Posts Tagged ‘Jack Kerouac’

Book (and one audio) links

September 27, 2013

Here’s a collection of JG Ballard covers done up by James Marsh.  I have still yet to make the leap to ebooks, and this is part of the reason. While I know ebooks still have “covers,” an electronic cover is far from the physical thing in your hands. The book cover is one of the primary ways to attract a reader to a book, being literally the first thing the reader sees.  Looking through these covers and I know that if I was roaming through a bookstore, and saw these covers on the shelf, I’d have to pick at least one of them up and look through it. They’re just interesting and engaging, they pull you in and  make you curious about what past the cover awaits your eye.  While I may, technically, be able to see the same “cover” on my ereader, I think it loses something when you remove its tangibility. It becomes just a picture, something to click through, something easy to be discarded. It is no longer tied to the text in any real way.

Which might be one of the largest problems with ebooks in general. While they offer great convenience, they also become less important because of their literal lack of weight. You don’t have to make room for the book on a shelf or on your coffee table. You don’t have its bulk continually taking up space, shoving itself before your eyes every time you glance in its direction. Ebooks can be forgotten, lost to the ether of ones and zeroes.  While ereaders may have pulled more people than before into the readersphere, they  have also helped for this appearance of a product easily ignored, easily removed from thought.

I’m a bit late to the remembrance, but Carolyn Cassady has passed away. She was the husband of Neal Cassady, the close friend of Beat legend Jack Kerouac. She wrote her own memoir remembering the Beat scene, that I’ve read bits and pieces of and encourage anyone who is interested in that time and place in American literature to check it out.  The whole Beat generation thing seems too often to be overly condensed to Kerouac, Burroughs, and Ginsberg, with everyone else reduced to extraordinarily minor  spots – the women especially. Her voice is an important one for perspective on the scene. It shouldn’t be ignored.

And the British aren’t happy about the Booker Prize being opened up to American writers.  Not much to say, as I don’t entirely agree with the opening the Booker competition up, either. It’s okay for it to focus on United Kingdom born writers. I don’t see how it cheapens the prize by maintaining a narrow focus. If anything, I think it opens the prize up to a nearly impossibly deep well of applicants, where merely deciding on finalists from year to year will become increasingly difficult.  Also, there’s nothing wrong with some pride for the UK.

Finally, not book related at all, but you can no preorder a massive Bob Dylan collection. Two things are interesting with this. The first is that it is labeled as “volume one,” but it contains all 35 studio titles that Dylan has released, as well as 6 live albums, and another two disks called “side tracks.” Which leaves me to wonder when (or if) volume two is released, what will be on it.   It makes me wonder if maybe we will see the material Dylan has used to release his occasional “Bootleg Series” editions released in one measure treasure chest of B side and rarity goodness. It is something I would desperately want, but also be desperately unable to afford. The second curious thing about this collection, is that there is an Amazon exclusive version that is packaged as a harmonica…but has all of the songs on a relatively tiny USB drive.  And it’s a hundred bucks more than the conventional collection of CDs, hardcover book, etc. While I think the harmonica thing is cool, you’re also giving up a lot of nice extras – including the physical CDs to keep around as master sources for your own personal rips. I like the idea of the USB stick, but I don’t see how it is worth $365. I’d rather have the box set and all of the tangible swaggy goodness that comes with it.

Kerouac Letters, left on the shelf

September 5, 2010

Went to Half Price Books yesterday. They’re having a sale, 20% off everything, which doesn’t sound like much but, considering everything is already discounted, it adds up. Enough to make it worth going. My girlfriend found a couple of things off the clearance rack and grabbed something about knitting off the shelves. I had a more difficult time. What I came the closest to buying were a couple of books of letters of Jack Kerouac. They were the books from the 90s that Ann Charters edited. nice, big hardbound things, in excellent shape and things I have taken out of the library in the past and read bits and pieces of.

But I just couldn’t bring myself to buy them. There’s something about having his personal correspondence put out there to buy and paw through that turns me off a bit.  I’m curious, I kinda want to read them, but I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t want my letters put out there like that. Considering he’s dead, he doesn’t have that choice.

At the same time, I can see how such things might be really interesting and helpful for scholarly work. And Kerouac wasn’t exactly shy about putting his life out there in his writing. And it’s not exactly hurting anyone since damn near anyone who could be mentioned in the things have to be either at or nearing the end of their lives. The media doesn’t exactly clamor after authors, anyway.

Still, I left the things on the shelf. Maybe I’ll go back and buy them anyway. It wouldn’t be the first time I ventured back to a bookstore to snap up something I had previously left but I doubt I will this time.  I understand their value, I understand why and how they could be interesting to people, but it still feels invasive to me. I don’t, personally, need to know what he wrote to his friends and confidants. I’ve become happy with his books. It’s all I need.

Dastgah by Mark Mordue – Review

April 8, 2010

A travelogue published in 2004 but written largely from just before the terrorist attacks of 9-11 and just after them, it’s a look into a world that less than a decade later may not even exist. As it stands, it is prescient look at an area just before, as the time worn adage goes, everything changed.

