On The Road, by Jack Kerouac

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OK, this really is not my kind of book. I listened to it given that it is a Great American Novel, the book that inspired the Beat Generation, stuff like that.

You can read elsewhere about this book. Apparently it is largely autobiographical. Well, I found the characters unappealing. Had I been in close company with Dean for any length of time I would have hit him.

The story also didn’t hold my attention. Frankly I was bored. I only kept going for the last three quarters because of the legendary stature this book has attained. The listing of names of people at particular events became tedious. The treatment of women, blacks, “Okies” and gays is probably of its time. I doubt that at any time in the last 20 years anyone would joke out loud in the US about dressing as Arabs and threatening to blow up New York.

I was reminded of something I was told nearly 40 years ago, about another book that has a similar reputation. “Anything that’s seminal is usually a load of wank”. Maybe this is a book that had to be read at the time it was published, in 1957, to appreciate its effect at the time. Perhaps that is its true significance – as a groundbreaker, leading the way that others would follow.

The narration by Matt Dillon is a saving grace.

But, for me, it was a load of self-indulgent drivel. 3 out of 10 (because it’s not as bad as the books I have only marked as 1 or 2).

35. Beloved, by Toni Morrison

 

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What a powerful book! I really do not know how to do it justice.

Toni Morrison died a few months ago, and all the tributes made me realise that I had to read Beloved. I have found it hard work: while some sections read more easily, others required care and perseverance. At times I wondered if not having black slave ancestry was making it harder for me to relate to this book.

I won’t attempt to describe Beloved. You can look elsewhere for that. I can see why it is rated as an American classic, and why Toni Morrison won a Nobel Prize.

But I cannot quite give it 10 out of 10, not yet, anyway. I suspect that it is a book that I will be thinking about for a long time to come, so it may yet earn that extra mark in my mind. 9 out of 10.

6. Underworld, by Don de Lillo

Hmmm….

This is said to be a Great American Novel. It is long – 31 hours of audiobook, or apparently 800 pages of print.

I struggled to see the point. Perhaps I’m not clever enough.

This is one of those books that jump around in time. We do not get the chronology in chronological order.

I had a strong sensation for most of this book that it was a kind of spider’s web. There was a core of central events, all in about 1951. Everything reached out from there: sometimes we took a step outwards along a spoke, sometimes we were going around one of a number of concentric circles.

I also felt that about two thirds of the way in, the book lost its way. I kept going in the hope that there would be a big reveal of the point of it all. I’m not sure that there was.

I’m going to give this 5 out of 10.