Sunday, July 22, 2018

Curation #90 from my Kerouac bookshelf: Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats by Barry Miles

Item #90 in my Kerouac bookshelf curation project is this paperback 2010 Virgin Books first printing of Barry Miles' Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats. 396 pages, it measures about 5" x 7-5/8" and is in very good condition except for some underlining and annotations in ink. The provenance is uncertain, but I suspect I bought it via Amazon. You're welcome, Mr. Bezos.

This Kerouac biography was first published in 1998. Miles has written or edited a number of books about the Beats and that time period (including Charles Bukowski and Frank Zappa). You can read Chapter 1 here, and a NY Times review of the book here. Reviewer Douglas is pretty critical of the book, and I don't have a lot of disagreements with her points. For example, "Indeed, it is hard to see what motive Miles may have had for this undertaking, beyond cashing in on the Kerouac revival now under way."

As with all biographies, there are mistakes and omissions. One aspect of the book that bothers me is the citations. There are numbered notes by chapter in the back, but no numbering within the chapters. One is left to guess the source, if any, of information. For example, on p. 91, amidst a Freudian analysis of Jack's psyche that Miles is doubtfully qualified to make, the author claims that Jack's mother proposed sex with him when he was in his thirties. I would like to know the source of that claim, but it is impossible to tell from Miles' strange reference scheme.

For a sense of the book, here are the sections:


1 Lowell

2 Columbia University
3 The Beat Generation
4 The 115th Street Commune
5 Notes from Underground
6 On the Road
7 Visions of Neal
8 Mexico City
9 All Life is Sorrowful
10 The King of the Beatniks
11 Madman, Bum and Angel
12 Good Ol' Boy


That Miles chose to title a chapter "The King of the Beatniks" defies understanding the pejorative nature of that term, despite his chronicling of the Herb Caen origin. In that same chapter, he calls artist Franz Kline "Frank Kline." Later on, during a harangue of Jack for not being a good father to Jan, Miles calls her book Trainsongs (it is Trainsong). Editing needed.

So it's not a perfect biography, but it's readable and I see that I underlined quite a few sentences, meaning I had some kind of reaction to them (maybe it was new information to me, maybe I disagreed with the information, maybe I wondered about the source, maybe it validated something for me, etc.). I wouldn't steer you clear of it, but it's not my top recommendation for a Kerouac biography.

Below is a picture of Shelf #3 of my Kerouac bookshelf showing the placement of this book (10th from the left) on the day I started curating my collection. Next up: Jack Kerouac: An Introduction by Brad Parker.

Shelf #3 of my Kerouac bookshelf

1 comment:

Elden Kurt Phaneuf Jr. said...

We have some identical concerns about this book, Rick. Having studied psychoanalysis and Freudian theory quite extensively, I'm particularly skeptical of dimestore readings like those Miles provides...