Thursday, February 9, 2012

One and Only: The Untold Story of On the Road

I haven't read On the Road (yet--planning on joining Wallace for her read-along) so reading the untold story might seem a little backward...but I have my reasons.  Promise.

Reason the First, (the Obvious): I received the [audio] book free and don't yet own On the Road. (I'm trying to decide which cover I like best. It's complicated.)  LibraryThing seems to like giving me books (and I seem to like requesting them) and once I have them I've got to read them right?
I'm liking this cover.

Reason the Second, (the Justification):  I know next to nothing about the Beats, but I want to. Especially since moving into a modern 1960s house, I've had a growing desire to develop a bigger picture of the 60s, and yet seem to have no problem procrastinating in that area.

Reason the Third, (the Philosophical):  With a reputation for philosophical intellectualism as well as continual praise, I figured On the Road falls firmly into the "Classics" camp.  What this means for me is that I like to know a little bit about the era before reading it so that I can pick up on as many references as possible.  This is an evolving theory of mine, but it has made a huge difference in the past.

I tried to start learning
about the Beats with their
poetry.  Didn't  work so
well. Still, it's a cute book!
Let's Get On With It.  One and Only is the story of On the Road, of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, told from the point of view of Lu Anne Henderson (a.k.a. MaryLou).  This isn't a huge, complex biography.  Rather, it is comprised largely of an interview the author had with Lu Anne many years ago.  A lengthy introduction is given by the author, a revised transcript follows, and the book ends with a short commentary by Lu Anne's daughter.  My favorite section, perhaps in part because of the audio version I listened to, was the middle: hearing Lu Anne's voice.

While her somewhat meandering commentary occasionally felt repetitive, the entire book weighed in at less than 250 pages, so I couldn't complain much.  I enjoyed the pictures and hearing Lu Anne's voice.  She seemed such a joyful person overall, always willing to think the best of people, and seemed somewhat speechless to find that other people didn't necessarily do the same.

Lu Anne was married to Neal Cassady from a young age, and although the marriage was annulled (also at a young age) their relationship stayed much the same throughout their lives, to hear her tell it.  She relates some of the adventures they had while travelling across the country, underpinning each event with the fact that they were young, they were poor, they were surviving.  They were just holding it together, really.

A fun behind-the-scenes look at Kerouac, this book also felt like a good introduction to some of the main characters in On the Road.  Reading the book itself no longer seems quite as scary.  In fact, I'm getting pretty curious to see the story through Kerouac's creativity.  Have you read it?  Any other suggestions for getting to know the Beats?


  1. Oooooh- this sounds really interesting- I don't know all that much about the Beats either, other than that I really love Howl and On the Road, and this sounds like a really good background book to On the Road. There are quite a few other good books on On the Road (I can't actually remember the names of any of them now, but I wrote an essay on it at uni, and there were a LOT of secondary texts to read!) and I've got Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters to read which I'm pretty excited about!

    Oh yeah, and thanks for the heads up about the readalong, I may have to join up for that to give On the Road another reading! :)

  2. I'm looking forward to reading On the Road--it's one of those books that has enough of a reputation that I'm a little intimidated. :) I hope you join in the readalong, it would be great fun to get your thoughts as the reading progresses!


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