Archives For Reviews

Reviews from Beatdom.

Review: First Thought

First Thought: Conversations with Allen Ginsberg, edited by Michael Schumacher, is not the first collection of interviews with Allen Ginsberg, but it is in some respect the best. It is a slim edition, carefully selected from the inconceivably vast archive of interviews, to show Allen at his very best. As Schumacher points out in his introduction (and as a great many others have observed) Allen viewed the interview as an art form, just like his poems. He was generous with his interviewers, yet firm. He pushed them to give their best, and he always gave his. (Throughout the book, there are weak interviewers but Ginsberg is never off-form.) Mistakes rankled him, and he made efforts to ensure every interview he gave went to print without misrepresenting his ideas.   Continue Reading…

Review: I Am The Revolutionary

Paul Maher Jr has written an intimate, interesting look at the life of Jack Kerouac – not the whole life, but rather the youth, leading up to the publication of his most famous work, On the Road. I Am the Revolutionary begins in the 1700s with some family history, carries us through his childhood, education, and travels, and ends with Jack picking up the newspaper that changed his life – the one containing Gilbert Millstein’s review of On the Road. In short, it is the story of how Jack Kerouac became Jack Kerouac, the author still known today as King of the Beats, whose novels sent millions of kids on the road, and whose voice has inspired poets, novelists, and musicians for more than a half century. Continue Reading…

Review: Summer of Crud

Summer of Crud is a coming-of-age story that takes place on a road trip across America. It makes reference on a few occasions to the Beats and in fact appears to be an attempt to update Kerouac’s On the Road for the 21st century. However, while not a terrible novel, it certainly is no modern classic. Continue Reading…

In the Sixties, by Barry Miles

Barry Miles’ name seems to pop up everywhere when you look back on Beat history. He’s written books on Kerouac, Burroughs, and Ginsberg, as well as a wonderful book on the Beat Hotel in Paris. But his work isn’t just confined to Beat history – it extends further into the wider counterculture of that era. He’s written books about the hippies, the seventies, figures like Frank Zappa and Paul McCartney, the British Invasion, and an entire history of the counterculture in London since WWII. It is simply extraordinary how often, when researching Beat or Beat-related history, Miles’ name comes up. Continue Reading…

Review: The Best Minds of My Generation

There are so many books about the Beat Generation that focus on the writers’ roles as rebels and “literary outlaws,” who break with convention and reject all the old ways. They are portrayed as angry young men and outsiders in life and literature. This view is not entirely incorrect, but in The Best Minds of My Generation, a collection of Allen Ginsberg lectures edited into a coherent book form by Bill Morgan, we are presented with a very different view of the Beats. Continue Reading…

Review: Bop Apocalypse

Martin Torgoff’s Bop Apocalypse (not to be confused with the similarly titled The Bop Apocalypse, by John Lardas) attempts to bring together the stories of drugs, jazz, racial identity, and Beat literature. It is a bold and fascinating book, which mostly succeeds in its aim. Continue Reading…

Review: Tales of Ordinary Sadness

Tales of Ordinary Sadness is a collection of fifteen short stories by Neil Randall, and its title is a reference to Charles Bukowski’s short story collection, Tales of Ordinary Madness. Sadness certainly is the theme of the collection, with each story acting as a study in the more depressing areas of modern life – this is a writer not afraid to deal with addiction, abuse, poverty, or disease. Randall provides an uncanny insight into the pitiful conditions of working class Britain in the twenty-first century, exploring how things got so bad. Continue Reading…

Review: The Green Ghost

In recent years, William S. Burroughs’ work and life has been examined from various vantage points. In my own 2013 book, I explored his relationship with the Church of Scientology and pored over his work for references to the religion. That same year, Jorge Garcia-Robles looked at Burroughs’ time in Mexico. In 2014, Matthew Levi Stevens looked at Burroughs in terms of magic and the occult, while a plethora of work appeared across the spectrum in celebration of the author’s hundredth birthday. One even focused on his work as a photographer. Then 2015 saw the release of Barry Miles’ superlative biography, which surpassed any of the earlier efforts, including Ted Morgan’s Literary Outlaw. Continue Reading…

Love, H: The Letters of Helene Dorn and Hettie Jones

Love, H: The Letters of Helene Dorn and Hettie Jones chronicles a forty year friendship through their correspondence, as well as Jones’ occasional fragments of narrative, from the early sixties until Dorn’s death in 2004. It isn’t just a collection of letters; it includes faxes and e-mails. It covers a wide range of subjects – though mostly focuses on the personal struggles of motherhood, work in the publishing industry, and staying financially afloat. Continue Reading…

Review: Ambiguous Borderlands

In his new book, Ambiguous Borderlands: Shadow Imagery in Cold War American Culture, Dr. Erik Mortenson looks at the “paradox” of mid-twentieth century life in the United States, where there were unprecedented levels of comfort for many citizens, and yet the impending threat of nuclear holocaust. While people became wealthier than ever before, there came also a crushing pressure to conform or fit in with mainstream society. Mortenson argues, Continue Reading…