What Do I Read Next?
Kerouac's The Dharma Bums (1958) is the chronicle of two men searching for the Zen meaning of Truth as they travel the West Coast. Kerouac used his friendship with Buddhist poet Gary Snyder as the basis for this novel.
The Subterraneans (1958) is the story of a writer's interracial relationship amid the back-drop of New York City hipsters. Kerouac based the novel on a real-life romance he had with Alene Lee, a beautiful young black woman who mingled with the denizens of Greenwich Village.
For those interested in a "key" to On the Road, as well as the novels mentioned above, there is an excellent critical biography of Kerouac by Gerald Nicosia, Memory Babe (1983).
Kerouac was deeply influenced by Southern author Tom Wolfe, whose first two novels, Look Homeward, Angel (1929) and Of Time and the River (1935), were autobiographical accounts of his early life in North Carolina and his later travels to Harvard, New York City, and Paris. The novels are expansive and romantic, filled with lush imagery and humor.
The Portable Beat Reader (1992), edited by Ann Charters, is a great collection of work by dozens of beat poets and writers. It includes excerpts from three of Kerouac's novels, as well as some of his poetry. It also includes "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg, and several pieces by William Burroughs.
Another great novel of youthful alienation is J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye (1951). The protagonist, sixteenyearold Holden Caulfield, is one of the most beloved adolescents in American literature. The story details three days in Caulfield's life after he flunks out of prep school. It is a sad, funny, and deeply touching novel.
Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962) is a classic antiestablishment novel. Small-time con artist Randle McMurphy feigns mental illness to avoid prison. When he is committed to a mental hospital, he winds up in a power struggle with the head nurse. The book was also made into an Oscarwinning film in 1975 starring Jack Nicholson.
A proponent of the New Journalism of the 1960s, Tom Wolfe (not the same writer mentioned above), spent several months with novelist Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters as they rolled across the country in their bus. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) by Wolfe is an intriguing documentation of the psychedelic era. Neal Cassady and Timothy Leary are among the many oddball occupants of the bus they called "Further."