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Kerouac: A Biography

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Now that Kerouac's major novel, On the Road is accepted as an American classic, academic critics are slowly beginning to catch up with his experimental literary methods and examine the dozen books comprising what he called 'the legend of Duluoz.' Nearly all of his books have been in print internationally since his death in 1969, and his writing has been discovered and enjo Now that Kerouac's major novel, On the Road is accepted as an American classic, academic critics are slowly beginning to catch up with his experimental literary methods and examine the dozen books comprising what he called 'the legend of Duluoz.' Nearly all of his books have been in print internationally since his death in 1969, and his writing has been discovered and enjoyed by new readers throughout the world. Kerouac's view of the promise of America, the seductive and lovely vision of the beckoning open spaces of our continent, has never been expressed better by subsequent writers, perhaps because Kerouac was our last writer to believe in America's promise--and essential innocence--as the legacy he would explore in his autobiographical fiction.


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Now that Kerouac's major novel, On the Road is accepted as an American classic, academic critics are slowly beginning to catch up with his experimental literary methods and examine the dozen books comprising what he called 'the legend of Duluoz.' Nearly all of his books have been in print internationally since his death in 1969, and his writing has been discovered and enjo Now that Kerouac's major novel, On the Road is accepted as an American classic, academic critics are slowly beginning to catch up with his experimental literary methods and examine the dozen books comprising what he called 'the legend of Duluoz.' Nearly all of his books have been in print internationally since his death in 1969, and his writing has been discovered and enjoyed by new readers throughout the world. Kerouac's view of the promise of America, the seductive and lovely vision of the beckoning open spaces of our continent, has never been expressed better by subsequent writers, perhaps because Kerouac was our last writer to believe in America's promise--and essential innocence--as the legacy he would explore in his autobiographical fiction.

30 review for Kerouac: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    This is strange and I don't understand it. The received idea is that once On The Road beat-fame sluiced all over Kerouac's life he couldn't take it and he became a misanthropic drunk and eventually a dead beat, at the age of 47, cursing everything and everyone but especially the hippies he had so inspired. Most of that is true, but this 12 year burn-out goes like this : The Dharma Bums (1958) Lonesome Traveler, short story collection (1960) Big Sur (1962) Desolation Angels (1965) Satori in Paris This is strange and I don't understand it. The received idea is that once On The Road beat-fame sluiced all over Kerouac's life he couldn't take it and he became a misanthropic drunk and eventually a dead beat, at the age of 47, cursing everything and everyone but especially the hippies he had so inspired. Most of that is true, but this 12 year burn-out goes like this : The Dharma Bums (1958) Lonesome Traveler, short story collection (1960) Big Sur (1962) Desolation Angels (1965) Satori in Paris, novella (1965) Vanity of Duluoz (1968) Those were the new ones. In his last 10 years he also exhumed, prepared, polished and published : Visions of Cody (1951–1952; published 1960) Pic, novella (1951 & 1969; published 1971) Doctor Sax (1952; published 1959) Book of Dreams (1952–1960; published 1960) Maggie Cassidy (1953; published 1959) The Subterraneans, novella (1953; published 1958) Tristessa, novella (1955–1956; published 1960) Visions of Gerard (1956; published 1963) Man, that's a ton of work for a burnout drunk. Well, I read this when I was a fan and I'm not a fan anymore and it did provide me with the handy and well-known life lesson of not taking too close a look at your heroes because the dose of reality you get is discombobulatory in the extreme and might lead to tears before bedtime. Also : it later dawned on me that Ann Charters was the wife of Samuel Charters who pioneered the concept that old 78s made by black people were worth listening to, and he wrote the first book about that called The Country Blues and then he proceeded to produce records by Country Joe and the Fish and John Fahey. Mr and Mrs Charters, a dynamo 60s countercultural team.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Serenity

