Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They're Not What You Think) - John Leland Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They're Not What You Think)

...except for how they are exactly what you think.

Okay, to be fair, the lessons laid out by Leland are the ones usually missed by a lot of readers, especially younger ones. If a reader buys into the rebellion, fuck you hype and picks up On the Road, it's easy to miss the spiritual and coming-of-age themes along with the rest of what Kerouac was trying to get across, simply because that's not what the reader is focused on, not what he came into the experience looking for. With the passive narration combined with Kerouac's style, that's an easy thing to do.

Leland does a fair job presenting the issues and "lessons" of the classic, although I could have done without all the jazz comparisons, as it felt like he wasn't really familiar with jazz, simply drawing parallels with information picked up from other sources. The sheer amount of biographical information was also unnecessary, having little to do with the lessons from the novel and, admittedly, boring the crap out of me because I knew that stuff already. I didn't read this for a life lesson about Jack Kerouac; I read this for more insight into the book itself, which is separate from the man.

Why Kerouac Matters... feels an awful lot like the syllabus for a 101 college lit course. That's not necessarily a bad thing, considering the layout presents everything in a clear, rather linear fashion that helps keep the reader focused on the subject even when the author can't quite seem to and starts wandering around from the point.

But one thought kept occurring to me the entire time I was reading, and when I finished the book, the question seemed even more pressing:

Leland is handing us the "true", intended lessons from On the Road, but since the real meaning of a work lies with the reader (and thus individual interpretation), does any of this even matter?