"I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted."
Jack Kerouac is one of my most-loved authors. It's the anniversary of his birth this week. Jack died too young: at the age of 47, just like Judy Garland.
Hailed as a leader of the Beat Movement along with Alan Ginsberg and William Burroughs, he was tragically affected by the late success of his work; Jack became a popular figure with 'disaffected and restless' youth when he felt too old to either enjoy, or be a part of it.
Born on 12 March 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts, Jack's family was French-Canadian. He immortalises his family in his 'Great American Novel' and arguably his best work (and first published), The Town and the City.
This is my favourite of his books, in which Jack creates a fictional family based on his own, and all of the brothers reflect something of himself. Not many people realise that Jack was a high school football star.
Following their fortunes and misfortunes, this book also chronicles some of Jack's experiences from being in the Merchant Navy, with his pal in misadventure Alan Ginsberg.
Most of Kerouac's stories are based on his experiences with a wild and creative bunch of friends, thinly disguised with pseudonyms. Everyone has heard of On The Road, brought to the big screen by a not-bad film released in 2012.
In this book, Jack is Sal Paradise, while the infamous Neal Cassady is wild driving, adulterous Dean Moriarty. The two, along with a colourful group of friends and randoms, travel the length of America, dropping out to experience young life on a shoestring.
Known for his stream of consciousness approach, Jack famously wrote this book in entirety, on one roll of paper.
While a lot of his cohorts experimented with drugs, the monkey on Kerouac's back was alcohol. The effects of this addiction are incredibly rendered in Big Sur. While trying to get away from influences and dependence, Jack is overwhelmed by his experience of isolation on the Pacific Coast of California - a place which is truly awesome in every sense of the word. I've travelled down this coast (at night!) where huge waves crash against sheer cliffs, the road crossing bridges that feel at least two hundred feet above. Of course, his isolation doesn't last...
The Dharma Bums (1958) is another popular work. Again seeking solitude and zen, Jack (Ray) and Japhy (based on poet Gary Snyder) take jobs as Fire Wardens for the United States Forest Service, on Desolation Peak (in the North Cascades); looking inward for Dharma, or truth. This work paved the way for a consciousness genre including works by Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey, and mentions Alan Ginsberg's first reading of his epic poem Howl and contains Kerouac's epic poem, Big Sur at the end.
What struck me about Jack was his decision to 'discover America'; hitchhiking through the U.S and Mexico. His impressions of families in their shiny cars; steadfastly ignoring him hitchhiking as he made them fear for their tidy view of society, are still relevant today.
These are just a few of his great works. If you're after a different point of view, try Carolyn Cassady's biography Off The Road, Beat Painting, a book of Kerouac's art, or Jack's own biography Jack's Book,