Reading a book is like opening a portal to another world. Changing the course from one universe to the next, books displace us, until the book has been read, closed, and put back on the shelf. Great works of literature, however, stay with us long after the final pages have been turned. Books don’t merely tell us stories-- they change our way of thinking about things. An idea on paper can easily manifest its form in reality.
Growing up, I exposed myself to a multitude of different works, but one group in particular left a deep mark on me for years, and continues to do so. My first interaction with Beat Generation writers came from reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac, a book loaned to me by a friend. I was immediately swept away and taken on a journey of literary wonder.
The Beats, or “The Beat Generation” were unlike anything before them. They lived lives of chaos, mayhem, and sheer thrills through their search for truth and meaning, coupled with a deep knowledge of the dark underside of America, as well as a carelessness towards societal rules. Through poetry, such as the masterpiece, “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg, or grotesque, crude imagery found in the banned book Naked Lunch, completely creative, crazy observations and ideas are shown. If you don’t desire to experiment with heroin or other drugs, read a Burroughs book, and you’ll receive all the first-hand knowledge that you could ever hope for.
My personal favorite of the bunch is Jack Kerouac, of whom many consider to be the “Father of the Beat Generation,” despite his personal disdain for the phrase. With his own style of writing dubbed "spontaneous prose," reading a Kerouac novel can easily be equated to listening to jazz. Perhaps it traces back to my love for exploring, or my fantasies of absolute freedom, but through reading a slew of Kerouac novels over recent years, I gained an acute love toward his way of life, and what he stood for. Likewise, my fixation on “freedom” and “truth”, and what those words really meant became increasingly refined.
The Beats didn’t merely write. They lived. Hitchhiking across America, spanning the country, and living together (or sometimes nowhere), they were blaring outliers, looking stone-faced at the rest of society. In Kerouac’s novel, The Dharma Bums, wild poetry readings and parties of hysteria are juxtaposed with Kerouac’s quest for solitude and enlightenment, as he acquaints himself with Japhy Ryder (Gary Snyder) who introduces him to the Buddhist lifestyle, and teaches him how to scale mountains.
Easily, my favorite book is the one which began my love for Beat literature-- On the Road. Perfect for any closet nomad or lover of travels, it paints an overwhelming sense of limitless possibility and uncertainty for the world in which we know it. It’s about the ultimate journey, as its plot revolves around Kerouac’s travels with his best friend, Neal Cassady, as they hitchhike and ride across the country.
The Beats lived life on super high mode, as well as super hard mode. Their great feats of adventures sprang from their perpetual restlessness. It’s hard to say why I love them so much, but they were truly iconic and awfully interesting. Also, they motivated me to go climb a mountain.