Desolation Angels – Jack Kerouac

‘It’s the beat generation, its béat, it’s the beat to keep, it’s the beat of the heart, it’s being beat and down in the world and like oldtime lowdown and like in ancient civilizations the slave boatmen rowing galleys to a beat and servants spinning pottery to a beat.’

Many are aware of the Beat Generation and its notoriety, but few know much else of it and its main characters, bar a name or two and that book… When reviewing Kerouac there is always the temptation to compare it to On the Road, however you have to be careful when doing so, because On the Road is certainly not the be all and end all of Kerouac. Sure it’s his most famous, and everyone’s heard of it, but it’s definitely not his best. Having said that though, Desolation Angels does merit certain comparisons to On the Road due to its road trip nature (in book two anyway).

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So the novel is split into two books and it opens with a melancholic Kerouac gazing at Mt Hozomeen in his role of fire look-out, lamenting over ‘the void.’ I should say that for a fan, the first few chapters are beautiful. Vintage Kerouac, typically written in his flowing spontaneous prose. But it does carry on in the same vein for some 70 pages and slowly begins to grate on you. This first part is taken directly from his journal of the time he spent on the mountain and this much is evident as it is very journal-like, but it does drag on for a little too long so that by the end we just want him off the bloody mountain and back in civilisation. Kerouac is at his best with forward momentum in his narratives, when he gets lost in thought and memories it can get a little weighed down. Discussing this with a friend, he raised an interesting point about juxtaposition and the first book being slow and the second frantic. I see what he was saying, maybe it was all part of the plan but I am inclined to disagree. This is because I know that Kerouac initially wanted book two to be published as a standalone novel, so it feels almost like two halves of different novels stuck together in order to fill a quota.

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That said, those are my only qualms. When he does get down it is brilliant. For anyone who loved On the Road, book two of Desolation Angels blows it out of the water. The pace picks up as he meets Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady and eventually Bill Burroughs. But even with the ripened speed and the resumption of normal life Kerouac is still withdrawn but now it is all the more revealing as we learn why. Passages on his need for solitude and the ‘search for peace as an artist’ allow us into the mind of the man. One of the main things about this book that I enjoyed so much was how revealing it was into Jack Kerouac himself. It is a brutally honest and emotional work.

Kerouac, Ginsberg & Co. in Mexico

Kerouac, Ginsberg & Co. in Mexico

Book two is where the On the Road lovers will be satisfied. The drug taking (which is a lot more explicit than in On the Road), freight train hopping antics begin, and the freedom that a generation identified with is once again present as they travel around on a whim looking for kicks in Mexico, New York and Tangiers. But it is also in book 2 where his depression really takes over and by the end, the Jack Kerouac everyone thinks they know becomes a different man. The book has so much depth to it than, it is hugely meditative and telling of the depression and separation Kerouac felt from the ‘hipsters’ and indeed his own friends of many years. There is a particularly poignant passage describing his resentment of the Beat Generation, calling it ‘all an enormous drag’ and ‘to think that I had so much to do with it.’ But that is the brutal honesty you get out of this book as he lays all his feelings on the page. As saddening as it may be, it is fascinating.

All in all it is a great and enlightening read that is only irritating because it takes so long to get going. Even if by the time it does you’re having such a good time you’ve forgotten all about book one.

4_5_star_rating

Click here to buy Desolation Angels from Amazon

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The Kerouac Conundrum

I have a dilemma. To review books, I need to read books. But I can’t just review books by the same author. Or can I? No, I can’t. That would be boring for everyone. But this is where my problems begin. See photo below…

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I have all these lovely new Kerouac books and I want to read them all, but now I am reviewing everything I read I can’t just power through them like any normal human being. Sure I read On the Road long ago so that’s not an issue but the rest of them? They look at me in my bed at night begging to be picked up and read. Those appealing black and white photos of the man in his prime (big up Penguin, they’ve nailed all the front covers to Kerouac’s books). Enticing back covers with tales of freedom and true insights to the man himself… They call to me. So I’m reading Desolation Angels, and sometime next week you will get to hear all about it, but after that I’m going to have to rein myself in and start a system.  I am going to alternate between Kerouac and everyone else. Purely for your sake I tell you. If it was up to me and I didn’t have to think about you, I would not be showing this mercy. This compassion. The hipster inside of me says

‘Screw them, they’ll dig it.’

But the voice of reason reminds me that for you laymen there is such a thing as too much Kerouac.

So anyway, this is fair warning. You can expect a fair few Kerouac posts over the coming months. Not that it should be a problem; I mean everyone loves Kerouac don’t they? No? Well I do so you can all put up with him and maybe by the end you will too…Or perhaps the world will turn upside down and I won’t.

The Tao of Wu – The RZA

My first review is somewhat of an anomaly, however it is the last book I read and it certainly merits its place on this blog. I must say though that for the most part you will not find me reviewing philosophical autobiographies of hip-hop stars. Do not let this put you off though; The Tao of Wu by the RZA is not what one might expect from one of the biggest names in hip-hop. It is an unusually intellectual tale chronicling the RZA’s rags to riches life story, yet at the same time providing the life lessons that he has learnt over the years.

