Sunday, July 1, 2012

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

It's Canada Day and I regret that I don't have a uniquely Canadian title to blog about today...  Instead, I'll find Canadian connections with Jack Kerouac's autobiographical beat generation classic, On the Road. Kerouac was born to French Canadian parents in Lowell, Massachusetts, where he grew up speaking French. My maternal grandmother was also born to French Canadian parents in Lowell.

For any of you who haven't read On the Road (I've only just got around to it myself, and mostly because it happened to be available on One Click, an eAudiobook database at the library) it's a rambling narrative about a group of young men who crisscross the USA with no money and a great deal of drinking. The emphasis is on experiencing all that life has to offer.

According to the social researcher Michael Adams, there are some marked differences between the personal values and worldviews of an average Canadian and an average American. An example has to do with the value placed on experience versus materialism. In Sex in the Snow (1997), Adams found that a Canadian was most likely to use an unexpected windfall of money to go on a big trip, while an American would be more likely to buy a nice car. Of course these are generalizations that don't hold true for every individual, and also probably evolve over time, but still, it's interesting.

In any case, Kerouac's Sal Paradise, the narrator of On the Road, is a writer on an existential search with little interest in material things. Kerouac has a great ear for dialogue. His prose is a delight for anyone who loves language and the whole thing is based on real people and events, which adds another layer of appeal.

The unabridged Recorded Books edition is 11 hours and 15 minutes long and Frank Muller is an excellent choice as performer, as he is a credible and enthusiastic storyteller. In spite of this, I found myself having to take a break partway through, switching to some podcasts. (Books on the Nightstand and The Readers... if I'm not listening to books, I'm listening to people talk about books.) Anyway, when my mood shifted and I was ready for it again, I enjoyed the rest of On the Road.

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