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Monday, August 5, 2013

"On The Road", life in miles per hour

On The Road- Jack Kerouac

This is not just "another" read for me. As a matter of fact, this is one of MY BOOKS, so this couldn't be a "regular" review. To talk about a literary myth for so many people seems a bit pointless imo, as I can't pretend to offer a new, revealing analysis of a novel that has been, so rightly so, canonized as one of the must-reads of the past century and a countercultural reference. So I can only offer something I do know better than anyone else regarding this book: my relation with it.

I was 16 years old, having holidays in Andalusia with my family (plus my aunts and cousins, a little wild bunch of teenager-kids) and to be honest, a bit bored. Never been the party-goer type (as my older relatives there) and I couldn't stand some sort of "family behaviors" (looong story that doesn't really fit here). Anyway, one day I was wandering around the town with my father when we found a bookstore (he was looking for a local author he couldn't find in Barcelona), but we also got something for me. That something was Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" and (I don't care if it sounds corny or movie-bland to you) showed me a new world, opened me a door, still wide open. The truth is that I chose the book because by then I was beginning an obsession with a very particular list (everyone who knows me knows about my list-addiction problem), a quite pompous list on The Best Books of the 20th Century, of course done by a very important editorial, etc, etc*. Fitzgerald's was number 2.

Shocked as it was by the novel, after finishing it I didn't know what was going to be the next one. My father had the answer prepared for me. "I saw you list and I remembered I had this one at home. I brought it with me because I want it to read it again. Maybe you should have a look to it. I think it would like you". Of course, the novel was "On The Road". Boom! I crossed "the door" opened by Fitzgerald and never looked back. Next came "The Subterraneans", "The Catcher On the Rye", "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter"... and a never-ending list (more or less my own) since then. Bye-bye silly (other would say canonical) Spanish and Catalan high-school reads. Hello American literature.

But "On the Road" was much more than that. I didn't just like the book. It became a sort of companion. A landmark, a myth, a way of acknowledging there's, or at least there can be, something more. A remembrance that life should be lived, or at least could be lived, differently. A very special gift I gave once, an also an always desired trip... that finally I'm doing, with the best company I could ever imagine. So what better time to re-read than when coming to California, so ready and eager to be "on the road" trying to follow some of Moriarty and Paradise's steps?

But I do admit I was afraid too. Would the book resist the proof of time? Would I have grow-up too much for it? What if I don't feel the same anymore while reading? Soon I realised I didn't have to worry. Not only time hasn't taken its toll on Kerouac's work and what's contained in its pages is still valid today. No, it goes beyond that. What was a revelation for a teenager now has become a serious slap in the face for a grown-up. The innocence, the naivety is gone, replaced by what sometimes is harsh truth. Because behind all the craziness and fascinating trips around the vast and dreamy landscape of America, there's an individual rebellion of two souls willing to live their own lives, dying every time they find themselves living the lives of the others (the American Dream, the way that "live should be", as we have been told and learnt). The road is the only place where they are capable to articulate their freedom. Some measure their existence in money, others in properties or the number of kids. Paradise and Moriarty in miles per hour. The destination doesn't matter, what matters is to keep moving, trying to find oneself. Still a very particular lesson for everyone. Or at least, for me. Boom again!

SCORE: This book changes lives   

* Of course, I still have that list.

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