Travel Reads Tuesday: On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Travel Reads Tuesday: On the Road by Jack Kerouac on northtosouth.us

On the Road became a two-week read for me. It took a bit longer than I thought it would, since during the time I spent reading it our travels spanned from Milan to Copenhagen, LA, St. Louis and even out to the California desert. Regrettably, my first Travel Reads Tuesday selection ended up being a little bit of a disappointment. Read on for my thoughts on Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and to see which book is next on my reading list.

I downloaded the version above for $8.85. There’s also a deluxe version with a movie tie-in for the same price.

Kindle edition / Kindle deluxe edition (movie tie-in)

WHY I DECIDED TO READ ON THE ROAD

On the Road is one of those books that you mostly hear people are reading before departing on a good ol’ fashioned USA road trip, and that was exactly my purpose for making this read my first choice. In a week or so, Ian and I will be heading out on the road to my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri from Los Angeles, California on our next adventure: Road Trip USA!

WHEN I READ IT + HOW LONG IT TOOK ME

May 20 – June 1, 2014 (about 2 weeks)

WHERE I WAS

Milan, Copenhagen, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Borrego Springs

THOUGHTS AND RATING

My Rating: 3/5 | Kindle Reader Rating: 4/5

I found On the Road to be an enjoyable and easy read about 60% of the time (thus my 3-star rating).

What I Liked

Specifically I enjoyed reading the parts of the book that focus on the life, adventures, and reflections of Sal Paradise, the main character and the book’s voice. These sections of the book I think are most representative of what people think about when they think of the book as a whole. Frequent descriptions of beautiful scenery and funny characters Sal meets while traveling solo, reflections on life, and even an obstacle here and there, are the parts I found interesting, and I think it’s these parts that inspire readers to get out, explore and take some risks. A few examples from these parts of the book:

“I tingled all over; I counted minutes and subtracted miles. Just ahead, over the rolling wheatfields all golden beneath the distant snows of Estes, I’d be seeing old Denver at last.” (p. 35)

“I wondered what the Spirit of the Mountain was thinking, and looked up and saw jackpines in the moon, and saw ghosts of old miners, and wondered about it. In the whole eastern dark wall of the Divide this night there was silence and the whisper of the wind, except in the ravine where we roared; and on the other side of the Divide was the great Western Slope, and the big plateau that went to Steamboat Springs, and dropped, and led you to the western Colorado desert and the Utah desert; all in darkness now as we fumed and screamed in our mountain nook, mad drunken Americans in the mighty land. We were on the roof of America and all we could do was yell, I guess — across the night, eastward over the Plains, where somewhere an old man with white hair was probably walking toward us with the Word, and would arrive any minute and make us silent.” (p. 55)

It’s always interesting to see places you know mentioned in a book you’re reading, so I found it interesting that Sal’s character doesn’t think much of LA (Ian’s and my current “home base”), but he didn’t seem to mind St. Louis (my hometown):

“I never felt sadder in my life. LA is the loneliest and most brutal of American cities; New York gets god-awful cold in the winter but there’s a feeling of wacky comradeship somewhere in some streets. LA is a jungle.” (p. 86)

“We arrived in St. Louis at noon. I took a walk down by the Mississippi River and watched the logs that came floating from Montana in the north — grand Odyssean logs of our continental dream. Old steamboats with their scrollwork more scrolled and withered by weathers sat in the mud inhabited by rats. Great clouds of afternoon overtopped the Mississippi Valley. (p. 103)

“Then Indiana fields again, and St. Louis as ever in its great valley clouds of afternoon. The muddy cobbles and the Montana logs, the broken steamboats, the ancient signs, the grass and the ropes by the river. The endless poem.” (p. 255)

What I Didn’t Like

There were parts of the book that were a bit hard to take. While Sal is a decent guy, just looking for adventure and something to write about, he latches onto a character that I found myself increasingly annoyed with and follows him around in his travels time and time again. Dean Moriarty, said character, embarks on his journeys in an unending search for “IT,” seemingly something more that he seeks to get out of his life, and always at another’s expense.

