Saturday, September 1, 2018

Curation #130 from my Kerouac bookshelf: Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They're Not What You Think) by John Leland

Item #130 in my Kerouac bookshelf curation project is this hardcover 2007 Viking first edition first printing of Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They're Not What You Think) by John Leland. 205 pages, it measures about 5-5/8" x 8-1/3" and is in very good condition. The provenance is that I ordered it from Amazon on December 29, 2012.

This is the book from which I borrowed a concise synopsis of the 5 journeys in On the Road and pasted it in my "working copy" for reference when I was teaching my Kerouac course at the University of Maine at Farmington.* Click here to see a picture of that synopsis.

The back cover blurb for Leland's book is an excerpt:
"My writing is teaching," Kerouac noted in his journal, and this was the point, even if readers didnt get it at first. "One of the greatest incentives of the writer is the long business of getting his teachings out and accepted." He was twenty-six when he started On the Road, shaking off a brief failed marriage and the death of his father, embarking on the next phase of his life. The new book would teach the way. To prepare he wrote down eleven "true thoughts" about himself, many of them vanities he hoped to overcome along his characters' travels. "I'm ready to grow up if they'll let me," he wrote. The product of his labors, he was sure, would be a "powerful and singularly gloomy book . . . but good." In due course the narrator learns and dispenses many lessons, often in the form of parables and revelations, providing a guide to alternative adulthood: What would Jack do? Contrary to its rebel rep, On the Road is not about being Peter Pan; it is about becoming an adult.

I swear I didn't know about this book when I wrote The Beat Handbook: 100 Days of Kerouactions, yet the very thesis of my book was to use The Dharma Bums and On the Road to answer the question: What would Kerouac do? Hence, how could I not love Leland's book, which serves to answer the very same question (albeit in a much more scholarly way)?

Despite being one of their reporters, the NY Times review of Why Kerouac Matters (click here) is not without pretty strong criticism, and I don't disagree with a number of reviewer Matt Weiland's points. Leland was being intentionally playful in his discussion of the lessons of On the Road, a point that Weiland seems to miss.

I remember liking this book a lot when I first read it in 2013, and I see that I underlined a lot of passages in my copy. Skimming through it for curation's sake, I decided I need to re-read it without the pressure of mining it for teaching my Kerouac course.

Whether or not you agree with John Leland on the instructive nature of On the RoadWhy Kerouac Matters deserves a spot on your Kerouac bookshelf.

*Just after yesterday's post went to print I learned that a former colleague at UMF, Tom Eastler, had died as well as the wife of a former colleague, Matiana Glass. May they be safe in heaven dead, as Jack might put it.

Below is a picture of Shelf #4 of my Kerouac bookshelf showing the placement of this book (24th from the left) on the day I started curating my collection. Next up: Visions of Kerouac: The Life of Jack Kerouac by Charles E. Jarvis.

Shelf #4 of my Kerouac bookshelf

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