Tag Archives: San Francisco

Happy National Book Lovers Day!

9 Aug

StephanieNikolopoulos2

“There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It’s like falling in love.” ~ Christopher Morley

Happy National Book Lovers Day!

I don’t read as much as I used to these days. Or, maybe I read more. It’s hard to tell. As an editor, I read all day at my job. But it’s a different type of reading. It’s more like a spot-the-difference puzzle, where I’m on the lookout for Briticisms and double punctuation marks. It’s not reading for pleasure, though it is pleasurable.

I am a book lover.

Much of my life is what it is because of books. My mother used to bribe me with books when I was a child. Books opened up a world to me. Reading became not just an activity but a refuge, and not just a refuge but a part of my identity. When I went away to camp, I took a sign language class. We were told to use the letter from our first name and the sign for an activity we enjoyed to create a unique name for ourselves. My name was an “S” opening a book.

Later, in high school, I dropped math class and took an extra English class in addition to my AP English class. My first or second semester of college, I took three English classes at the same time. It was wonderful! It felt so me. I felt like I was living out my true self. On spring break, I went to City Lights in San Francisco and dragged my best friend around the city, reading her Lawrence Ferlinghetti‘s poems.

I absorbed myself in the pages of books for hours at a time, discovering not just kindred spirits and captivating lands but turns of phrases and how punctuation influenced a reading. When I learned to read, I also began to learn to write. Reading and writing were two sides of the same coin for me. One inspired the other. I am at my best, I feel my most authentic, when I am involved in both.

A few years ago, while working full time in book publishing and going to grad school full time for creative writing, I co-authored Burning Furiously Beautiful. It was a wild, intense time. I would wake up early before work and edit, a habit this non-morning person is not a natural at. I turned down plans with friends. I surrounded myself with books. And you know what? I miss it.

I miss the intensity of reading and writing and breathing words. I miss being assigned books that challenge me. I miss being exposed to new ideas. I miss the deadlines. I miss the workshops. I miss the camaraderie. I miss the solitude. The quiet nights. The passionate flurry of ideas.

I recently did a writing intensive with some friends. We tried to push out twenty pages a week. That’s more than I was required to do in grad school. It felt good. It wasn’t necessarily sustainable, but it got me back into the habit. As well, I’m doing the Goodreads reading challenge and trying to read a book a week. I’m woefully behind. Woefully. But it has gotten me back into the habit of reading for pleasure. I ask people to recommend books to me, so I still am being exposed to things I wouldn’t normally select for myself. Sometimes my friends read the same books; sometimes I read the book for my book club; sometimes I read the book for Bible study; and sometimes I get around to reading the books I excitedly bought but remained on my bookshelves. I read on the subway. I read in bed. I read in the bathtub. I read on NJ Transit.

And I’m about to read right now before bed! I’m finally getting around to reading Vivian Gornick‘s The Odd Woman and the City.

 

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Nerdy Travelers Rejoice: A Bucket List of Literary Museums for Literary Travelers

21 Aug
HuntingTheGrisly
Bustle came out with a listicle entitled “9 Best Museum In The World for Book Lovers, Because There’s Nothing Like An Original Manuscript.” It has some fantastic recommendations that this nerdy traveler will undoubtedly be adding to her bucket list.
No list can ever be complete, so I’d like to add my recommendations:
The Beat Museum
It should come as no surprise that I’d recommend the Beat Museum in San Francisco. Not only can you see a huge collection of Beat Generation mementos, but there’s also a bookstore that sells first editions, signed copies, and other collectibles.
Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historical Site and Interpretive Center
Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site and Interpretive Center out on Long Island is the place for fans of the Good Gray Poet. What I love about this museum is that it gives a snoopy look into the private home life of the poet and also keeps his tradition alive through contemporary poets. There’s also a wall in the museum that makes me think Whitman inspired Kim Kardashian….
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace
Speaking of birthplaces, the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace is a must-see. (It’s currently closed but will reopen in a few months.) Oh, sure, he’s remembered today for being one of our presidents, but he was a prolific author, and his birthplace shows how he went from a sickly reader to a big-game hunter. I wrote about the museum in the introduction to his Hunting the Grisly.
Washington Irving’s Home
Washington Irving’s home, Sunnyside, in Sleepy Hollow, New York, is also a fun visit—particularly around Halloween! I went there a few years ago with a friend and to this day we still talk about it.
Junibacken Museum
I mentioned the Junibacken Museum, devoted to Astrid Lindgren’s works in Stockholm, Sweden, in a recent post. It’s particularly fun for children, but even adults may enjoy it.
The Writer’s Museum
I would also recommend The Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland. My sister and I visited there quite a few years ago and saw the literary lives of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson come to life. My sister does a mean Robert Burns impersonation.
Some people go to the beach on their vacations. I visit museums and bookstores.

