On the Road—Paradise Refound

August 16th, 2007 by Larry Smith

keraouc.jpgOn the Road isn’t exactly a book that you a) need an excuse to re-read or b) write about. Still, much has been said and done on a book that generation after generation have the supreme pleasure to discover for the first time. Back in the day, I taught the book to a group of high school students in a course called, “I got my tie-dye at Macy’s: The 60s meets the 80s,” (which I thought was quite witty at the time).

A piece in the (now smaller but still grand) New York Times meets and greets Kerouac and co. on the fiftieth anniversary of the book’s publication. As is the (em>Times’ way, the package around the piece online is rich: a PDF of the original Times review in 1957; an audio reading of the first chapter; tons of reader comments, like this one by “Kendal”:

After WWII it was necessary for transcendentalism to be condensed like a can of soup for the quick consumption of late 20th century moderns. Not that there’s anything wrong with it. The lesson is that these themes continue to influence us, parsed, however, in terms that reflect the gritty reality of the street, or road, if you wish.

Here, here!

Now, not to sprinkle too much hate on a book I love, but I wonder: You have to figure that, while the book is certainly considered a memoir, Kerouac had to have exaggerated part of his journey. And who’s kidding who? Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (the book you of course read shortly after On the Road) is not pure nonfiction. Does it matter if the essence of the storytelling experience for writer and then reader rings true? If so, should future editions states: this ain’t all true? How is this different than James Frey and others who’ve been accused and caught of fabrication or gross exaggeration?

On the Road image from Flickr’s Corvar.