Book Review: On the Road

Author: Jack Keroauc

Publisher: Viking, 1957 (written in 1951)

Genre: Literary Fiction

My Rating: B

Summary from Amazon:

On the Road tells the story of two friends whose four cross-country road trips are a quest for meaning and true experience. Written with a mixture of sad-eyed naïveté and wild abandon, and imbued with Kerouac’s love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz, On the Road is the quintessential American vision of freedom and hope, a book that changed American literature and changed anyone who has ever picked it up.

Few novels have had as profound an impact on American culture as On the Road. Pulsating with the rhythms of 1950s underground America, jazz, sex, illicit drugs, and the mystery and promise of the open road, Kerouac’s classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be “beat” and has inspired generations of writers, musicians, artists, poets, and seekers who cite their discovery of the book as the event that “set them free.”

My Thoughts:

I think the statement “changed anyone who has ever picked it up,” goes a little too far in praising this book. It didn’t change me, but I did thoroughly enjoy it. On the Road was a great book to read during these sunny summer days. It made me want to jump in the car and take off.

I would not want to hitchhike as Jack Keroauc did. I was struck by how trusting the world was in the 1940s – at least for Sal. For him to take off to see the country with only $50 in his pocket, he had to know he could rely on the goodwill of strangers to give him rides.

The best part of the book for me was Sal’s (Kerouac’s) descriptions of each of the people he met along the way. With just his short descriptions, I felt I could see each person. I also liked the way Sal felt obligated to talk with each person who gave him a ride. It gave me a look at the “rules of the road” or the hitchhiking culture of the time. It was very interesting and very different from today.

I preferred hearing about the ordinary people Kerouac met in his travels rather than his “friends.” These friends he hung out with were so self-absorbed. Kerouac seemed to admire them for their intellect and writing ability. I think he admires the curiosity of the regular folks he meets on the road much more. I think, deep down, he knew the difference.

These so called friends also seem to have problems with women. I’ve always thought men in the ’30s and ’40s were very gentlemanly. (At least that’s how I remember my father, uncles, and other men from my childhood in the ’40s.) Not these guys. The only difference during this time period was that they felt compelled to marry the women and then. of course, divorce them. I know Kerouc’s friends were important writers, but I have no desire to read or learn more about them. They failed my “good people” test.

On the Road has been on my To-Read list for most of my adult life. I’m glad I finally accomplished this goal. Would I recommend it to you? Not unless you feel the need to read it because of it’s classic value. It’s loaded with bad language and bad manners. It’s redeeming value is in Kerouac’s description of life on the road, the description of the “beat” life style, and, of course, Kerouac’s beautiful writing.

It’s highly acclaimed and on those lists of what well-read people should read, so there is some value there Many of you will disagree with my opinion, but that’s okay. Let me know what you think of the book.

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About Margot

I'm also known as Joyfully Retired. I love to talk. I love to talk about books I've read, movies I've seen, places I've traveled to, people (especially my children and grandchildren), and Food. On the Quirky Girls Read blog I'm trying to read all the books that have won the major awards and then, of course, talk about them.
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14 Responses to Book Review: On the Road

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    It is sad that we’ve lost that sense of safety we used to have – when it seemed okay to accept rides from strangers. This sounds like a great book.

    • Margot says:

      Hi Kathy, It IS sad that those safe days are behind us. Just yesterday, we were driving back from a camping trip and I saw a young man hitch-hiking a ride. He looked so honest and good that I almost asked my husband to stop. But then all the scary stories came to mind and we passed him by. Now I’m worried about who did pick him up. Our world has become strange at times.

  2. Heather says:

    I just picked this one up at a second-hand store. I put this one on my list after reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Gotta get some of the classics in. Great review!

    • Margot says:

      Thanks Heather. This one definitely is a classic – modern classic, I guess. Although I wasn’t totally in love with the book, I’m glad I read it. I think sometimes classic books are that way.

  3. Janet says:

    I grew up during the 70s and did lots of hitchhiking, with nary a hitch (pun intended). I probably read this book back then since Kerouac was from and is buried in the next town over. But I picked it up again as an adult and couldn’t get into it. The sexism was just too annoying!

    • Margot says:

      Hi Janet: Thanks for mentioning your experience with On the Road. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who was bothered by the sexism. Our culture has come a long ways since the ’40s and ’50s, the time period covered by this book.

  4. Emma says:

    I want to read this before I go see the film. Must get a move on.

  5. thebumbles says:

    Well, I hated this book. Which is not truly a fair statement because I never actually finished this book. But that was purely out of protest of the treatment of the female characters. I wrote a comparative paper on it contrasting it w/Faulkner’s Sound & The Fury and everything. Some day I’m going to dig out that paper and post it for laughs. I was a real gung-ho college freshman out on her own. I should probably give old Jack another chance – I’m just afraid my maturity won’t be enough to change my perspective and I’ll be even angrier for wasting more time with it ;0)

    • Margot says:

      Oh Molly, I’d love to read your Freshman paper. I’ll bet your viewpoint hasn’t changed all that much. The content of the book hasn’t changed. The only thing you may appreciate more now is Kerouac’s writing. It is quite original.

      You know, I see your subtle challenge in your comment. I’m going to have to read The Sound and the Fury now so I too can compare.

  6. kaye says:

    I always like that you stretch yourself when you read. I’d like to read Molly’s paper too.

  7. Louise says:

    How great that you got a chance to read this. It’s on my long term TBR too. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’ve never hitchhiked myself, and do sometimes think about picking someone up, but they seem to become more and more rare with each passing year.

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