Smart and fast-paced; one of the better pieces to appear so far in this anniversary year.

JACK KEROUAC’S AMERICAN JOURNEY

THE REAL-LIFE ODYSSEY OF ON THE ROAD

On the Road, celebrating its 50th birthday, may have been composed in a white heat. But, as Kerouac scholar Maher ably shows in this biography of the book and its author, it took years for that heat to build.

Kerouac’s famed friendship with Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs dates to the mid-1940s; later in the decade he learned the word “beat” from Burroughs, who, Maher notes, learned it from writer Herbert Huncke, whom Kerouac called “the greatest storyteller I’ve ever known.” Huncke used the word as a synonym for “poor,” but Kerouac exalted, characteristically, “like sleeping in the subways, like Huncke used to do, and yet being illuminated and having illuminated ideas about apocalypse and all that.” Kerouac’s borrowing would make him, famously, the spokesman for the so-called Beat Generation a decade later, after On the Road was published in 1957. Kerouac’s epochal book, too, Maher chronicles, took shape in the late 1940s, when depressive Kerouac (“the experience of life is a regular series of deflections that finally results in a circle of despair”) and madcap generational bad influence Neal Cassady tore around the country on a few epic amphetamine- and beer-fueled car trips, visiting such places as Oakland, with its “most interesting skid row in America,” and Denver, where poor hive-beset polyamorous Cassady kept multiple households. The movement was constant, Cassady covering, as Maher carefully records, “4,943 miles across the country” in a single week and Kerouac’s logging more than 8,000 miles by thumb, rail and other suitably apocalyptic hobo contrivances. Publisher Robert Giroux began to court Kerouac as a prospective author in the late 1940s and publish him in 1950 as well, but, as Maher writes, “the next seven years would test [Kerouac’s] endurance as a writer harshly,” finally yielding his breakthrough book.

Smart and fast-paced; one of the better pieces to appear so far in this anniversary year.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-56025-991-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

Did you like this book?

DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

Did you like this book?

more