    The definitive biography of Jack Kerouac. Helps dispell the myth of Kerouac as a total free spirit and liberated beatnik who helped pave the way for the sixties. Rather, it shows him to be the extremely conflicted man that he was, caught between two opposing value systems that he could not reconcile within himself and that eventually destroyed him, leaving him to retreat into isolation, alcoholism, and closed-mindedness at the end of his unfortunately short life. I recommend paring this reading The definitive biography of Jack Kerouac. Helps dispell the myth of Kerouac as a total free spirit and liberated beatnik who helped pave the way for the sixties. Rather, it shows him to be the extremely conflicted man that he was, caught between two opposing value systems that he could not reconcile within himself and that eventually destroyed him, leaving him to retreat into isolation, alcoholism, and closed-mindedness at the end of his unfortunately short life. I recommend paring this reading with "Ginsberg: A Biography" to get a complete portrait of the man, although the light shines on the Kerouac's torment and self-destruction even more harshly in the Ginsberg bio, to the point where it becomes depressing.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Simon Robs

    "On The Road," the "Little Rock Nine" and "Sputnik" all came about in Sept./Oct. of 1957, oh, and so did I - looking back now with age creeping in at the corners of memory to worldly events surrounding one's birth and wondering if along with DNA could these outside dynamics play a role as imprints on un/consciousness? I, without full credulity, [like to] think so, in that once denied borders were crossed, new horizons were envisioned and doors of perception flung wide open to the making it new. K "On The Road," the "Little Rock Nine" and "Sputnik" all came about in Sept./Oct. of 1957, oh, and so did I - looking back now with age creeping in at the corners of memory to worldly events surrounding one's birth and wondering if along with DNA could these outside dynamics play a role as imprints on un/consciousness? I, without full credulity, [like to] think so, in that once denied borders were crossed, new horizons were envisioned and doors of perception flung wide open to the making it new. Kerouac is for hipster kids, for youth, and also nostalgic for those whose youth now gone is memory pulling at strings of hope once held as future to behold. All told, Kerouac's life reads tragic, paradoxical and, fuddled, logorrheic, depressiveness with heights of earned and not grandeur. He was a man at vanguard to his time with change afoot beaten down and beatified. He's known for a few of his several books mainly, though to him as with Proust all the books run together to complete the whole one story of his life. Yet it's mostly the peeps who surround him that are the real story. Jack it seems was a sad & solemn soul from front to back and back again just like his legendary crisscrossing the land at dizzying pace of a Benzedrine high. His bop prose, lunatic Zen humanity & Catholic mysticism bolsters the myth of Duluoz. Such as it is. Beat meat for the generations.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    Excellent, intimate look at Kerouac's adult life. Nicosia's biography is richer, with more information and analysis of each of Kerouac's books. Where Charters succeeds is in giving us a vivid portrait of the tragedy of Jack Kerouac's life - a masterful, groundbreaking writer whose influence can still be felt, and the deeply flawed man. Jack Kerouac was Beat in both senses of the word. He was beaten down, crushed by his shyness and self doubts, as well as the pressures of being a celebrity. He wa Excellent, intimate look at Kerouac's adult life. Nicosia's biography is richer, with more information and analysis of each of Kerouac's books. Where Charters succeeds is in giving us a vivid portrait of the tragedy of Jack Kerouac's life - a masterful, groundbreaking writer whose influence can still be felt, and the deeply flawed man. Jack Kerouac was Beat in both senses of the word. He was beaten down, crushed by his shyness and self doubts, as well as the pressures of being a celebrity. He was also beatific, always dreaming, always hopeful.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ronald Wise

    I don't think I've ever ready anything by Kerouac, but this was the second time I've read this biography from my personal library. Coincidentally I read it this time when the 50th anniversary of the publishing of his On the Road was being noted in the media, and so I heard a lot of supplemental biographical information on National Public Radio. It also meant more to me this time because I've had close personal encounters with individuals in the last five years who were selfish and/or self-destru I don't think I've ever ready anything by Kerouac, but this was the second time I've read this biography from my personal library. Coincidentally I read it this time when the 50th anniversary of the publishing of his On the Road was being noted in the media, and so I heard a lot of supplemental biographical information on National Public Radio. It also meant more to me this time because I've had close personal encounters with individuals in the last five years who were selfish and/or self-destructive hedonists, and so now better understood that mindset.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Anna Ligtenberg

