Something New! Beatdom Book Club Discussion Group – “Brother-Souls”

When we interviewed Ann Charters in our current issue, Beatdom Eleven, she brought up the relationship between Jack Kerouac and John Clellon Holmes and the importance of Holmes in the evolution of the seminal style, syntax and spirit of Beat Literature, as demonstrated by Kerouac’s daily digestion of each page as Holmes’ novel, Go.

Here is a slice of that interview…
Ann Charters – “I can understand (Alene) Lee’s anger at Kerouac after he appropriated her story in The Subterraneans (though at the request of Grove Press she signed a paper giving her consent). What he did to his friend John Clellon Holmes in that autobiographical novel was much worse: Kerouac portrayed Holmes as such a wimpy rival that the literary portrait trapped him for eternity as “the quiet Beat” just as a fly is trapped in amber. Sam and I tried to redress that wrong in our recent biography Brother-Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat Generation. It was a difficult book to write, but one of its pleasures was the opportunity to give Holmes back his voice as a writer who was an enormous influence on Kerouac during the years 1948 to 1951, especially in Jack’s creation of the “scroll” version of On the Road.
I don’t think I should have written more about Alene Lee in my early biography (Kerouac, 1973), because she didn’t play a major role in Jack’s life. Much later when I found out from the English Beat scholar Oliver Harris that she had typed the manuscript of Burroughs and Ginsberg’s The Yage Letters, I included that information in Brother-Souls to give her credit.
But I wish I had known more about Holmes’ long friendship with Kerouac when I wrote the
biography, because Holmes was a major influence and he deserves much more credit for his role as a Beat novelist, poet, and historian. Certainly Holmes’ memoir Nothing More to Declare and his novel Go are major achievements in the Beat literary canon. Jack read every chapter of Go as it left John’s typewriter, and it helped break the emotional log-jam that prevented him from writing about his road trips with Neal Cassady.”

This caught our interest so we were very pleased at the arrival of Brother-Souls in the old Beat Mailbox. A full review of this terrific work will appear in the next issue of Beatdom…Issue Twelve, The Crime Issue.The thing is – the book is much more that what we expected, so we are reading slowly and savoring. Instead of a basic nuts-and-bolts account of the facts, this is a volume that reads with the excitement of any of the best Beat novels. Though more factually forward and to the point than the diamond-hard poetic styles of description which infused On The Road, Go, The Dharma Bums, etc., we still get the adventures, the substance of an era frozen in time, and all the usual suspects – and then some!
Before we even arrived at chapter one, the three page prologue dazzled us with an array of “Who’s Who In Hip”…we come across the names of the Velvet Underground, The Fugs, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Ed Saunders, Diane di Prima, Andy Warhol, Charles Olson, Peter Orlovski, Anne Waldman, Timothy Leary…even W.H. Auden walks through to buy a newspaper…Will they all show up eventually? Perhaps not all of them but it certainly grabbed our interest immediately.
By force of habit, we opened the book to a random page to see what we found and, there on page 179, we have Neal Cassady sending Holmes, in the words of the former, “Wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo-EEEE! A real whiz of a letter” in his typical ebullience! What more can you look for in a quick introduction to the text?
If you are reading this post you are probably on this site for a reason – to learn about, celebrate or simply enjoy that which is Beat Culture and Literature. To that end, we suggest you go out to a store, click on Amazon.com, break out the Kindle – however you prefer to do it – get yourself a copy of Brother-Souls and read it. When we went to our local library to see if we could get a copy, we couldn’t. Utilizing the inter-library loan service, we were shocked to find that not a single public library in the State of Pennsylvania had a copy.
That is just pathetic.
So, if you are used to getting reading materials and books at the local branch and they do not have it, or are not aware of it here is all the information they need to order a copy…
Give them the information and don’t cut them any slack if they argue!

Brother-Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat Generation
By Ann Charters and Samuel Charters
University Press of Mississippi
ISBN 978-1-60473-579-6, hardback, $35
Email – www.upress.state.ms.us/book/1303

If they can afford multiple copies of that Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, let them know they can get something besides that sort of drivel for your tax dollar. This is literary history and it belongs in any and every self-respecting library!

Before Issue Twelve appears with the full review, we will post a short version of Brother-Souls on this site. We would love to open up a discussion and have you send us your comments. If you already read it, please post a comment and start a forum here. For the fun of it, please include the city and country you are writing from.
If you have to give the clerk at Barnes and Noble a hard time to get your copy, tell us about that, too! Let’s all read a great book together and have some fun doing it. If you like, we can have discussions on other books in the future.
What do you say?
Be there or be square!!!

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Author: Michael Hendrick

Michael Hendrick, activist, capitalist, poet and writer, has been published in newspapers and magazines since 1972. Editor of the literary journal, Beatdom, he is currently finishing his first novel, Egypt Cemetery, the first volume of a Proustian effort he refers to as 'A Remembrance of Things Crass' (with apologies to Marcel Proust). A survivor of five bookstores and two libraries, his two cats are his most prized possessions. He likes Irish ciders and organic foods and never misses a Bob Dylan tour!

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3 Comments

  1. BROTHER-SOULS, the long awaited biography of John Clellon Holmes, is rich with details and character portraits because the Charters drew heavily on JCH’s extensive personal journals. There are new views on the usual crowd of Beats: Ginsberg, Kerouac, Corso. But there are also revealing snapshots of many of the early NY circle of friends that usually only get a quick mention in other biographies, such as, Alan Harrinton, Jay Landesman, Lucien Carr, and others. There are plenty of details of the all night parties and people who shaped JCH’s first novel, GO.
    However, at the heart of BROTHER-SOULS is the complex and at times fragile relationship between Holmes and Kerouac. Both are bound together by their driving desire to be writers and to be recognized. They need each other, yet like siblings they compete at their craft. The book too deals with the complexity that Cassady adds to both of their lives.
    It is a challenging read with much depth and use of JCH’s journal entries. But the rewards are there, especialy in gaining a first hand look at the early years of the Beats as they prepare to take center stage.
    DAH, Chicago, IL

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  2. excellent comment, Don! in some ways, it does seem to be one of the most detailed accounts of the beginnings of Beat available. i am hard pressed to find one that has more facts jammed into it! thanks for posting!

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  3. Charters can’t seriously be that arrogant. I don’t know of many people who write novellas on women that don’t play an a significant role. It’s unfortunate that Jack used it as an opportunity to insert male dominance. Apparently Lee was a very independent minded person with many options to chose from. A story like that hardly goes along with this romanticized brotherhood version of beat culture.

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