The Book That Changed My Life: ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac
When I was 15, I got heavily into music and movies. There was something about the creative process that mystified me. I was very curious by how something was made, how a person sat down and just created something with his/her imagination. This curiosity led me to the people I would become most friendly with in high school: the artists, daydreamers, musicians, poets, and outcasts. I remember there'd be days we sat around making each other laugh at whatever was "popular" as we chewed through horrible fast food and candy bars.
The only reading I had done up until then was the required kind. Y'know: Shakespeare and whatever other books my English teacher shoved in our faces. I had no problem with reading (unlike some of my other classmates who faked their way through the book). I was just never fascinated by it. I had yet to find that book. Little did I know, that book would find me.
My parents shipped me away to sleep-away camp every summer back then. It was never easy to say good-bye to my friends for two months. Because of my newfound interests my friends made it easier by giving me stuff to keep me occupied. And the summer before my junior year of high school I was given the book that would change my life forever and ever: ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac.
I remember it taking a while for me to really immerse myself in the novel. The language was different. The story was unlike anything I'd ever read before. There were no monsters or villains or fairytale lands for my imagination to construct on my own. In fact, there may have been one or two times where I said to myself, "What the hell is goin' on here?" That's when it dawned on me. Kerouac was writing his words exactly as he thought them. This was more than a story. It was an experience. It was a voice that I had never heard, but once I started understanding it, I didn’t want it to quiet down.
ON THE ROAD is a novel about freedom. It is about answering the booming call from the universe to never stand still. Find what you are looking for no matter what it takes. The Dean Moriarty character resembled a lot of those friends I made in high school—carefree, precocious, and always looking forward to the next thing—while the Sal Paradise character is someone I relate to most because of his ability to record and process all that is around him. Sal (and more to the point, Jack Kerouac) are part of the reason I write today.
My life was changed after ON THE ROAD. From then on I yearned to hear people's stories and see different places. I had never read anything like that before because I had never known that a book could be written that way. There was a rush of exhilaration every time one of the characters set out for another journey. I was inspired by the culture of the nation at the time (the late '40s) and how a younger generation struggled to identify with…anything. Not since Fitzgerald wrote THE GREAT GATSBY had a group of young misfits been so certain of who they were and weren't.
Kerouac's ON THE ROAD gave birth to an entirely new group of misfits. They would come to be known as The Beat Generation. They were intelligent. They were adventurous. They were artists, daydreamers, musicians, poets, and outcasts…like me.