Saturday, April 7, 2018

Curation #28 from my Kerouac bookshelf: Big Sur by Jack Kerouac

Item #28 in my Kerouac bookshelf curation project is this copy of Big Sur by Jack Kerouac. It's a Penguin Books edition showing a 1992 copyright and it's a 4th printing. The provenance is uncertain, but it is likely that I purchased this used on Amazon. I've included a link below should you wish to do the same. This copy is in fair condition, with the usual dog-ears and creases and yellowing. I've hurt the value with my own annotations (something I used to do a lot of when I first got into Kerouac).

I don't know in which order I read Big Sur, but it was definitely after On The Road and The Dharma Bums, and it was early on. I remember liking it at first, but on re-reading, I really love this novel. It may be that I can relate more to the central issue -- Kerouac's mental health crisis -- since my own venture into that realm in 2013. And it may be that my in-depth involvement with things Kerouacian has helped me understand Kerouac a lot more than I did when I first read Big Sur.

For the uninitiated, Big Sur is a searing and painful account of Jack's experience when he tried to dry out at Lawrence Ferlinghetti's cabin -- in Big Sur, California -- during the summer of 1960 (the book was published in 1962). It is notable for Kerouac's typical rolling and beautiful prose, but also for its dark and accurate depiction of his descent into a nervous breakdown. Also notable is the inclusion of a long poem Kerouac wrote at Big Sur in which he writes the sounds of the Pacific Ocean. It is aptly titled, "'SEA'". This novel is where the phrase "one fast move or I'm gone" originates (also the title of an excellent Kerouac documentary).

Insiders know that this is the book that starts with a preface where Kerouac describes his work as comprising
one vast book like Proust's except that my remembrances are written on the run instead of afterwards in a sick bed. Because of the objections of my early publishers I was not allowed to use the same personae names in each work. On the Road, The Subterraneans, The Dharma Bums, Doctor Sax, Maggie Cassidy, Tristessa, Desolation Angels, Visions of Cody and the others including this book Big Sur are just chapters in the whole work which I call The Duluoz Legend. In my old age I intend to collect all my work and re- insert my pantheon of uniform names, leave the long shelf full of books there, and die happy. The whole thing forms one enormous comedy, seen through the eyes of poor Ti Jean (me), otherwise known as Jack Duluoz, the world of raging action and folly and also of gentle sweetness seen through the keyhole of his eye. 
                                                                                                       JACK KEROUAC

Big Sur is a breath-taking place and I recommend a visit. Click here for a video of me reading from Big Sur in Big Sur on July 18, 2016. It was an epic experience and I've never felt closer to Jack. It was hard not to weep. I posted about our time in Big Sur here:

If you want to stay in Big Sur, I recommend the Big Sur River Inn ( We had a wonderful two-night stay there in 2016.

Below is a picture of Shelf #1 of my Kerouac bookshelf showing the placement of this book (9th item from the left) on the day I started curating my collection. Next up: Lonesome Traveler by Jack Kerouac.

Shelf #1 of my Kerouac bookshelf


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