Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They're Not What You Think)

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Legions of youthful Americans have taken On the Road as a manifesto for rebellion and an inspiration to hit the road. But there is much more to the book than that. In Why Kerouac Matters, John Leland embarks on a wry, insightful, and playful discussion of the novel, arguing that it still matters because it lays out an alternative road map to growing up. Along the way, Leland overturns many misconceptions about On the Road as he examines the lessons that Kerouac?s alter ego, Sal Paradise, absorbs and dispenses on his novelistic journey to manhood, and how those lessons?about work and money, love and sex, art and holiness? still reverberate today.
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About the author

John Leland is a reporter for the New York Times and former editor in chief of Details, and he was an original columnist at SPIN magazine. Robert Christgau of the Village Voice called him "the best American postmod critic (the best new American rock critic period)," and Chuck D of Public Enemy said the nasty parts of the song "Bring the Noise" were written about him. He lives in Manhattan's East Village with his wife, Risa, and son, Jordan.

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Published on
Aug 16, 2007
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Biography & Autobiography / Literary
Literary Criticism / Books & Reading
Literary Criticism / Comparative Literature
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This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Award-winning nature writer John Leland offers a collection of twenty-seven short, poetic essays that marry science and the humanities as the author seeks meaning in trees. Readings in Wood is an investigation of trees and forests and also of wood as a material that people have found essential in the creation of society and culture. Leland views with wit and erudition the natural world and the curious place of human beings as saviors and destroyers of this world. At once personal memoir, natural history, and cultural criticism, the book reflects Leland’s idiosyncratic vision. In one essay Leland asks the trees, “Do you, like us, rejoice in sunny days, dance with the wind, and blush to have your sexual desires known by prurient passersby? Why, like us, do you torture yourselves reaching for a heaven beyond your grasp? Why twist yourselves so that your grain becomes a record of your grief? What mystic patterns of science, math, and religion hide in your whirls of leaf and branch?” As vast as a forest, topics range from tree grain and leaf shape to economic theories, mathematics, and engineering. Readings in Wood is a hybrid testament of science, faith, superstition, and disbelief learned from sitting on tree trunks and peering at leaves and fungi. Leland hopes others will join him in nature’s classroom. Quite aware of the irony, he reminds us, “These leaves you desultorily turn over once hung in a green wood gone to make this book. Touching a book, you touch a tree. I pray that Readings in Wood’s essays, touching you, may justify in some small way the trees who died in their making.”
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