Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954. Edited and with an introduction by Douglas Brinkley; Viking Books, 2004; 387 pages; $25.95.
FROM THE DUST JACKET:
Jack Kerouac is best known through the image he put forth in his autobiographical novels. Yet it is only in his private journals, in which he catalogued his innermost feelings, that reveal to us the real Kerouac -- his true, honest, deep philosophical self.
In Windblown World, historian Douglas Brinkley has gathered a selection of journal entries from the most pivotal period of Kerouac's intrepid life, beginning in 1947 when he was 25 years old and ending in 1954. Truly a self-portrait of the artist as a young man, these journals show a sensitive soul charting his own progress as a writer and responding to his most important literary forebears, which included Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Spengler, Joyce, Twain, and Thomas Wolfe. Here is Kerouac as a hungry young writer struggling to perfect and finish his first novel, The Town and the City, while forging crucial friendships with Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Neal Cassady. The journals go on to tell of the events that would eventually be immortalized in On the Road, as Kerouac travels through every region of the country and slowly cultivates his idea for a jazz novel. The peripatetic Kerouac's lifelong devotion to mystical Catholicism and his tremendous love of "the essential and everlasting America" abound in these confessional pages, as do his brooding melancholy, his youthful doubts and chronic fears, and his overriding conviction that there would soon be a "great new revolution of the soul."
As Brinkley notes in his introduction, Windblown World "offers riveting proof of Kerouac's deep desire to become a great and enduring American novelist. Brimming with youthful innocence and the coming-of-age struggle to make sense out of a sinful world, these pages reveal an earnest artist trying to discover his authentic voice."
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
New Orleans Times-Picayune: No American writer suffers a greater gap between the myth and the man than does Jack Kerouac. It is hard to believe, but the writer who made road-tripping an American rite of passage could not even drive a car. He also kept tidy files, was close to his mother, isolated himself from friends in order to work, and died in St. Petersburg, Fla., with a copy of the National Review by his side.
One leaves this book with a feeling of how incredibly lonely Kerouac must have been, sequestered with no one but his French-Canadian mother and his overarching ambition. Although infamous for his parties with Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, Kerouac seems to have spent most of his time out in Queens writing all night, sleeping, waking up, and then writing some more. These breaks from the work to log his day are his equivalent of watercooler chitchat. Only they are with himself.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Douglas Brinkley (no relation to former television news anchor David Brinkley) was born in 1960 in Atlanta, Georgia, and raised in Decatur, Georgia, and in Perrysburg, Ohio, the latter a small town outside Toledo. His parents were schoolteachers; his mother taught English, and his father taught social studies.
Professor Brinkley was eight, he told an interviewer from the Chicago Tribune, when he began his first publishing venture. "I made my own encyclopedia of American biography -- Johnny Appleseed, Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Charles Lindbergh, my pantheon of favorite heroes."
Professor Brinkley graduated from Perrysburg High School. His B.A., in history, was awarded by Ohio State University. He received his Ph.D. from Georgetown in 1989. His dissertation, on the post-Truman years of President Truman's secretary of state, became Professor Brinkley's first book: Dean Acheson: The Cold War Years, 1953-71
The professor has taught at various universities, including Hofstra, where his history courses included journeys on the Magic Bus. The bus was a vehicle on which the then-new professor drove his students to sites where history happened.
In 1994 when prolific (and controversial) historian Stephen Ambrose chose to retire from the University of New Orleans, he selected Brinkley as his replacement as director of the university's Eisenhower Center. Professor Brinkley accepted. He has spent the last decade in New Orleans, teaching and writing.
Professor Brinkley is author or editor of almost 40 titles, including the recent Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War. Kerouac's literary executors have given Professor Brinkley exclusive access to Kerouac's papers, among which the journals reside. The professor now is at work on a biography; Kerouac is the biography's subject.
A CONVERSATION WITH THE AUTHOR:
I've been a Kerouac fan since On the Road emerged in print (1957). This was the same year that Arkansas Governor Faubus barred nine black students from entering Little Rock's segregated, all-white Central High School. Nineteen fifty-seven, in the world of books, was the year that Doctor Zhivago, which I read, came out, as did Nabokov's Pnin, which I did not read. Anthony Powell had a book that year. So did Isaac Bashevis Singer, Ian Fleming, Ayn Rand, and John Cheever. Rand's was Atlas Shrugged (which I read) and Cheever's was The Wapshot Chronicle (which I read). Almost 50 years have passed; I have reread, among those titles, only Cheever's and Kerouac's.
I said to Professor Brinkley that I thought it a shame that people, generally, were not aware of how well Kerouac writes.
The professor agreed. "I think some people mistakenly think Kerouac just got lucky and wrote On the Road, and it's sort of a one-book wonder. But in truth he's got a really fresh, lively, innovative style, and it didn't happen by osmosis, as you can tell in Windblown World. He worked really hard on studying literary classics and religious texts in order to come up with his own voice. You see his first book, The Town and the City, being modeled greatly after Thomas Wolfe [1900--1938 -- author of Look Homeward, Angel and You Can't Go Home Again].
"You could see him in his journals, working his way into the Kerouac voice we know with On the Road. In Windblown World you see the education of a writer. I think it's a good book for young people to read.