Staffer: Mike Reuther.
What I read: "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac.
Synopsis: A young writer takes to the road in search of meaning, truth and happiness.
Stats: Nonfiction, Viking Press, 1957.
What I thought: What can you say about "On the Road" that hasn't already been written?
Sure, it's a story about people living on a whim, seemingly unconcerned about status, full-time jobs and security.
At the Sun-Gazette, staff members tend to read. A lot. So we thought we would share what we're reading and let you know how they fare.
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The main character is Sal Paradise, a young writer who becomes fascinated by Dean Moriarty, a charmer, womanizer and ne're-do-well, who probably reminds all of us of some crazy scoundrel in our lives.
There's no plot to "On the Road."
It's just about a bunch of guys such as Paradise and Moriarty getting their kicks back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when much of the rest of the country was falling into the rhythm of the Eisenhower years.
For the thousands upon thousands of World War II veterans, those days meant settling down, buying homes and starting families.
The young men of "On the Road" will have none of that.
Much has been written over the years about how Kerouac wrote the book to the beat of jazz music and knocked off the first draft in just a few weeks. Critics have either praised the book or damned it. Truman Capote once declared Kerouac's writing as nothing more than typing.
I think there is much more going on here in this story.
Paradise is like a lot of young men - at loose ends, unsure of his place in the world, still looking to have fun.
I like Kerouac's descriptions of the people and places he has Paradise passing through on his cross-country road trips.
His initial journey hitch-hiking from New York to San Francisco is a marvel. Here, we meet migrant farm workers on the move in the Midwest and some of the denizens of Denver, where Paradise's pal, Moriarty lives at least part of the time when he's not checking out other places.
Many writers before and after Kerouac have used the vast country to write love songs to America.
Kerouac's writing, however, is more of an awakening, even a religious experience. He grooves on the land, the people, the places he sees.
"On the Road" is about restless youth. It's like a long poem set to a beat.
It's a work of fiction, much of it based on Kerouac's own cross-country odysseys.
And yes, it's also an anthem call to everyone that there's more to life than keeping up with the Joneses.
Of course, it's unclear what any of them want out of life. You can feel the characters searching, reaching for something. But what?
"On the Road" is certainly not a political book.
There's no talk of the nation heading down the wrong path, of the ongoing Cold War, of really anything happening in the country at the time. There's no mention of desegregation, of the arms buildup or atomic bombs.
Paradise and his cohorts seem almost immune to everything, except getting to the next place on the map.
Sal Paradise starts out the book telling of his first meeting with Moriarty and how it followed the breakup of his marriage that left him feeling dead.
That's the last we hear of Paradise's marriage, but it seems to explain why he was happy to be swept along on these crazy cross-country journeys over the next few years.