The Portable Jack Kerouac, Jack Kerouac, edited by Ann Charters (also a Kerouac biographer) Penguin Books, New York, 1995
Some of the general points made below have been used in other reviews of books and materials by and about Jack Kerouac.
“As I have explained in another entry in this space in a DVD review of the film documentary “The Life And Times Of Allen Ginsberg”, recently I have been in a “beat” generation literary frame of mind. I think it helps to set the mood for commenting on Jack Kerouac’s lesser work under review here, “Big Sur”, that it all started last summer when I happened to be in Lowell, Massachusetts on some personal business. Although I have more than a few old time connections with that now worn out mill town I had not been there for some time. While walking in the downtown area I found myself crossing a small park adjacent to the site of a well-known mill museum and restored textile factory space. Needless to say, at least for any reader with a sense of literary history, at that park I found some very interesting memorial stones inscribed with excerpts from a number of his better known works dedicated to Lowell’s ‘bad boy’, the “king of the 1950s beat writers”.
And, just as naturally, when one thinks of Kerouac then, “On The Road”, his classic modern physical and literary ‘search’ for the meaning of America for his generation which came of age in post-World War II , readily comes to mind. No so well known, however, is the fact that that famous youthful novel was merely part of a much grander project, an essentially autobiographical exposition by Kerouac in many volumes starting from his birth in 1922, to chart and vividly describe his relationship to the events, great and small, of his times. Those volumes bear the general title “The Legend Of Duluoz”. Excerpts, in some cases like from “On The Road” large excerpts, from those dozen or so works form the core of this compilation,” The Portable Jack Kerouac”. That is why we today, in the year of the forty anniversary of Kerouac’s death, are under the sign of this six hundred page ‘teaser’.
And 'teaser' is exactly the right word, for anthologies in general, but Kerouac’s work in particular. I have tried in previous reviews to start to distinguish between what you NEED to read of Kerouac’s and what is merely repetitious. The editor, who is very familiar with Kerouac’s work both a devotee and something of an early and definite biography, has taken pains to give excerpts from all the main volumes mentioned above like “Dharma Bums”, “Maggie Cassady” , “Vanities Of Duluoz” and the like. The problem for me is that they just whetted my appetite. However for the novice this should be the place to start AFTER you have read the master work “On The Road”. As for self-styled aficionados like myself what is probably more interesting is various miscellany, poems, interviews and the like that give a better sense of this tormented working class fellaheen's writing thoughts. Nicely done for an anthology.