Although different from previous blogs, I wanted to allow my final blog to be a bit more personal. For my final Book Beautiful book collection blog, I hope to highlight the texts that I find most influential to my own life. Although this gathering may not be the ultimate for most collectors, what follows is a collection of texts that represent the Beat Movement which found its fame primarily during the 1950’s. As an English major, books of all makes are anything but unfamiliar, whether mass produced or a limited edition, each providing a unique twist on form. Just as changes in printing technology during the industrial revolution changed the world of book making, the generation of Beat authors so too changed the world of literature as America new it. Like so many book enthusiasts, the Beats felt marginalized by the mainstream of society and detail the angst of cultural change their work. Though these books may not be the most expensive, wrapped in vellums, or even hand crafted in some cases, they mark a significant turning point for American literature. Since book making and writing go hand-in-hand, these novels so too challenge the standards expected of printing given their time. Be it Kerouac’s burst of energy that created the scrolls for On the Road or the variations of order presented by Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, these novels not only challenge the norms of traditional American literature but pushed the limits and challenged the functionality of printed text.
Memoirs of a Beatnik – Diane Di Prima, Olympia 1969
As many of the Beat authors faced issues of censorship, this account of a female artist coming to terms with her sexuality and intelligence was met with much controversy. During this time, the field of literature, particularly literature involving sexual promiscuity, was male dominated. Here she is able to “raise her rebellion into art” in a tale of courage and imagination.
Chronicles Volume 1 – Bob Dylan, October 5, 2004
Although it may come as a surprise to see Dylan on the list, the songwriter shared many themes with the Beat authors, in fact befriending Ginsberg and Kerouac, two of the movement’s most key figures. As many of the Beat authors borrowed from musical forms, the Beats too influenced musicians. Dylan published his memoir recently, demonstrating the still thriving interest in the movement and those involved.
Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness – Bob Kaufman, 1959
Highlighting influences of jazz and lyrical poetry, this collection of poetry includes odes to Charles Mingus, Hart Crane, Ray Charles, and Albert Camus, early influences for many of the Beat authors. Like Di Prima, Kaufman joined the Beat movement as one of its later members.
Collected Letter 1944-1967 – Neal Cassady, Penguin 2004
With more than two hundred letters to Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, John Clellon Holmes, and other major influences of the Beat generation, this collection covers Cassady’s life from his early days in college to married life with Carolyn. Edited by Dave Moore, this collection presents a candid look at the life of one of the Beat Movement’s most influential forerunners.
On the Road – Jack Kerouac, September 5, 1957
Quite possibly the most well-known of any Beat generation author’s work, On the Road details the many trips taken across country by Kerouac and his muse Neal Cassady. Originally written in a stretch of three weeks, the novel was originally written in the form of a scroll.
(Jack Kerouac with the original scroll)
The First Third – Neal Cassady published 1971
Published nearly three years after his death, The First Third was one of Cassady’s final novels. In fact, Cassidy wrote “Seldom has there been a story of a man so balled up. No doubt many readers will not believe the veracity of the author, but I assure these doubting Thomases that every incident, as such, is true” for the jacket cover of this book just four days before his death in 1968.
Howl – Allen Ginsberg
One of Ginsberg’s most prominent works, this edition was popularized as pocket poetry, a thin edition of text suitable for travel and on-the-go reading, demonstrating the versatility of the bookmaking process and the potential to adapt the functionality of books in particular situations. This text constitutes one of the most important and well known works of the Beat Movement.
Naked Lunch – William Burroughs, 1959
An unusual survival guide, Burroughs’ Naked Lunch details the life of a junkie during a time in which drug use, especially to the extent seen here, was rarely discussed. This novel helped to redefine American culture, influencing music, film, and various other facets of the art community. Since publication, Burroughs has asserted that the novel can be read in any order, despite the order each vignette appears as printed.
Off the Road – Carolyn Cassidy
A Memoir, this novel follows the life of Carolyn Cassady and the twenty years that she spent with several of the Beat generations most prominent contributors. The text includes numerous pictures in both color and black-and-white which, along with the text, provide an in-depth and personal analysis of the major Beat authors.
Blues People – Amiri Baraka
An analysis of the cultural significance of African American music in a Caucasian dominated society throughout history. A legendary Beat author, Baraka was a founding member of the Black Arts movement which stemmed from the movement brought forward and popularized by the Beat generation.