“We didn’t know what to expect. ‘Where will he sleep? What’s he going to eat? Are there any girls for him?’ It was like the imminent arrival of Gargantua; preparations had to be made to widen the gutters of Denver and foreshorten certain laws to fit his suffering bulk and bursting ecstasies.” (p. 259)

Dean also frequently rambles and speaks nonsense to the point where you’ll stop re-reading his nonsensical ramblings and come to be okay with being confused. You learn that whatever Dean says is not meant to make any sense anyway.  Dean’s longing to search for fulfillment in life is all fine and okay, except for the fact that multiple times when he spontaneously decides to cross the country, he selfishly leaves those who care about and rely on him in the dust. He makes the women he marries into fools, charming them into a life built around him, even having children with them, just to leave them behind whenever he gets a new idea of some place to go, something else to do, or someone else to be with. I don’t really consider myself a devout feminist, but as a female, reading these parts was a bit hard to stomach.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of all is the way Sal defeatedly accepts his friend’s selfish manner. After Dean leaves Sal, sick and alone, in Mexico, Sal concludes:

“When I got better I realized what a rat he was, but then I had to understand the impossible complexity of his life, how he had to leave me there, sick, to get on with his wives and woes. ‘Okay, old Dean, I’ll say nothing.'” (p. 302)

My Take Overall

During Sal’s travels separate from his friend Dean, you get to know a respectable guy, capable of commitment and love and real connection with other human beings. Without Dean’s crazy and selfish antics, the book would probably be a lot less frustrating to read. But it would also probably be more boring. I’m glad I finally read On the Road. But I probably won’t read it again. (Though I have added Big Sur, another of Kerouac’s works, to my reading list.)

MY FAVORITE QUOTES

Only 26 pages in, but after finishing the book, this is still my favorite part. I laughed out loud at this story Sal tells of his former sea-mate Big Slim Hazard, a hobo by choice.

“As a little boy he’d seen a hobo come up to ask his mother for a piece of pie, and she had given it to him, and when the hobo went off down the road the little boy had said, “Ma, what is that fellow?” “Why, that’s a ho-bo.” “Ma, I want to be a ho-bo someday.” (p. 26)

And a few more good quotes from the book:

“‘Mañana,’ she said. ‘Everything’ll be all right tomorrow, don’t you think, Sal-honey, man?’ ‘Sure, baby, mañana.’ It was always mañana. For the next week that was all I heard — mañana, a lovely word and one that probably means heaven.” (p. 94)

“He and I suddenly saw the whole country like an oyster for us to open; and the pearl was there, the pearl was there.” (p.138)

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? — it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” (p. 156)

“I realized these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered, stabilized-within-the-photo lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, or actual night, the hell of it, the senseless nightmare road. All of it inside endless and beginningless emptiness. Pitiful forms of ignorance. (p. 253)

ON THE ROAD: THE MOVIE

OTHER BOOKS BY JACK KEROUAC

     

Next Up: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief is currently available on Kindle for $6.99

WHY I’M READING THE BOOK THIEF

My recent travels to Berlin, Germany sparked my interest in the history of Nazi Germany. I purchased The Book Thief during a fantastic Kindle sale several months ago, but I haven’t yet had a chance to read it. So now it’s time for me to crack open The Book Thief.

READ WITH ME

If you’re looking for something to read, or if you’ve already read The Book Thief, I welcome you to join in the conversation! Let me know about your reading experience and thoughts, or your favorite quotes from the book, in the comments below.

Or, if you don’t want to buy it and want to borrow my Kindle book when I’m done, let me know. I can lend it out for two weeks at a time!

THE BOOK THIEF: THE MOVIE

Happy Travel Reads Tuesday!

Current location: California, USA / Next destination: Road Trip USA

Previous Travel Reads Tuesday Posts

1. Intro to Travel Reads Tuesday plus On The Road by Jack Kerouac preview / May 20, 2014

About the Author

Diana Southern
In March 2014, Diana called it quits on her traditional American working life and set out to explore the world with her partner in crime (and love of her life) Ian Norman. They now live a sustainable life of full time travel, working for themselves and seeking adventure at the same time. Here on North to South, Diana documents their journey in achieving and maintaining this "road less traveled" way of life.

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