Coming Soon! Ferlinghetti’s Travel Journals

31 Mar

Ferlinghetti

In super exciting Beat-, travel-, poetry-, publishing- related news, Liveright Publishing will publish Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s travel journals in September 2015! The suspense is driving me crazy!!

Ferlinghetti is one of my most favorite poets. Back when I was in undergrad, I made my first pilgrimage to City Lights, the bookstore he founded, bought his San Francisco Poems, and proceeded to drag my biology-major friend all around the city to read the poems in their appropriate places. The fact that his travel journals are now being published may just inspire me to hit the road again.

The book, titled Writing Across the Landscape: Travel Journals, will cover the years 1950 to 2013. As I wrote in my recap of the film Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder, Ferlinghetti once traveled to Italy to seek out his family roots and promptly got arrested! He also happened to own a little cabin out in Big Sur, California, where Jack Kerouac stayed; Kerouac wrote a book about his time there that’s since been made into a film. For the record, Ferlinghetti does not consider himself a Beat, and he’s not one of the characters constantly described as sitting in the back of a car driven by Neal Cassady. He’s had his own set of adventures through Cuba, France, Haiti, Mexico, and North Africa.

Kerouac’s literary agent Sterling Lord brokered the deal for Ferlinghetti’s new book with Liveright’s editor-in-chief Robert Weil. You can read more about it in The New York Times.

UCLA Prof Blames “Beatniks” for Kristen Stewart’s Poetry

12 Feb

mc

Kristen Stewart’s poetry has been blowing up the internet. I read a bunch of snarky comments about it on facebook last night, and this afternoon on my lunch break I discovered via Poets & Writers that the venerable Poetry Foundation gave it attention on their blog, Harriet.

I wasn’t going to comment on it, but then I read, via The Poetry Foundation, what Brian Kim Stefans had to say about it:

My own initial post went like this: “The second stanza isn’t horrible. Worst part of the poem are those awful adjectives! Stupid Beats.” What I meant by this was that the words “digital” (applied to moonlight), “scrawled” when linked to “neon” (neon is a much overused word by poets who want to sound like Beatniks) and “abrasive” (applied to organ pumps) weren’t working for me….”

What Stefans doesn’t say and what The Poetry Foundation doesn’t say is that Kristen Stewart played the role of Marylou in the film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s Beat novel On the Road. Part of her training for the film included “Beatnik Boot Camp,” where biographers and Neal Cassady’s son, John Allen Cassady, talked to them about the real-life individuals the novel was based on and the time period. It’s important to state this upfront because the very critique hurled against her work is that it sounds too Beatnik. Whether that’s because her poetry does sound too “Beatnik”—we’ll come back to defining that word in a moment—or whether her association with the Beats fueled criticism of her work is up for debate. Maybe, more than anything, though, the criticism surrounding Stewart’s poetry has less to do with the work itself and more to do with her celebrity persona—which, let’s face it, is similar to how the Beats are reviewed. Even before her poem was revealed, the media has loved to lash out at Stewart.

Actress Amber Tamblyn was also in a Beat-related film—One Fast Move Or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur—and has gone on record about being influenced by the Beats. Except Tamblyn blogs for The Poetry Foundations’ Harriet and has published a jazz-inspired poetry chapbook, while Stewart, seven years her junior, revealed her road-trip inspired poem to the women’s glossy Marie Claire. This certainly says something about the difference in the seriousness and literary merit of their work, but it also says something about their celebrity persona and how they are received by the media.