Reading through it, I wasn’t sure how to break it up to talk about it. I considered breaking it up by destination, talking about who he encountered in each place, what he saw, where he went, etc. etc. but breaking it up takes a way what gradually revealed itself to be the overwhelming arc of the journey – the discovery of a common humanity in the farthest reaches of the world. And how our, the industrial western world’s, occasional lack of humanity is reflected back by this.

At a time when the over-riding image of the Middle Eastern world is of an area under the tidal pull of religious fanaticism, the only truly negative experience Mordue suffered was when he was gently mugged at an ATM in Paris. Before that he would journey through India (twice), Nepal, Turkey and Iran. He will have visited tiny villages in the middle of nowhere, he will have witnessed the aftermath of a person losing a battle with a tour bus and he will have survived the streets of India and all of their roving, one -man one stop shopping stores where whatever you want is either up a sleeve, in a pocket or around the corner. By and large, everyone he meets greets him with an overwhelming kindness, partly because they wish their nation to make a good impression on him but, you get the feeling, that it is simply seen as the right thing to do, the human thing. And this human thing is repeated in his smaller, quicker jaunts through the Western World after his bank card is stolen and friends of friends of friends allow him to crash on their couch or their floor and allow him to return to his feet first in Paris and then in NY.

the chapter on Iran is perhaps the most interesting in relation to current events. Mordue paints a picture of a nation divided with a growing youth movement seeking a transparency and openness that its predecessors and, frankly, rulers are not comfortable with. The impression is that Iran is a nation that has come to its revolution independently and inevitably, a nation that is perhaps far more Westernized than its aging rulers wish to believe a nation of people desiring greater western freedoms.

Woven into the adventure is the ups and downs of Mordue’s relationship with his girlfriend, the push and pull of it, the occasional strain of the travel and the binding of it. Throughout the text you are never sure if their relationship will last and you wonder why it is strained so, why Mordue at times seems so ready to move away from it. Looking back through the book, I’m not sure we’re given a definite answer as to how this turned out for Mark but he does provide an answer in the acknowledgements. I won’t mention what happens but, if you’re curious, look there.

In blurbs for the front/back cover, Wim Wenders touches upon Jack Kerouac a couple of times, as well as Paul Bowles. I can see the comparison to a Paul Bowles character but I’m not entirely sold on the Kerouac comparison. Mordue certainly seems to be a bit lost, to be searching for something, but he also doesn’t seem to have the same desperate energy in finding it. I wonder if part of this comes from the fact that Kerouac was often surrounded by friends and contemporaries in his travels and adventures while Mordue was with his girlfriend and how the dynamics of each as travel companions are evident in the comparisons. This isn’t to say that either is better than the other, just that the energy is different.

Dastgah is taken from the name for the complex form of classical music created in Iran. It is a combination of memorized parts that make up the basics of every “song” but which can be interchanged and woven together randomly and on the fly by a group of musicians. It is the musician’s responsibility to not only know these different sections well enough to play them but to also know his fellow musicians well enough to instantly recognize where they are going and how to join in with them. It also works as a nice metaphor for life. We are all given pretty much the same parts to work with. We must all learn the different notes we have to play but the construction of life is the random use of these notes and how well we react and weave ourselves in amongst them. Dastgah is a record of one person’s learning the notes and discovering new ways of weaving his parts into the whole. full of life’s minor and major victories and defeats and some of the horrors that simply exist outside of either of those, it is a riveting read of a journey through life.

The Olivetti – Cormac McCarthy’s Original Laptop

December 1, 2009

i’m part of the last generation that might still remember the typewriter in any form. My mom owned both kinds in my life time, manual and electric, and helped type the majority of my school reports right up through high school on them – I would write them out long hand and then she would type them.  The click/clack of the keys on the manuals and the weird little hum of the electric is something that has a strange fondness for me. And, apparently, for Cormac McCarthy, too.

The NYT has a little story about McCarthy putting his portable Olivetti typewriter up for auction. The author of The Road, Suttree and other novels says the machine has probably seen upwards of five million words fall out of his finger tips and onto the page through the metal levers and letters of the mechanisms of the machine.

Thinking of writers of yesteryear, it seems the implements they used to hone and carry out their craft were as special and singular as their prose. I’m not a great historian of such matters. Other than McCarthy’s use of a portable Olivetti, I know Kerouac used an Underwood and it pretty much stops there for what I remember. But I do know I’ve heard more than a few stories of writers and their pens, their typewriters, their memo pads and everything else. It seems as if once these writers found a method for moving their thoughts from their head to the page that they never or rarely wandered from their ritual (McCarthy only agreed to give up his Olivetti when a friend of his found and bound a matching model in far better condition).

It makes me think of modern writers and our use of the computer. We might stick to a particular word processor program but we probably burn through four, five, six, or more computers over our life times and will probably bounce all over the map with who we buy them from. McCarthy mentions how young people don’t have any idea what a typewriter even is any more as a general comment about how society has moved on in the past ten years or so. But it’s also a sharper comment on the changing face of the author.