Monday, December 30, 2013
Staff Pick - The Voice is All by Joyce Johnson
The Voice is All: the lonely victory of Jack Kerouac by Joyce Johnson (M)
Beat writers insider Joyce Johnson has written an affectionate and frank biography of novelist Jack Kerouac who has achieved lasting fame with books like On the Road and Dharma Bums (just to name a couple). Johnson writes about a time before her romance with Kerouac beginning with his childhood and ending with the publication of On the Road, years before his sad decline and death.
Johnson explores Kerouac's writing from a unique perspective. She writes not only as a former lover with insight into his character and motivations, but also offers up the idea that Kerouac was influenced by, or perhaps tormented by his dual nature. Jack Kerouac was born Jean-Louis Kerouac to French Canadian parents. Although born and raised in the United States he never considered English to be his first language, speaking instead Joual - a variant form of Quebecois french. Kerouac's childhood was marked by his family's economic struggles as he moved multiple times as his parents secured housing and employment. When he was a small child his older brother died, and this single event was to have an enormous impact on the rest of his life.
None of the beat writers can be looked at in isolation and Johnson explores at length his relationships with William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr and especially Neal Cassady. Kerouac fed his brand of autobiographical fiction with these friendships and with his many love affairs. Johnson describes his method of fast paced writing as spontaneous and automatic, famously using a scroll so that he would not be distracted by changing paper in a typewriter, fueled by his drug induced state. Controversial in his time, Kerouac has left a lasting legacy in his novels and poetry and is considered to be one of the most influential writers of the Beat Generation, a group of writers who came of age after World War II and rejected conventional values experimenting with sexuality and drugs, often finding themselves on the wrong side of the
Also recently published is Mania: the story of the outraged and outrageous lives that launched a cultural revolution by Ronald K.L. Collins. (M)
"By the time Lucien Carr stabbed David Kammerer to death on the banks of the Hudson River in August 1944, it was clear that the hard-partying teenage companion to Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, and William S. Burroughs might need to reevaluate his life. A two-year stint in a reformatory straightened out the wayward youth but did little to curb the wild ways of his friends. MANIA tells the story of this remarkable group—who strained against the conformity of postwar America, who experimented with drink, drugs, sex, jazz, and literature, and who yearned to be heard, to remake art and society in their own libertine image. What is more remarkable than the manic lives they led is that they succeeded—remaking their own generation and inspiring the ones that followed. From the breakthrough success of Kerouac's On the Road to the controversy of Ginsberg's Howl and Burroughs' Naked Lunch, the counterculture was about to go mainstream for the first time, and America would never be the same again." publisher