Okay, so now we’re caught up on Stewart. In case Stewart, or you, didn’t know, Stefans makes his authority known at the outset of his open letter:

I’m a poet and professor at UCLA, and thought you might be interested in what some of my poet friends (most of whom also teach and are otherwise very accomplished) and I have been writing on Facebook about your recent poem published in Marie Claire.

I take it Professor Stefans is not a fan of the Beat poetry. That’s fine; to each their own. Stefans is actually quite an accomplished poet, and I particularly respect his postmodern innovations in digital poetry as he bridges the gap between new media and literature. From his UCLA faculty page:

My interests in electronic writing stem directly out of my work as a poet, though it has branched off into any number of art genres that have fallen under the persuasion of digital technology, such as photography, film/video and book publishing. Research interest include creating a “bridge” between the concepts and traditions of various 20th-century avant-gardes — Language writing, the Oulipo, concrete poetry, conceptual art, Situationism, metafiction, etc. — and the various genres of digital literature, including animated poems, interactive texts, algorithmically-generated and manipulated texts, “nomadic” writing, hacktivism and experimental blogs. Presently working on a series of wall projections called “Scriptors” which will appear as gallery and environmental installations in the coming years.

His research and work in electronic literature suggests his open-mindedness toward new and experimental ideas that may not yet be culturally accepted. I would think then that he’d find Stewart’s use of the word “digital” related to his own interests, but perhaps it wasn’t “working” for the Brown graduate who got his MFA in Electronic Literature because it was too obvious of a connection, the word “digital” sounding contrived or outmoded in today’s ever-changing technical world. I wouldn’t disagree with that assessment. His forward-searching eye may also be why he lays into her for relying on passé Beatnik clichés and the word “Whilst.” Stefans’ critique of Stewart’s poem is fair and balanced. There is validity to his point about “overused words” in poetry and even Beatnik buzz words.

My contention is with Stefans’ comment “Stupid Beats” and the lumping of Beat literature with “people who want to sound like Beatniks.” Yes, I get that this is a flippant response to pop culture that shouldn’t be taken too seriously, however the cultural knowledge of so-called Beatniks is wrought with so much misconception that it makes me uncomfortable to see a humanities professor at a well-known college perpetuate the stereotype.

Here’s a little Beat 101 refresher course:

  • Jack Kerouac coined the term “Beat Generation” during a conversation with fellow novelist John Clellon Holmes, in which they were riffing on the Lost Generation and their own generation.
  • Holmes went on to write “This Is The Beat Generation” for The New York Times Magazine in 1952.
  • Six years later, journalist Herb Caen coined the term “beatnik” in an article for The San Francisco Chronicle. An amalgamation of the word “beat” and “Sputnik,” the word, as conceived during the Cold War, was derogatory.
  • In fact, “The Examiner had a headline the next day about a beatnik murder,” reported the SF Gate. Note that this had nothing to do with David Kammerer or any of the writers associated with the literature of the Beat Generation.
  • In the column in which Caen coined the term “beatnik,” he was eye rolling at how Look magazine was doing yet another photo spread on the San Francisco Beat Generation scene, saying “250 bearded cats and kits were on hand.” So right there we have it that he wasn’t commenting specifically on Kerouac, Holmes, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and the specific poets or poetry associated with the Beat Generation. He was talking about the scene, man.

Let me put this into more current context. Caen used the word “beatniks” the same way people today use the term “hipster.” Think of the way people in the 2000s equated the Williamsburg hipster with the eccentric trust-fund kid wearing aviator sunglasses and skinny jeans and making really bad “art.” That’s the equivalent of a “beatnik.” They’re both pop-culture fads that aren’t wholly indicative of the art, literature, and music that loosely inspired these “scenes.”

