Saturday, August 25, 2012

Jack Kerouac and The Dharma Bums

I have been reading and reading the works of Jack Kerouac for about 50 years, ever since I first read On the Road in a Freshman English class at the University of Kentucky. Through those years I have read everything the Kerouac his written, even his less known and popular works such as Maggie Cassidy.

At the moment I am reading The Dharma Bums. In the section of the book I read this morning, Kerouac's Protagonist, Smith, is in the mountains of the U.S. Northwest with his mentor—if I may use that term— Japhy. Although the majority of the novel, like most of Kerouac’s fiction, is reported as dialogue, there are sections of description and observation that touch me to the point that I really wish I were there. Here is one from The Dharma Bums

Once I opened my eyes and saw Japhy sitting there rigid was a rock and I felt like laughing he look so funny. But the mountains were mighty solemn, and so was Japhy, and for that matter so was I, and in fact laughter is solemn.
It was beautiful.  The pinkness vanished and then it was all purple dusk and the roar of the silence was like a wash of diamond waves going through the liquid porches of our ears, enough to soothe a man a thousand years. I prayed for Japhy, for his future safety and happiness and eventual Buddhahood. It was all completely serious, all completely hallucinated, all completely happy.
Yep, I really wish I had been there!

I'm reading The Dharma Bums from The Library of America edition of Kerouac's Road Novels, that also includes On the Road, The Subterraneans, Tristessa, Lonesome Traveler, and selections from  Kerouac's journals.


The version of The Dharma Bums in this volume is the one published by Viking  in 1958.  Kerouac sometimes had conflict with Viking editors, who required him to make changes with which he was not happy, in both On the Road and The Dharma Bums. I would love to read the original version that  Kerouac wrote. I do not believe it is available, although the original, unedited verson of On the Road was published in 2008.

If you are familiar with the "spokesman" of the Beat Generation, let me share with you a treat: Jack Kerouac reading from On the Road, with Steve Allen paying piano in the background. 


  1. I like the Library of America books. First off, they are hardbound, have a sewn binding, and have nice acid free paper that lays flat no matter where you are reading in the book.

    1. I agree. I have purchased Library of America books whenever the book I want in printed in the series. I own several.

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