Top Ten Tuesday: My Bookish Bucket List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme: my top ten “bookish” bucket list items. Should be fun…

10. Read Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”
I’ve managed to cross off a lot of the other notoriously long – but great! – books but not this one. I read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina last year and didn’t like it as much as I’d been led to believe I would. That may make me put this off even longer…

9. Found/Launch the perfect book club
I’ve started or helped start two good book clubs in my life, but they both fizzled out eventually. Interest in joining my planned “Jay’s Benevolent Dictatorship Book Club” has been lukewarm so far, though.

8. Finally incorporate “Jay’s Future E-Publishing Company”
Yeah, that’ll never happen.

7. Read the Bible front to back
Of course, I’ve read almost all of it at times, but never cover to cover. An old friend of mine once gave me a foldable, bookmark-ish card that listed what you needed to read each day to be done in exactly a year. I need to dig that out and do it some year.

6. Visit the Lew Wallace Study in Crawfordsville, IN
I mean IN THE DAYTIME (see my old blog post). One of many literary treasures in my part of the country that I have yet to take advantage of.

5. Visit “Washington Irving Country” in New York
I’m talking Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow and the Hudson River Valley. The land of van Winkle and Crane. Ah…

4. Attend one of the Big Book Conventions in New York
I might as well do this the same trip as #5, huh? I always joke that if I go to New York, though, I’ll just disappear into that city and never return. Several employers have asked me to delay this trip.

3. Have a nice home with a Big Library
I’m talking a dedicated room for my library of course. It would also have maps of the world (from different eras) on the walls, comfortable chairs, and a huge globe in the middle of the room. “Nerd alert!”

OTR%20Travels

2. Go on a road trip that retraces some of Kerouac’s “On the Road” travels
Why not? I will point out that I would be better behaved than he and his crew were, though. Doubt I’d do the Mexico route in my version, either. It may be my favorite part of “On the Road,” but probably a wee bit more dangerous these days.

800px-Memorials_in_Poets_Corner_(2013)

1. Visit “Poet’s Corner” in Westminster Abbey
This would be my literary Mecca. So many great authors there…

So… What’s on YOUR BBL?

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Jack’s Book

A couple of months ago I wrote about a trip to Half Price Books to pick up “I Capture the Castle” for a book club read. As usual, I didn’t escape the trip without picking up some other, random purchases. More recently, I made a similar trip to pick up “The Sun Also Rises” for yet another book club read. This time, my “collateral damage” included “Jack’s Book,” an “oral history” of the famous author, Jack Kerouac, by Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee. I read this book over just a couple days last weekend. I recommend it highly, but only if you are already somewhat familiar with Kerouac.

I’ve read several biographical accounts of Kerouac (& friends) in the past, but what made this one unique was the lengthy quoting of his friends (Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Carolyn Cassady, Luanne Henderson, John Clellon Holmes, Al & Helen Hinkle, Lucien Carr – the list goes on an on). It was fascinating to read again about some of these stories that I already knew but to this time hear them through some of the other characters and in their own words.

Kerouac’s interlude at Big Sur received more attention in this book than in some of my other reading. It was truly a sad stage of the author’s life to read about. Lenore Kandel (the then girlfriend of poet Lew Welch) had this to say about that: “He (Kerouac) was in a very bad place, and he went there to clear his head. But it’s a really elemental place, Big Sur, and it really burns. I guess it must be a little like an acid trip, a very heavy concentration of reality.”

Another thing I pondered while reading – and this is kind of a favorite speculation of mine – is whether or not this group of friends and aspiring writers (later to become known collectively as “The Beats”) knew they would become as famous as they did, or rather that their work and the “movement” would take hold. Clearly their ambition or goal was clear, but did they really think it would become reality? I remember a discussion at a book club meeting last year where we were talking about the book, Fahrenheit 451, which certainly has become an undisputed classic, and I posed the question “Do you think Bradbury knew he had something special when he was done writing?” I like to think he did, at least to some degree. The same goes for the “Beat Generation” standard bearers. I guess what I really hope is that it’s not just a kind of crapshoot whether books become popular or not.

Another memorable observation in the book – this one by John Clellon Holmes – was this one: “Most books that come out are contained. That is, ‘I want to read that book.’ But what happened when On the Road came out was , ‘I want to know that man.’ it wasn’t the book so much as it was the man.” He noted also that Kerouac became “more and more confused as it went on.”