Consequently, saying Kristen Stewart was writing in the vein of bad beatnik poetry could be a worthwhile critique and even a very interesting one if the critic were to delve into more specific examples like the use of the word “neon” (HTML Giant questions if “neon” is solely beatnik; I apparently already have a tag for “neon” because I used it for light sculptor Stephen Antonakos … was he a beatnik??), discuss the appropriation and disfiguration of Beat ideas and style (Stefans mentions a colleague who posted a response to Stewart’s poem that suggests an evolution of Beat literature: “If it’s ‘beat’, it’s more Bolinas or young Bernadette than hortatory elder beat.” [hyperlinks mine]), and analyze the cultural phenomenon of beatniks.

Saying “Stupid Beats,” though, is akin to saying “Idiot Pre-Raphaelites,” “Dimwitted Transcendentalists,” or “Insipid Oulipo.” It’s negating an entire body of literature that has resounding cultural importance.

You can read Stewart’s poem “My Heart Is A Wiffle Ball/Freedom Pole” on IndieWire’s blog, The Playlist.

Review: Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder

14 Mar

ferlinghetti_splash

I caught the documentary Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder (2009) at Anthology Film Archives this past weekend. Lawrence Ferlinghetti is one of my favorite poets, for his use of language and whimsy. I’ve long appreciate his commitment to freedom of speech, and this documentary made me more aware of how he used his position as a poet and bookseller for activist purposes. Quirky fact: he uses the windows of his office at City Lights as a “blog,” writing his political thoughts for all who pass by to see.

Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder is star-studded, including informative interviews and clips with everyone from Amiri Baraka, David Amram, Jack Hirschman, Michael McClure, Anne Waldman, and George Whitman to Giada Diano, Bill Morgan, Dave Eggers, and Lorenzo Ferlinghetti. It impresses upon the viewer just how important Ferlinghetti is by indicating his support of Bob Dylan, his place in American poetry, awards given to him, and the naming of a street after him.

The biographical background information is fascinating, particularly when we hear about Ferlinghetti’s rearing in France, how his mother’s ineptitude at caring for him led to his being raised by the daughter of the founder of Sarah Lawrence College, and his service in World War II (spoiler alert: he saw Nagasaki right after the bomb dropped). There’s even a scene in which Ferlinghetti searches for his roots in Italy, where he was arrested for trespassing when he tried to get a sneak peek at where his father grew up! This of course is all balanced with his founding of City Lights, the Howl trial, and the Human Be-In.

All of it is wonderful, but its broad scope and pacing left the film falling flat in terms of its aesthetics. As a biographer, I understand how director/producer Christopher Felver must have struggled with the editing process. How could he cut anything out when it’s all so important? No one wants to see significant and appealing research fall on the cutting room floor. As a viewer, though, I would have preferred a more limited scope or narrative approach. It would have been a stronger film if Felver, who worked on the documentary for ten years, ruthlessly edited his work to give it a story arc. This film is best suited for those interested in learning more about the free speech movement, poetry in America, the Beat Generation (though Ferlinghetti adamantly declares in one scene “Don’t call me a Beat! I never was a Beat!”), San Francisco, and the 1950s and ‘60s. I’d recommend Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder for high-school English classes as well as for writers in general, as it motivates one to consider poetry as subversive action.

Jack Kerouac Dropped Out of College. So What?

27 Jan

Is genius born or created?  By now everyone has read, or at least heard, about how Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College and went on to become the cofounder of Apple and one of the most important entrepreneurs of our time.  Perhaps less known is the fact that Jobs continued to audit classes at Reed.  He actually credited a calligraphy course he took as having a major impact on the Mac.  When I was taking a shuttle from the San Francisco airport to my hotel out in Walnut Creek, I had a midnight conversation with a businessman who had read the biography on Jobs and told me about how the computer genius’ interest in art was fundamental to his vision for building a successful brand.

Back in September, Flavorwire posted an article called “10 Famous Authors Who Dropped Out of School.”  This is what they wrote about Jack Kerouac:

In high school, Beat hero Jack Kerouac was no poet — he was a jock, star of the football team. His athletic skills won him a scholarship to Columbia University, but he and the coach didn’t get along. The two argued constantly and Kerouac was benched for most of his freshman year. Then, he cracked his tibia and, his already tenuous football career over, dropped out of school.

