On moving to the Carolinas, re-reading Book of Sketches and reading Kerouac’s one-off impressions of this region as well as other places like Mexico City and New York, it is driven home to me how uncanny was his eye, and how sharp was his brain.
There is a passage when Kerouac writes of his brother-in-law, Paul Blake Sr., whom he perceives as a man of the south, and in whom he also perceives is a model figure of the intrinsic sorrow of mankind.
It is pure, empathetic and insightful:
Blake didn’t necessarily approve of his brother-in-law’s lifestyle. He perceived Jack as lazy and a layabout. But Jack, to his credit, stuck to his guns and used the friction in the Blake household as a means of observation and attenuated through his sensitive awareness of things, and in the pages of his little notebooks, a capturing of the mortal strivings of his fellow man.
When I first saw these notebooks, the actual living testament in his scrawled handwriting, and before they were published in 2006, I saw the actual day-by-day work-in-progress of Jack’s world. I didn’t have time to read all of the Book of Sketches notebooks, and longed with deep urgency the publication of this masterwork. This was in 2001. To hold in my hands these notebooks was perhaps akin to touching an original Gutenberg Bible. A strange thrill rushed through my hands and it became, for me, one of the more important touchstones of my life.
Book of Sketches remains for me one of the most important books by Jack Kerouac.
I highly recommend that you not just read it online, or on your Kindle, but buy the small but thick book and keep it with you always. Read it when your waiting for a bus, or for a doctor’s appointment, or during your lunch break or at the DMV. Put your phone away and immerse yourself into the peculiar but infinitely rewarding world of Jack Kerouac.
“It’s Saturday in Mex City & the streets / lead to all kinds of fascinating / lighted vistas, movies, stores, pepsi / colas, whorehouses, nightclubs,/children playing in brownstreet / lamps & the sleep of the / Fellaheen dog in some old / grand doorway.”