    I've always reviewed books for semi-business-like reasons, but the ones I really love, own? Never. THAT felt a bit like... these are my friends, let's talk about strangers! Suddenly, I'd like to review my way through my own shelves before I die... and since I'm accident prone and living alone for the first time in eons... it seems like death by tripping down the stairs on the ragged hem of a pair of jeans... seems like that could be right around the corner, some days. Yep... Bob Dylan and Jack K I've always reviewed books for semi-business-like reasons, but the ones I really love, own? Never. THAT felt a bit like... these are my friends, let's talk about strangers! Suddenly, I'd like to review my way through my own shelves before I die... and since I'm accident prone and living alone for the first time in eons... it seems like death by tripping down the stairs on the ragged hem of a pair of jeans... seems like that could be right around the corner, some days. Yep... Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac, back to back, they just bring out my sunny side, don't they? I'm gonna need something like Is Elvis Alive?, some Joey Ramone... maybe Krassner's Pot Stories next or I might kill myself before my jeans get around to it. I first read a teeny tiny bit of this book (not this edition, of course...) when I found it in (and stole it from) my mom's dresser when I was in 8th grade. Then my dad spotted it and flipped his shit for reasons then unknown. As a picture of Kerouac, and even moreso of the times, I love this book. Learn a thing or two, see something from a new angle... add a new shadow or light to the picture you already have... Books that do that make me happy, and this one does a nice job of that but... and I hate to say this because I'm usually not the type to write an entire review based on something NOT in the book... but when I read that the first edition was rejected by the family, apparently for the claim that Jack's sister committed suicide, I was... more turned off this book than I like to admit. Either the suicide story was true, and a carefully protected family secret... or Charters got it so damned wrong because her personal connection to Kerouac - the thing, outside of Jack himself, that made this book of special interest - was perhaps a wee bit flimsier than advertised. In either of those cases, that made everything else... potentially suspect, one way or another. Also entirely possible - the whole "rejected first edition" story was bullshit... No matter which was the truth, I started looking at Charters' book with wary suspicion. Sometimes the Internet is like one big fat douchebag tattletale. Boo. The book is more than readable. It's really quite well done - other than a couple weird lapses in writing style - and I don't expect infallible from anyone... but if it comes down to a fight for space, I do believe that Nicosia's Memory Baby will shove Charters off the shelf in a heartbeat. Lucky for her, I'm just getting started and may forget my annoyance by the time I start winnowing for space.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Interesting...don't know how objective it is. Charters is good about putting all the facts in, but manages to excuse a lot of things that, if you were close to Kerouac and his compatriots, were probably not excusable. I enjoyed reading something set in the 1940s and 50s that wasn't Donna Reed-esque...reinforces that all the societal problems we have today were around, the mainstream and media just ignored them.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Karolina

    I would have given it more stars, if I hadn't read "Memory Babe". If you're looking for a brief overview of Kerouac's life, Charter's book will suit you just fine. If you're really interested in the beat generation, Kerouac and his work get the biography written by Nicosia.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Duffy

    Will tell you every little secret you did and didnt want to know about Kerouac. Warning, you might not like the guys persona after reading it. Youll respect him more as a writer...but youll find some things about him that you may not have found in his novels.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jason Evans

    I realize you think you know all about Jack's life because that is what he mainly writes about, right? Not so fast my friend! Ann takes you behind the scenes, the real stories and Jack's maniacal writing sessions, fast and frenzied. Good read for Kerouac fans.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Grant

    a good critical work about kerouac's life and writing. gets under the public and mythic persona that has developed.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Don Clark jr

    this is a Kerouac biography that I revisit at least once a year. Ann Charters gives me a glimpse into a world I can only wish I had been born early enough to witness firsthand.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Cochran

    Definitive Biography of one of the greatest writers of all time. Kudos to Charters on the Research

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    My favorite bio on Dulouse! Charter gets her info right as far as I know, and she did get to work with him before he died. And I like Charter's style...lays it down, very readable.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Harriett Milnes

    enjoyable, easy to read, sad at the end.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Marley