I love Flavorwire, and I understand that the writer was trying to keep the text short and irreverent, but I think it’s worth dissecting the often repeated line that Kerouac dropped out of Columbia University.  Implicit in remarks about his football scholarship and dropping out is the suggestion that Kerouac was neither intelligent nor studious—the same way that many critics like to point to how quickly he supposedly wrote his novels.  If he were a computer genius, like Steve Jobs, perhaps his craft would not be questioned, but because the arts are subjective, Kerouac’s dropping out of college is often reported more as a jab than as evidence toward his natural gifts.

To say that Kerouac was a jock and not a poet in high school undermines his academic achievements.  In reality, Kerouac, who didn’t even feel completely comfortable speaking English when he went off to school (he spoke his parents’ French Canadian dialect), did so well in school that he skipped a grade.  He spent a lot of time at the public library in his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, voraciously reading the classics.  When he was not on the football field, Kerouac was part of a roundtable discussion group on philosophy and literature.  His father was a printer, and so even at a young age, Kerouac produced his own writing.  Like Jobs, Kerouac did not come from money, and the scholarship he earned helped him attend the university, where he studied English under the tuition of great professors.

Kerouac left Columbia, then he returned to resume his studies, and then dropped out for good.  However, like Steve Jobs, Kerouac continued his studies even after he dropped out of college.  He enrolled at The New School, where he studied literature.

 

After Kerouac moved to Ozone Park, Queens, and holed himself up writing, his friends jokingly referred to him as “The Wizard of Ozone Park.”  Do you know “The Wizard of Menlo Park” (New Jersey) was?  Thomas Edison, who after only three months of formal schooling, dropped out.

 

***

This post has been updated. I wrote “college” when I meant to write “school,” when referring to Kerouac’s ease with English.

 

 

Gift Guide for the Beat Reader

14 Dec

The writers associated with the Beat Generation were anti-Consumerism, and I have a hard time believing they’d want anyone to buy beatnik merch. They would want you to buy and read their literature instead. However, if you have friends who love Beat literature, you may be hesitant to buy them On the Road because chances are they probably already have dog-eared paperbacks of both the standard novel and the scroll version. Here are a couple of alternative Beat-inspired gifts.

Amram

Musician and author David Amram did jazz-poetry performances with Kerouac and other poets. He also wrote the scores to films such as Splendor in the Grass and The Manchurian Candidate and has jammed with a wide variety of musicians. David Amram: The First 80 Years chronicles his genius talent. (You can watch a video of me reading with Amram here.)

logo

Another gift-worthy film is Ginsberg’s Karma, a “documentary about the legendary poet Allen Ginsberg and his mythical journey to India in the early 1960s that transformed his perspective on life and his work.” The film was edited, produced, and directed by Ram Devineni, and features poet Bob Holman. I saw this film at the PEN World Voice Literary Film Feast a few years ago and was inspired to get involved in some of their subsequent projects.

billykoumantzelis

Billy Koumantzelis was a friend of Kerouac’s back in their hometown of Lowell and served as a pallbearer at his funeral. I picked up this CD when I was at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac in 2011. It’s full of stories about Kerouac hanging out at bars, getting into fights, and appearing on The William Buckley Show and makes a great gift for someone who wants to hear stories from someone who knew Kerouac. (I got to meet Koumantzelis last week, and he is a true gentleman. I’ll be sharing stories from that soon.)

corso2

Allen Ginsberg had a portrait of poet Walt Whitman hanging in his apartment. This framed portrait of Gregory Corso is a great tribute to a poet who loved the Classics.

YouCantGoHomeAgain

Jack Kerouac was inspired by author Thomas Wolfe. Bundle up Look Homeward, Angel and You Can‘t Go Home Again for the Kerouac fan.

the-visitation

Kerouac wrote about the Grotto in Lowell, which is a beautiful and peaceful space to visit. Artist Jonathan Collins, whom I met at one of my readings, did a series based on the Grotto, which would make a lovely gift.

