Sunday, April 15, 2018

Curation #34 from my Kerouac bookshelf: Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac

Item #34 in my Kerouac bookshelf curation project is this copy of Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac. It is a Riverhead Books publication showing a copyright date of 1995 and this is the 24th printing. Desolation Angels was first published in 1965 and written in 1956 and 1961 (completed in 1964) about the time period 1956-1957. This particular copy's provenance is likely that I bought it used on Amazon, which you can do via the link below. It is in good shape with some yellowing of the pages.

Desolation Angels is typical Kerouac in its spontaneous prose style and roman à clef approach. It depends largely on journals he kept during the time periods covered: Book One (Desolation Angels) is about his time as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak in the Cascades (more detail than his treatment of the same event in The Dharma Bums) and right after he came down; Book Two (Passing Through) is about his subsequent experiences in other places (Mexico, New York, Tangiers, France, London, and America). According to Joyce Johnson's introduction, Jack originally planned the two "books" to be published separately. She entered his life in Book Two as Alyce Newman. The book got panned by the New York Times (click here), but Kerouac fans generally love it. I did.

Kerouac trivia buffs know that there are several errors in maintaining the real-life characters' pseudonyms (e.g., in Book One Chapter 91 he calls Gregory Corso "Gregory" instead of "Raphael"). Others are noted on the Wikipedia page for the book (no, Wikipedia is not evil -- you just need to fact-check it).

During my first (and only complete) read of the novel, I underlined or noted the following:

Book One Chapter 32 
"Sad understanding is what compassion means-- . . . ."

Book One Chapter 36
"AND THAT IS PRECISELY WHAT MAYA MEANS, it means we're being fooled into believing in reality of the feeling of the show of things--Maya in Sanskrit, it means wile--And why do we go on being fooled even when we know it?"

"The simplest truth in the world is beyond our reach because of its complete simplicity, i.e., its pure nothing...."

Can you tell I was going through a Buddhist phase?

I also noted the following passage, probably because it mentions Hemingway:

Book Two Chapter 65
"God how right Hemingway was when he said there was no remedy for life--and to think that negative little paper-shuffling prissies should write condescending obituaries about a man who told the truth, nay who drew breath in pain to tell a tale like that!"

I hope Jack never read his obituaries.

Desolation Angels is a 400+ page book, so there is a lot of Kerouac here and a lot of ground covered in the telling. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to tackle it straight-through -- you will want to savor it.

Below is a picture of Shelf #1 of my Kerouac bookshelf showing the placement of this book (15th item from the left) on the day I started curating my collection. Next up: Book of Sketches by Jack Kerouac.

Shelf #1 of my Kerouac bookshelf

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