    One of the great bios I've read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Allen

    I fell in love with On the Road, then The Dharma Bums, then Big Sur, then his poetry, then things here and there. Kerouac was my go-to. I thought I knew him like an old friend, "ol' reliable." And then I read this biography by Ann Charters, which gave me an entirely different perspective on the life and times of my beloved Kerouac. I'll be honest, it's a hard pill to swallow at times. There are things about Kerouac's life and behavior that are hard to come to terms with after having revered him I fell in love with On the Road, then The Dharma Bums, then Big Sur, then his poetry, then things here and there. Kerouac was my go-to. I thought I knew him like an old friend, "ol' reliable." And then I read this biography by Ann Charters, which gave me an entirely different perspective on the life and times of my beloved Kerouac. I'll be honest, it's a hard pill to swallow at times. There are things about Kerouac's life and behavior that are hard to come to terms with after having revered him and his writing for so long. With that said, though, this biography is extremely enlightening and eye-opening. I now feel that I now Kerouac differently, but I feel like our writer-reader relationship is stronger than ever. If nothing else, I now understand that Kerouac was human like the rest of us. He had his trials and tribulations and hardships and disappointments, and he also had his triumphs, his victories, his climaxes. No doubt a must-read for any Kerouac aficionado.

  18. 4 out of 5

    George Ilsley

    Somehow I've always managed to avoid reading this book. Even Charters is apologizing in the newish introduction. The book is at its worst with Buddhist elements. Kerouac desperately needed a teacher and Charters is even more lost explaining Buddhist concepts to us. Life is Suffering is given as "Buddhist law" but it is merely an observation-- one of what is known as the four noble truths. Poor drunk Jack took refuge in suffering and his ego did not let go. There are three more noble truths Jack! Somehow I've always managed to avoid reading this book. Even Charters is apologizing in the newish introduction. The book is at its worst with Buddhist elements. Kerouac desperately needed a teacher and Charters is even more lost explaining Buddhist concepts to us. Life is Suffering is given as "Buddhist law" but it is merely an observation-- one of what is known as the four noble truths. Poor drunk Jack took refuge in suffering and his ego did not let go. There are three more noble truths Jack! But no he is too drunk. Charters also describes the Buddhist "ideal" of escaping from life which is complete and utter nonsense. One feels that all the writer knows about Buddhism she picked up from the ravings of an ego-taught speedster. Still, three stars.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kenylm

    3.5 / Really enjoyed reading this. Gave me a good idea of Kerouac's life to understand his works better and the time he lived in. Charters knew him so what she wrote seems more realistic and accurate than biographies of people just studying his works. I also really liked that its not just about him but also his friends and the people who influenced him. She doesn't conceal his bad characteristics though not giving a subjective opinion about them e.g. denying child support and care for his childr 3.5 / Really enjoyed reading this. Gave me a good idea of Kerouac's life to understand his works better and the time he lived in. Charters knew him so what she wrote seems more realistic and accurate than biographies of people just studying his works. I also really liked that its not just about him but also his friends and the people who influenced him. She doesn't conceal his bad characteristics though not giving a subjective opinion about them e.g. denying child support and care for his children

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bertie

    Magnificent. It would be hard to write a book about Jack Kerouac that isn't interesting to be honest, but I feel Ann Charters does a fantastic job here. I was entertained throughout the whole book, even though at times Mr Kerouac's life was seriously dragging... The author never dwindles on a topic or segment of his life for too long, and the story skips along and gives us all the great juicy gossip that is Jacks life from the age of four to his death, and boy did I learn a thing or too about Ja Magnificent. It would be hard to write a book about Jack Kerouac that isn't interesting to be honest, but I feel Ann Charters does a fantastic job here. I was entertained throughout the whole book, even though at times Mr Kerouac's life was seriously dragging... The author never dwindles on a topic or segment of his life for too long, and the story skips along and gives us all the great juicy gossip that is Jacks life from the age of four to his death, and boy did I learn a thing or too about Jack (and his friends). Top drawer, full marks.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Hamilton