Larry-Closs_Beatitude_Anthony-Freda-194x300

Another person I met at a reading was Larry Closs, author of the book Beatitude.
 I stayed up late one night reading this heartbreaking-but-hopeful book of love, friendship, and the power of literature. You can read the synopsis here.

museum-sign

I haven’t finished my California road trip posts yet (so many posts, so little time!), but it will include my visit to The Beat Museum in San Francisco. I was greeted by none other than proprietor Jerry Cimino himself, whose stellar work in preserving Beat history I’ve been following for many years. He took some time out to chat with me and show me the plethora of rare and first-edition Beat books. Even if your budget isn’t big enough for a first edition, you can still get archival lit mags, which make a really cool gift.

Sea

Another place soon to be featured on my California road trip is City Lights Bookstore. In addition to rare and signed copies of books, you can also get some exclusive works here. At Sea is an “Exquisite handmade letterpress edition of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s new poem” for poet Pablo Neruda.

Of course there are tons of biographies, walking tour books, graphic novels, films, and so forth that would also make great gifts, but if you’re looking for something a bit more off the beaten path (heh), these might be the gifts you’re looking for.

Road Trip: Garlic Capital of the World

16 Nov

The first road trip I ever took to San Francisco was with my best friend on spring break during college.  As we were driving up from LA, she pointed out Gilroy, telling me that that’s where all the garlic is grown.  She told me they even had a garlic festival!

Here’s a bit about Gilroy, California:

Gilroy is well known for its garlic crop and for the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival, featuring various garlicky foods, including garlic ice cream. … Gilroy’s nickname is “Garlic Capital of the World,” although Gilroy does not lead the world in garlic production. While garlic is grown in Gilroy, its nickname comes from the fact that Gilroy Foods processes more garlic than any other factory in the world; most pickled, minced, and powdered garlic come from Gilroy. 

Garlic ice cream?!  Uh, no thanks.  Although I have had olive oil ice cream, and it was amazing.  I do love garlic, though.  So naturally when my recent road trip from San Francisco to Monterey and back passed by Gilroy, I had to get out and take some photographs.

 

 

If Jack Kerouac’s road trip sustenance was all about apple pie, perhaps mine was about gaaaaaaahhhhhrlic!

If you have any good recipes for dishes with garlic, let me know!

Road Trip: The Salad Bowl of the World

15 Nov

One of the reasons I was excited to travel the California coast from San Francisco to Monterey was because we’d pass Salinas.  John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac wrote about Salinas Valley.  Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was set in Salinas.  In 1960, Kerouac published a piece called “The Vanishing American Hobo” in Holiday magazine, which in part said:

I myself was a hobo but only of sorts, as you see, because I knew some day my literary efforts would be rewarded by social protection — I was not a real hobo with no hope ever except that secret eternal hope you get sleeping in empty boxcars flying up the Salinas Valley in hot January sunshine full of Golden Eternity towards San Jose where mean-looking old bo’s ‘ll look at you from surly lips and offer you something to eat and a drink too — down by the tracks or in the Guadaloupe Creek bottom.  

Kerouac also wrote about Salinas in Big Sur.  Even though it was in Selma, California (called Sabinal in the novel) — the Raisin Capital of the World — that Kerouac wrote about picking crops with “the Mexican girl,” Terry, in On the Road, I imagine it to be very much like Salinas.

The Salinas Valley, which begins south of San Ardo, and runs all the way to Monterey Bay, is known as “the Salad Bowl of the World.”  Most of the green salad produce you eat in the US comes from the Salinas Valley.  Named during California’s Spanish colonial period, Salinas means a salty lake or marsh.  The climate and growing conditions make the valley particularly fertile.

I saw signs promising 7 avocados for $1.  Do you know how much I pay for an avocado here in New York City?  $2 for a single avocado!  I was super excited — “stoked” to use the lingo I picked up while living in Cali (yes, people really talk like that there).  However, in keeping with the everything-going-awry theme of the trip, we did not get to make the stop because our bus had broken down earlier on the trip and we were already two hours behind schedule.  I took these photos from the window of the bus.

Big Sur and the Best Laid Plans….

15 Oct

I just got back from a trip where everything seemed to go awry.

