Yesterday at work we had a number of patrons coming through looking for things by Keroauc. Most people came in asking for The Road, and looked really confused when they were pointed to McCarthy's post-apocolypse novel. One other person asked for Jack's Road. Even though I don't work at the official librarian desk, the librarians kept sending these people my way when they weren't sure what the people were asking for. I guess I'm starting to get a rap for odd ball lit trivia, mostly due to my kicking ass in a game of literary trivial pursuit at lunch a few weeks ago. But that's another story.
Now normally when a bunch of people are asking for an older book, it means one of two things: kids need to read it for school or a book club is reading it. These were all ranges of adults, but none were school age. After about the fifth person I finally asked why so many people were looking for Keroauc. The details were a little vague, but apparently NPR ran a feature story on him. "I think it's his 50th birthday," the patron told me. I broke the news to her that Jack was long dead, and if alive would be well over 50. She shrugged her shoulders and took the book anyway. I hope she likes it.
Still somewhat confused, I tracked down the NPR story and found that yesterday was not Jack's b-day (shocker), but the 50th anniversary of the first publication of On the Road. Although I knew the story already, it's a pretty good encapsulation of all Jack went through to get that book out. In his 30's, living at home with his mother he fought to get that book out. Sometimes I guess you just know when you write something good.
I still remember reading Kerouac for the first time. It was the summer between my Senior year of High School and my Freshman year at College. My stepbrother Jon---who's one year ahead of me in school----was reading it that summer. Not to be outdone, after all I was the book nerd, I picked up a copy and read it a few short days before heading down to JMU. I remember not fully understanding it at the time, but I also remember liking it. I remember enjoying the freedom the characters felt and loving the romantic idea of setting out an endless search for, well, something. I don't think I quite knew what at the time. Nowadays I would probably say enlightenment. Or peace.
Over the years I read more by Ol' Jack, and I have to say I prefer his poetry and his later novel Desolation Angels. But it's hard to argue with a novel that legitimized and popularized one of the most influential lit movements of the 20th century. So although it's a day late, I'll hoist a short drink of scotch tonight in honor of Jack and his lit classic On the Road. Happy 50, old bean.