    As far as I know this is the only author of a Kerouac biography who personally knew Kerouac. That makes it special for me.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Fireflydances

    Good in-depth read on the life of Jack Kerouac.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    An excellent biography. Perfect to take to the beach and read passages out loud to friends. which is what I did.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tyson Call

    I had always read that Kerouac was troubled, leading a tumultuous life before finally dying from the effects of severe alcohol abuse. This was always the summary—his end glossed over like it was expected of any hedonistic deviant. This bothered me, as after reading On the Road a few times I had an inkling that the man was actually sweet and mostly harmless, despite the reputation that he obtained through the counter-culture content and themes of his books. I wondered why a writer who was as belo I had always read that Kerouac was troubled, leading a tumultuous life before finally dying from the effects of severe alcohol abuse. This was always the summary—his end glossed over like it was expected of any hedonistic deviant. This bothered me, as after reading On the Road a few times I had an inkling that the man was actually sweet and mostly harmless, despite the reputation that he obtained through the counter-culture content and themes of his books. I wondered why a writer who was as beloved by so many people had been so summarily cast off as refuse later in life. This excellent biography by Anne Charters, who met, interviewed and had contact with Kerouac, answers some of those questions I had, including but not limited to: -How much of what he wrote was true? -What happened in the wake of becoming a phenomenon with On the Road? -How exactly did he die so young? I have not read any other biography of Kerouac, though I can't imagine one being any more detailed. The author succeeds at being unbiased yet not indifferent. The book is sufficiently detailed yet moves along quickly enough that the reader doesn't feel as though she is plowing through every detail of his life just to get to the interesting parts. All told, I would recommend this book to Kerouac fans who wondered about the process, the man and the truth in addition to enjoying his books.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    I was pretty disappointed with Charters' biography of Kerouac. She's an acknowledged expert on the Beats, and certainly knew them about as well as anyone. Yet somehow this biography is incredibly dry. She never looks beyond the surface of what he said or did, just relates the facts as she knows them. There's little insight into motivations. She'll say he did something, but won't say if he did it on purpose, by accident, because he got paid to do it, or because he was drunk. It just left me wanti I was pretty disappointed with Charters' biography of Kerouac. She's an acknowledged expert on the Beats, and certainly knew them about as well as anyone. Yet somehow this biography is incredibly dry. She never looks beyond the surface of what he said or did, just relates the facts as she knows them. There's little insight into motivations. She'll say he did something, but won't say if he did it on purpose, by accident, because he got paid to do it, or because he was drunk. It just left me wanting a bit more. I suspect perhaps that she got too close to him and his friends and family, and so she left out a few things that would have told us much more about the man behind the myth. That said, it's still as thorough a biography as you can find on Kerouac, and that's certainly worth at least three stars. If it were anyone other than Ann Charters, I might have given it another star, but I expected more insight from her.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dermot

    Sometimes I think that it takes a woman to write an honest biography, especially of a man, and I think that is exactly what Charters has done here. She sees through the mythology that has sprung up around Kerouac since his untimely death in 1969. In some ways, this is a tale of men behaving badly, even shockingly at times. But it also a fascinating insight into a sub culture of the post war years and a country coming to terms with itself after t

  27. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    A thought out, intimate biography that reads like a narrative. charters seems to have done her homework compiling the life of a self destructive-alcoholic-zen loony-mommma's boy, who of course, captured the spirit of america in his writings. read this book if you love kerouac's books, because if you love his books than you love his life. i warn you, though, its damn depressing, and whoever your ideal jack kerouac is, be prepeared for the real one to fall short.

  28. 5 out of 5

    James

    Charters did a nice job of discussing his early work and the success he eventually found with On the Road, but I felt like her recounting of how his life spiraled downhill wasn't fleshed out enough. Ultimately, Jack is presented as someone who desperately wanted to be a hero, but found that it came with consequences he couldn't handle. That message of the book was conveyed effectively and heart-wrenchingly.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Christian

    I'm finding out how gay the beat generation writers really were.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    Another get one on Kerouac...

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