On my recent trip to San Francisco for a friend’s wedding, I had big plans to visit John Steinbeck’s Monterey, where Cannery Row is set, and Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur, where he spent time in his friend poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin and the title of one of his books.  This idea, mind you, came after plans had already gone awry when I discovered none of my other friends were able to make it to the wedding or were flying in just in time for the wedding, leaving me with a few days to myself.  I’d been to San Francisco a few times and already done the big touristy things and the Beat literary things in the city (minus the Beat Museum, which wasn’t around the last time I was there–and which will have its own post coming up soon!), so I figured I’d take my literary wanderings a bit further south.

Steinbeck’s Cannery Row came out in 1945, two years before Kerouac made that first big trip out West.  Post-World War II, both Steinbeck and Kerouac spent time in the same area of California—Monterey, Big Sur, Salinas—and wrote about migrant workers, the working class, the down and out, absurd heroes.  Steinbeck writes of Cannery Row:

Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gamblers and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, “Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,” and he would have meant the same thing.

Steinbeck’s message is very much Kerouac’s as well.  Kerouac writes about “the holy con-man with the shining mind” and other Beat characters whom society might consider derelicts but whom he considers saint-like.

I planned to do a close study of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and to reread Kerouac’s Big Sur to compare and contrast the places, characters, themes, and language.  Visiting a place can sometimes be the best form of research.  You see and hear things that aren’t in books, get a sense of proportion and distance, and see how the landscape has changed.  I wanted to see the land, to feel the sand between my toes, to have the salty ocean breeze whip through my hair, to smell the sardines.  I wanted to experience the rough terrain that so embodied Kerouac’s mind frame in Big Sur.

Unfortunately, a trip to Big Sur would not happen for me.  My plans went awry when I discovered that after Labor Day public transportation to Big Sur stopped running during the week and that the only tour that stops at Big Sur was sold out before I got to book it.  Discovering this two days before I was supposed to leave—okay, so they weren’t exactly “the best-laid plans…”—put a wrench in my itinerary.

Well, here’s my Pinterest inspiration board for Big Sur.

Here’s an article called “Steinbeck vs. Kerouac: Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!” from Big Think.

And here’s an article from Monterey County Weekly on the film adaptation of Kerouac’s Big Sur.

I was, however, able to book a different tour that at least went to Monterey.  I had to get up super early–did I mention there were several conferences going on in San Francisco so the only hotel I could find within my budget was an hour away?–to get to the 9am bus.  I got there right on time, getting one of the few remaining seats in the very back of the bus, on the side that wouldn’t have a good view.  …Two hours later, we were still in San Francisco.  The bus was blowing hot air through the vents and overheating–not great for all the senior citizens on the trip (oh, did I not mention the demographic was ever-so-slightly older?).  They brought in mechanics, and when they failed to fix it, we eventually got a new bus.  About half the people on the tour were so mad that their precious vacation time was wasted that they refused to get on and left the tour completely.  The good news: I got a better seat.

Here are a few pictures from Salinas and Monterey.

John Steinbeck references the aphorism “the best-laid plans of mice and men often goes awry” in the title of one of his other books, Of Mice and Men.  The phrase can be traced back to Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse”:

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley

Don’t you love that eighteenth-century Scottish English?  (One day I will have to describe my misadventures in Scotland too….)

One of the things I love best about On the Road is Jack Kerouac’s candor that trips often do go awry.  When Sal Paradise, the narrator based on Kerouac, starts his first big road trip from the East Coast to the West, he has grand plans of traveling one great highway all the way there.  That doesn’t work out—nor does he even get out of state before having to turn back and come home again.  He’d been trying to hitchhike his way out of New York City and ended up stranded in a torrential downpour in Bear Mountain, one of the places my own family frequented when I was growing up.  Not one to let problems rain on his parade, Paradise/Kerouac heads back to New York City and buys fare for public transportation that will take him to the first leg of his destination.

Sometimes you just gotta keep on truckin’!  It’s a good lesson for traveling and for life.

What’s the worst that has ever happened to you on your vacation?

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I’m reading tonight at 7pm at  The Penny Farthing (103 3rd Ave., downstairs in the speakeasy) here in New York City! This is a Storytellers event, hosted by C3.  I’ll be reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Roadcoauthored with Paul Maher Jr.