Jack Kerouac

"Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954"

(Reviewed by Nora Kathleen Reilly MAR 24, 2007)

“And I know I’m not a man yet, I’m not standing erect, with perfect unconscious grace, the way some men do, workingmen, men with families, men who decide and act every day.  I’m a writer-and I never should have been a writer.  I don’t even look like a writer, I look like a lumberjack, or a lumberjack bard like Jack London.  I’m a Canuck farmer among the ‘eager young students’ and I’ve learned all their airs…”  Friday, Jan. 30 1948.

Windblown World by Jack Kerouac

In July of 1947, a young Jack Kerouac writes an entry in his journal and gives it the title, “ON A DEEP LIFE.”  At the time, he is twenty-five and living with his mother in Ozone Park, Queens while working on his first novel, The Town and the City, eventually published in 1950.  He begins the entry by reflecting on, “That kind of lifetime most often observable in obituaries of respectable proportions;” those men who leave behind a small list of honors and diplomas, who have lives that can be summed up in a couple of paragraphs.  He doesn’t necessarily pity them, but wonders about their children who perhaps, “will live similar absentminded lives.”

But instead of pitting himself against these men and their children, demonstrating the type of rebellion that you might expect from the father of the Beat generation, he allies himself with his own father, who, he says, “did not die blankly leaving life to be fulfilled…He fulfilled it, just as I want to fulfill it in my way, sincerely.”

This is what I found so interesting about Windblown World: the Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954.  The legendary drifter-rebel that you think you know from On the Road is not the serious and deeply sensitive young man you encounter in his journals.   Would you ever guess, for example, that Jack Kerouac wrote Psalms? That he referred to Jesus as "the Lamb?"  That he never really considered himself a "hipster" or a "beatnik," but felt that he was close enough to what he considered a new breed of young men and women to be able to write objectively about their experiences?

Windblown World is a collection of Jack Kerouac’s journals that span a seven year period of great change in his life.  They are divided into two main sections, the first devoted to “The Town and the City Worklogs,” a daily record of his progress and mood as he wrote his first novel, and the second section, titled, “On the Road,” which includes, among other things, the extensive notes he kept during the cross-country trip he took with Neal Cassady in 1949 which would later become the basis for the novel On the Road

The journals provide an intimate look into the daily existence of Jack Kerouac but they are more than just a record of his day to day movements and musings. “The Town and the City Worklogs” is the closest he comes to keeping a traditional diary, recording not only his daily progress on the novel, but also what he eats, what he is reading, and what movies he sees. 

But there are also entries that are purely philosophical, such as, “Notes on the Despair of Thinking Men," “The Philosophic Why,” and “On the Teachings of Jesus.”  There are others devoted to his concerns about his future, whether or not he will find a wife or be able to provide for a family.  He writes about moving out to Colorado and owning a ranch, recalls conversations he has with his mother, and details epic nights spent roaming the streets of New York with such friends as Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr and William S. Burroughs, to name a few.  

It is here that readers will forget the Jack Kerouac-as-literary-figure and instead see a young man who is sorting out his feelings on the world, trying to reconcile the life he is leading with the life he desires; someone who is conscious of working towards a certain level of greatness in his writing but who is racked with the same frustration and doubt that plagues every young artist.

In 1950, The Town and the City was published, warmly received by critics though it never sold that much.   Even before completing The Town and the City, he was thinking about his next novel, alternating between the two working titles, "The Hipster Generation" and "On the Road."  Although he struggled with writing On the Road, he believed that it would be well received and a landmark work.  His vision was clear, writing in February of 1950 that, “On the Road is my vehicle with which as a lyric poet, as lay prophet, and as the possessor of a responsibility to my own personality (whatever it rages to do) I wish to evoke that indescribable sad music of the night in America.”   

It is in the On the Road section of Windblown World that we see the birth pangs of the stream of consciousness prose style he is best known for, as well as the amount of work that was put into the novel.  Contrary to popular belief, Jack Kerouac did not write the novel on one continuous roll of paper during a furious three week period while refusing to make any revisions.  He kept extensive notes on his travels, which he referred back to, and which are collected in the "Rain and Rivers" sub-section of On the Road.  These forty-odd pages of stream of consciousness writing detail his thoughts and experiences over the course of a month, and they are an evocative and powerful account of the mid-century American landscape and culture he encountered while traveling across the country. 

No matter what your level of familiarity is with the work of Jack Kerouac, there is something here to be discovered.  Windblown World has enough behind the scenes information to satisfy even the most avid scholar but its value extends beyond an inside account of his life and work.  It is an insightful, extremely well written, and deeply personal account of one man’s journey to create not only great literature, but an exemplary life, and it is highly recommended for all readers.        

  • Amazon readers rating: from 10 reviews

Note: Douglas Brinkley, who selected the journal entries, is the director of the Theodore Roosevelt Center for American Civilization at Tulane University.

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About the Author:

Jack KerouacJack (Jean-Louis Lebris de) Kerouac was born March 12, 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts to a family of French-Canadians, whom emigrated from Québec. Jack didn't learn English until he was six.

Kerouac went to Columbia University in New York City on a football scholarship. He broke his leg during freshman year. When his football scholarship didn't work out he went to live with his girlfriend, Edie Parker. It was in New York that Kerouac met the people that he was to journey with and would become the subjects of many of his novels: the so called Beat Generation.

Kerouac published his first novel in 1950. Although, On the Road was written the following year, it took seven years to find a publisher, but when it did, it was an overnight success and established him as one of the primary voices of the Beat Generation. On the Road was inspired by the drug-fuelled cross-country car rides that Kerouac made with Neal Cassady.

His health destroyed by drinking, he died October 21,1969 in Florida at the age of forty-seven.

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