems like every middle schooler has a cell phone.  If Cassady could’ve just called Kerouac up on his iphone, he might not have written the infamous Joan Anderson letter that spurred on Kerouac’s writing style.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?  Burning Furiously Beautiful is a great book for an aspiring writer, regardless of whether or not you like Kerouac’s writing style.  It’s a portrait of a young writer and details how his writing voice developed (his first book has a much different style), what his writing routine was, the editing process (yes, there was one!), what his relationship with other writers and editors was like (imagine lots of parties), and the many false starts he had in writing his book.  We even talk about book signings, contracts, and press interviews.  Sometimes I’ve felt frustrated with various writing projects of mine, but realizing that Kerouac, who purported to have written On the Road in only three weeks, went through some of the same struggles and took years to find success makes me realize that it’s all part of the writing process.

I tag:

Emily Timbol

Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond

Larry Shallenberger 

Michael D. Bobo

Check them out!  They’re each really different from each other.

Character Growth in “On the Road”

27 Aug

A friend of mine told me he was reading On the Road and couldn’t figure out what the point of the novel was.  He was only partway through and wanted to know if the characters ever grow.

I thought it was such a fascinating question!

As I’ve posted before, I do believe that the narrator, Sal Paradise, grows.  He is exceedingly complicated.  He’s zigzagging across America, refusing to conform to society.  And yet he keeps stating that’s what he so desperately wants.  He wants the house and the wife.  Likewise, he’s Sal Paradise—oh what a name!—is out cavorting with a car thief, and yet he’s constantly thinking about God and heaven and the holy.

I guess I can kind of relate to Sal Paradise a bit, and maybe that’s why I feel like the whole notion of whether his character grows is a complicated one.  I so often feel torn between two things that don’t seem to fit together.

I don’t know if it’s an American thing or a contemporary reader thing, or both, but it seems like we have this notion that characters have to change, grow, evolve.  We want them to become people by the end of the story.  …I guess that’s because we want that for our own lives.  We like inspirational stories—be they self-help books or Hollywood movies.  We think if this lowly character can overcome this-or-that, maybe we can too.

But how often does life play out like an inspirational book or movie?  Isn’t it more often the case that life is pretty mundane?  That we continually struggle with the same issues over and over again?  Aren’t we always searching for meaning?  Significance?  Trying to understand ourselves better?

I suppose if I’m honest, I do want to like the characters I read about, and I do want them to grow.  But I don’t think they have to.  I think part of what I love about On the Road has more to do with the language.  I’m not a huge fan of Kerouac’s poetry—though I do enjoy a few of his haikus—but I love the poetry imbued in On the Road.  I love reading his novel because of how sensual, visual it is.  I feel like I’m looking out the car window with him.  I don’t really care whether he’s in California or Mexico, whether he’s picking cotton or hitchhiking.  It’s all just so beautiful.

Road Trip Writing: On the Road and Through Painted Deserts

16 Jul

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

Road Trip Writing: On the Road and The Canterbury Tales

18 Jun

Jack Kerouac once quipped back at a journalist, “I’m not a beatnik; I’m a Catholic.”  Despite the Beat Generation being associated with the countercultural movement—sex, drugs, and … jazz—Kerouac’s writing so often points toward the spiritual.

Visions of Gerard describes his saint-like brother who died at age nine and touches upon life in the Catholic church in Lowell, Massachusetts.  When he left home, Kerouac began exploring Buddhism.  Ultimately he grew disenchanted by it, though, an experience he describes in Desolation AngelsOn the Road is tinged with the idea of holiness.  Check out this quote:

As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, “Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.”

Beautiful, isn’t it?  In some ways, Sal Paradise—what a name!—is on a pilgrimage.  The point of the trip itself isn’t religious, but along the way Sal sees God in nature and in the act of traveling.  Throughout On the Road, Kerouac writes about searching for the holy.  What he finds there on the open road is the beatific—the blessings that seem contradictory to what the world says are blessings.

If you think about it, one of the earliest road trip novels is about a pilgrimage: The Canterbury Tales.  Chaucer’s fourteenth-century tale has all the seedy characters one might find William S. Burroughs depicting.  The pilgrims are road tripping from Southwark to the Saint Thomas Becket shrine at Canterbury Cathedral.  Just like how Sal Paradise finds he has tell good stories to anyone who picks him up while hitchhiking, the cast of characters in The Canterbury Tales each tell a story along the journey.

To support the National Literacy Trust, a group of modern-day pilgrims recently reenacted The Canterbury Tales.  You can read about it, see photographs, and listen to portions at the Guardian.

 

* * *

Don’t forget!

I’m reading tonight at 7:00 at The Penny Farthing (103 3rd Ave., downstairs in the speakeasy), here in New York City, as part of the Storytellers event, hosted by C3.