This book also contained several more “convergences” with my other recent reading. The authors describe a meeting of Kerouac with Kurt Vonnegut in the late sixties in Cape Cod. Apparently, Vonnegut and others were playing poker, and Kerouac joined in but was not on his best behavior (drunk again) and kind of made an ass of himself in that company. Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” is also quoted at one point, and Holmes mentions that he had discussions with Jack regarding how “Dostoevsky wrote in the 1880’s that Russia is talking of nothing but the external questions now,” and that “with appropriate changes, something very like this is beginning to happen in America, in an American way.” The book also re-prints the famous, original New York Times book review by Gilbert Millstein, which helped launch On the Road, and within it is a reference to The Sun Also Rises: “Just as, more an any other novel of the twenties, “The Sun Also Rises came to be regarded as the testament of the “Lost Generation,” so it seems certain that “On the Road” will come be known as that of the “Beat Generation.”. I love it when all my reading starts to link together like this.

How do you feel about Kerouac?

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My Kerouac stories Part I

(above: one of my favorite pictures of Kerouac, conspicuous in the pocket of his jacket is one of his notebooks)

I was a late discoverer of the amazing writing of this American icon. Of course, I knew of him, and knew that On the Road, was “one of the most influential novels of the twentieth century,” but I hadn’t gotten around to reading him (or it) yet. Then, in the summer/fall of 2006, I began to plan starting “A New Book Club” (my first one had petered out in the 90s – lack of dedicated readers, lack of of sufficient number of members, lack of direction that a benevolent dictatorship -as I’ve been accused of in my current club – would have avoided) with some co-workers in downtown Indianapolis. I remember our first planning “meeting” (i.e. lunch) sitting at a table on the western side of the center building of the downtown City Market. Somehow, we came up with the plan for book selection that we are still using today. We also came up with a ‘random number generator’ – in this case the last two digits of the ending Dow Jones Industrial Average (hey, we were all accountants and bankers, what would you expect?) to determine who would make the first pick. Sonja was the lucky member and picked one of Dale’s books, (these two, along with myself, were the members present at this meeting so I consider us the Founding Fathers, er – “Parents” of the book club) and it just happened to be On the Road.

(above: Colts owner Jim Irsay with the On the Road manuscript)

Sometime later, as our first meeting approached. Sonja and I were talking about how, fairly recently, Jim Irsay (owner of the Indianapolis Colts! – hey, that’s my team!) had purchased the original manuscript of this iconic work. I jokingly suggested that Sonja talk to our friend Nancy in marketing – we did, after all, work at The Official Bank of the Indianpolis Colts at the time – and see if she could get Jim Irsay to come to our book club meeting. On a lark, she did, and no, he didn’t come to our meeting, but he did dispatch his assistant and the keeper of the manuscript scroll, who was the ‘conservator’ (I think I’m getting that term right – he’s the person who takes care of manuscripts) at the Lilly Library in Bloomington, IN, where the scroll resides when not on tour.

(the manuscript up close)

Well, we were all a little surprised that we would be having guests at our very first meeting, but we were also excited. Irsay’s assistant brought some memorabilia to the meeting, including the bidding “paddle” used by Irsay at the auction.

The guy from the Library brought a box full of Kerouac-related books to show us and he was clearly someone who was passionate about Kerouac, even being moved to tears once when describing the author’s futile struggles against alcoholism. He gave me a new appreciation for the depth of Kerouac’s work beyond On the Road which, until then, had been all that I had known of his writings.

Irsay, who – upon buying the manuscript – had realized that he had given very little thought to what he would do with it or even where he would keep it. It was sheer luck that, theretofore unknown to him, his offices were just an hour away from one of the most extensive collections of original manuscripts in the whole country, and their custodian, the man who came to our book club meeting, was also a lifelong and devoted fan of Jack Kerouac.

Why am I writing about all of this now, you ask? Well, last Saturday I made one of my “irregularly scheduled” appearances at a coffee shop in the “Meridian-Kessler” neighborhood here in town. This is on the ‘old’ north side and home to many old, grand houses (think Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons which, in fact, is probably an actual fictional (actual fictional?!) representation of this part of town). Anyway, the thing about this coffeehouse is that it is the home of the “Bishops of Cappuchino” chess “club” (cute name, huh?), and – although I’m still retired from tournament chess – I do still enjoy a casual game every now and then.

Anyway, on this day, I met up with an old chess friend/colleague of mine who we’ll call Bob. I’ve known Bob for about ten years, and I’d known he did some technical writing for his job, but little else about his “literary history.” I don’t remember today how the subject came up, but we started talking about Jack Kerouac and I found out that he actually wrote a book (!) about the author back in 1981. It was part of the whole 25-Year Anniversary celebration of the publication of On the Road that was going on at the time, and there was apparently a host of Kerouac scholars making the pilgrimage to Colorado for this event…

To be continued…