For those of you who are not familiar with the RZA, but welcome a dose of hip-hop then listen to Wu-Tang Clan’s seminal debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). You will not be disappointed. Nowadays, when young ears are being polluted by ‘artists’ such as L’il Wayne and Drake, Wu-Tang is the real deal. RZA had a very strict vision of what hip hop should sound like and that is what he strove to create, ‘beats that MCs could rap on, beats that would make you wanna rip a hole out of the wall.’ But if this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea then it should suffice to know that the RZA, or ‘The Abbot’ as he was also known in the Clan due to his vast wisdom, was behind everything Wu-Tang did. Possibly the biggest hip-hop group in history would not have existed without him. He is a man that, although the odds may have been stacked up against him, persevered and succeeded through the burning desire inside of him to create. Indeed his latest venture is in the world of cinema, behind the camera. His directorial debut The Man with the Iron Fists is released in the UK on 7th December and pays homage to the kung-fu flicks he has loved since his childhood.

In The Tao of Wu we are taken on a journey inside the wisdom and spirituality that has driven his success. It contains numerous teachings-the 9 pillars of wisdom- and relates them to our modern society and his life in particular. There is no doubting that the RZA has been around the block enough to impart certain teachings on us mere mortals, and the way he relates centuries old teachings to our modern way of life is fascinating. Dipping into elements of Christianity, Buddhism and Numerology he imparts his teachings, yet it never feels condescending, like he thinks he knows more than you (he does). It is simply him attempting to help you succeed as he has done, in the way he has done.

That is not to say that there aren’t stories of drug dealing and decadence. Though he aims to teach he also recognises his own pitfalls and these too are chronicled. He more than realises his own imperfections yet the manner in which he rises above them is admirable. The stories are interesting and enjoyable no matter what walk of life you hail from. Not to mention particularly emotional when talking about the death of his fellow clan member and cousin, Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

The teachings never get old either as it is written in a very consistent and engaging style. The style is unique and colloquial, and every sentence can be imagined coming from the RZA’s mouth. Although some of the subject matter may appear to be heavy, due to the conversational nature of the writing it is impossible to get weighed down in his words. It all makes for an extremely entertaining read that is very hard to put down.

You most certainly do not need to be a fan of Wu-Tang Clan to enjoy this book, although being such a big one myself, it certainly helped (the never before heard stories will be all the more interesting to the initiated). But if you are not, having read this book you shall certainly want to at least give them a listen. Whether you like the music or not, I strongly recommend The Tao of Wu to anyone wanting a highly enjoyable read, and an insight into the mind behind the Wu-Tang Clan.

★★★★★

Click here to buy The Tao of Wu from Amazon.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón- The Angel’s Game

This book is the prequel to Zafón’s earlier The Shadow of the WindI read this book a few years ago now and very much enjoyed it (although I remember enjoying The Shadow of the Wind more). He is a hugely talented writer (however criticisms have been voiced at the plot) and what makes this novel all the more interesting is that it is a novel about books and the power of words. Upon reading it, this paragraph struck me as the most beautifully written passage about writing which stayed with me long after finishing the book. The haunting nature of it creeps up on you and i’m sure any writer can relate to  the feeling conjured from the words. It has been in my notebooks ever since I finished reading the book. Enjoy.

 

‘He worked all night and collapsed from exhaustion at dawn, possessed by strange dreams in which the letters on the page trapped in the typewriter would come unstuck and, like spiders made of ink, would crawl up his hands and face, working their way through his skin and nesting in his veins until his heart was covered in black and his pupils were clouded in pools of darkness. I would barely leave the old rambling house for weeks on end, and would forget what day of the week it was, or what month of the year. I paid no attention to the recurring headaches that would sometimes plague me, arriving all of a sudden as if a metal awl were boring a hole through my skull, burning my eyes with a flash of white light. I had grown accustomed to living with a constant ringing in my ears that only the murmur of wind or rain could mask. Sometimes, when a cold sweat covered my face and I felt my hands shaking on the Underwood keyboard, I told myself that the following day I would go to the doctor. But on that day there was always another scene, and another story to tell. ‘

Carlos Ruiz Zafón- The Angel’s Game

Hello Junkies

The first post. Always the hardest, therefore I will not drag it on for the sake of the word count. What I will say is that I hope that anyone reading finds the site navigable (customizing blogs is not my forte) and indeed the content enjoyable. Now, what you can expect to be posted on this is probably exactly what you would think from the title; musings on, well books. I am going to publish my own reviews on all the books I read and whilst I read these books, any old posts that I feel relevant. Now whilst I get on with some reading so that you have something to read, I leave you with a quote from one of my favourite authors,

“And if there is anybody out there who feels crazy enough to want to become a writer, I’d say go ahead, spit in the eye of the sun, hit those keys, it’s the best madness going, the centuries need help, the species cry for light and gamble and laughter. Give it to them. There are words enough for all of us.”

– Charles Bukowski

I hope you enjoy yourself on this site and please feel free to contact me with any queries or qualms.

Harry

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