The Big Read Blog (Archive)

On the Road with the Voice of a Generation

Alternative On the Road movie poster by Matthew Ferguson of Cakes and Comics.

In 1957, On the Road was published and almost instantly, Jack Kerouac was dubbed the voice of the Beat Generation. I read the book for the first time this summer and the rhythm of Kerouac’s prose was energizing---truth be told, it made me feel invincible but also rather boring. Thoughts of selling all my belongings, leaving my hapless cat on my parents' doorstep, and hitting the majestic road crossed my mind more than once.

The story is a tale of chance friendship between Sal Paradise, a hopeful writer and the book's narrator, and his pal, Dean Moriarty, an energetic charmer with a white-collar crime problem. To avoid the pitfalls of lives they do not want to lead, the adventurers start for the road and aim to lay the world bare, meeting countless players along the way that pine for the same freedom and “lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” The fervor and energy of On the Road’s plot is only mirrored by Kerouac’s writing process. Even though the story was inspired by Kerouac's own, multi-year crisscross of the American landscape, the novel was written in a three-week, nonstop burst of typewriter hacking. You can almost hear the hot clicking of the keys as you read the author’s inner journey along the outbound roads of America.

Over the weekend, the movie adaptation of the book was released in the U.K., with the U.S. premiere scheduled for December. For those of you looking to read the book before the movie hits U.S. theaters, get to stepping.

To jump-start your interest in this classic American tale of freedom and youthful optimism, let’s take a listen to a segment from the book as read by actor Will Patton. We encourage you to read along as you listen to Kerouac’s verbal paintings of images and sensations of America’s land, its people, and the long miles of road as Sal hurls closer and closer to home. [2:31]

[audio:http://bigreadblog.arts.gov/audio/OntheRoad1.mp3]

[transcript]

Excerpt of On The Road by Jack Kerouac read by Will Patton used by permission of Penguin Audio, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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