Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Curation #114 from my Kerouac bookshelf: Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac by Gerald Nicosia

Item #114 in my Kerouac bookshelf curation project is this paperback 1994 University of California Press 4th printing of Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac by Gerald Nicosia. 767 pages, it measures about 6" x 9" and is in fair condition (I refer to it frequently so it is well-used, annotated, sticky-noted, highlighted, underlined, and so on). The provenance is that I bought it used from Amazon in the early 2000s, but the title page was signed and inscribed by the author during his stay at my house in Belgrade Lakes, Maine in April 2013:
CHEZ DALE -- Belgrade Lakes
For Rick Dale --
Who keeps Jack's true
spirit alive -- in kindness
and care for justice --
in love of the simple things --
and remember the birds for
In peace &
friendship --
Love --
Gerry Nicosia
April 24, 2013

Memory Babe is one of the earliest  Kerouac biographies. First published by Grove Press, Inc. in 1983, it was preceded by Ann Charters' (1973) and Dennis McNally's (1979) works (curated here and here). It remains one of the most comprehensive and definitive. The title derives from the nickname young Jack's friends ascribed to him because of his prodigious memory. You can read The Washington Post's review of it here.

Memory Babe is a massive work, with biographical details of Kerouac's life (in part based on 300 some interviews Nicosia conducted) interwoven with literary criticism of Jack's major works. One of the things my great friend Richard Marsh taught me that is a fantastic thing to do is to read the sections of Memory Babe relevant to a Kerouac book and then immediately read the book. Or do it simultaneously. This takes some work with the index as all the comments about a novel are not necessarily in one spot (e.g., The Dharma Bums is listed in the index as being mentioned on pages 496, 547, 570, 573, 575, 577, 579, 585, 587, 599, 619, 627, and 640).

Memory Babe is divided into three "Books" that cover the time from Jack's birth through his death (1922-1946, 1947-1955, and 1956-1969). It includes 16 pages of pictures and a 21-page index. Author Nicosia created an archive of materials related to his work on the book, and that archive is open to the public in Jack's hometown of Lowell, MA. Richard and I visited the archive in March of 2015 and I blogged about it three times:


If you are a Kerouac fan or scholar, Memory Babe is a must for your Kerouac bookshelf. Sadly, it is currently out-of-print, but you can contact the author directly to see about getting a signed copy (see #7 here), plus there are used copies available at the usual places.

Below is a picture of Shelf #4 of my Kerouac bookshelf showing the placement of this book (8th from the left) on the day I started curating my collection. Next up: Jan Kerouac: A Life in Memory edited by Gerald Nicosia.

Shelf #4 of my Kerouac bookshelf


KerouacJack said...

The best of all the KEROUAC far.

Anonymous said...

Ever play the "If I was on a deserted island and could only have one book" game?
This is my choice.