On the Road

February 8, 2009
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I know there are many classics of exalted literary repute that my fellow classmates are immersed in; I know because many of them line my bookshelf. My favorite books include The Odyssey, Anna Karenina, and Lolita. As much as I would encourage my peers to read these classics so as better to understand the evolution of literature and ideas throughout the ages, Jack Kerouac's On the Road, often criticized and soon forgotten by literary critics, is the book I would most adamantly swear by.

I first came across On the Road near the end of my sophomore year. I was interested in reading Kerouac primarily because he'd been recommended to me by a friend whose literary opinion I value and respect. However, my heart was not in the story. The characters, and the plot, chronicling several shallow American dropouts trying to get laid and drunk, did not capture me, and I returned the book to the library after making only a small dent in it. I forgot about the book until months later when I stumbled across a 1960s collectible edition in a dusty, dimly lit antique store in Ashland, Oregon. At first I passed by the previously rejected book, but the bright yellow cover and retro illustrations lured me back. It smelled of cigarettes and must, and upon opening it I realized that I had originally completely misunderstood the entire point of the novel. On the Road is not just the superficial retelling of two men whom I would despise if I actually met; it is an odyssey of the American Dream told through the interminable car trips of two American dreamers racing across the country, and more importantly, it is an ode to the freedom of those who wander. In me it renewed my love of the West, a love that has been fading as East Coast colleges loom on my horizons. It also inspired in me an excitement for life; an excitement, like Dean and Sal's, that boils up inside of you, tickling your throat until you laugh for no other reason than that you are in love with life and the beauty of the world. On the Road is a herald to life seized and lived for every wild, miserable, joyous, unthinkable, and unbelievable moment.

On the Road was written for the young adult's soul. It would not be the same book read twenty years later. As young people struggling to come to terms with the Self and their own wide-eyed innocence, On the Road speaks to my generation about the lost freedoms of the West. It glorifies what freedom really means: freedom from the oppression and fear of our modern world.

In my lifetime oil will run out, the Earth's temperature will rise by 10 degrees, and sea levels with sky-rocket. The glaciers will melt. Over-population will hurtle the world into global famine. AIDS will wipe out Africa, and meanwhile a nuclear weapon could plunge us all into a vast and unending darkness at any moment. In the midst of such inevitable doom, freedom becomes a difficult concept to define. It becomes an abstraction we fiercely propagate and yet sacrificed at the altar of ignorance and fear long ago. Young adults should read On the Road because in that book this loosely understood theory is given a platform on which to be worshipped. Freedom is living with a junkie-crazed excitement for every wild moment. Freedom is to stay up all night sweating over the unadulterated passions of jazz and friendship and IT; that allusive IT we are all forever searching for. Freedom is when my friends and I crowd into local pizza parlors and start the next Cultural Revolution in our cramped plastic booth. I live on the edge of the West: a west that has been sought after by generations of immigrants who came to this land looking for a place to free themselves from bondage. Here in the West On the Road speaks to us directly of this need for a Cultural Revolution, a Cultural Revolution in which we infect the veins of society with poetry. For if there is one thing that our society has lost, it is it's poetry. The Beats knew this: the literature they left behind was a cry in the dark and drug-induced night for the intravenous poetry that will boil the blood and ignite a fire in all of us. On the Road is the poetry we have lost. If more of my schoolmates and friends read this book they wouldn't hesitate to join me in this quest to jumpstart a neo-Renaissance in our own backyards; a Renaissance in which ideas, poetry, science, and, above all, the freedom of thought and expression, are celebrated as the catalyst for change as around us the last great super-power nears its final hour.


Tom Robbins, acclaimed West-coast writer and my fellow Skagit Valley dweller here between the blue obelisks of the Pacific and Cascade Mountains, once wrote that 'In the last quarter of the twentieth century'much of the world sat on the edge of an increasingly expensive theater seat, waiting'for something momentous to occur.' The twentieth century has now come and gone, a tumultuous period of our existence in which change occurred at lightning speed and yet progress slowed to such a crawl it sometimes moved backwards. Now, in the first quarter of the twenty-first century, an entire century of potential looms on our horizons. It is our duty to seize the future of our world and transform it into the second coming of the Enlightenment. All we need is inspiration. On the Road is just that.





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leendog said...
Feb. 18, 2009 at 12:30 am
I am impressed with not only how well written this review is, but also how it has convinced me to go quickly to my nearest used bookstore and buy a copy, preferably an old edition, of On the Road and read it immediately.
 
jackStraw said...
Feb. 17, 2009 at 11:42 pm
Reading this review of Jack Kerouac's greatest work makes me want to re-read this revolutionary book. It brings back the vivid memories I have of the jazz parlors in Frisco and the long drives across the country. This review is stirring, provocative, and nostalgic. It yearns of a better time, it calls for a better place that has been seen by few, but wished by many. This review is two thumbs up; five stars; A .
 
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