Wills, D., ‘Beat Books’ in Wills, D., (ed.) Beatdom Vol. 1 (City of Recovery Press: Dundee, 2007)


Some good books written about the Beat Generation, Beat literature and counterculture life.

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Caveney, G., Screaming With Joy: The Life of Allen Ginsberg (Bloomsbury: Verona, 1999)

Screaming With Joy is epitomised by a photo of Ginsberg carefully watching Bob Dylan sit playing guitar. There are so many photos of Ginsberg and his legendary contemporaries interspersed with the sort of stories that make Ginsberg such a loveable figure.

Consequently, the text flies along at some speed, moving from story to story to story with seamless endeavour. Little is really elaborated on in great depth, but such fleeting references and brilliant statements evoke greater feeling, although they may lack the facts and ideologies of other Ginsberg biographies. It also creates a matter-of-fact narrative of Ginsberg’s life, which makes the book read more like fiction, and recalls the autobiographical nature of the poet’s work.

Screaming With Joy is one of Beatdom’s in-house reference manuals. It is essential reading, as far as we are concerned, although there may be more thorough sources available. But as with Dylan’s music, the genius is that the words reflect more than they say, and that you never doubt their significance. Ginsberg knew it, and Caveney knows it.

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Caveney, G., The Priest They Called Him: The Life and Legacy of William S. Burroughs (

Another book by Graham Caveney, this Burroughs biography is as great a piece of art as a study of his life. Beautifully laid out and illustrated, with images and words blending together like the writing and the stories that were, in fact, Burroughs’ true legacy after his death, The Priest They Called Him is not a book for squares. No, friend, this book is as stylish as the subject and almost as entertaining. Scholarly, it may not be, but interesting and wild, it certainly is.

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Maher Jr., P., Kerouac: His Life and Work (Revised and Updated) (Taylor Trade Publishing: Maryland, 2004)

Shortly after Beatdom’s creation, following the completion of my book, Who Is Rodney Munch?, and the return to a life lacking creativity and productivity, I decided that one way to motivate myself to write about the Beats was to purchase an informative and substantial book about the subject… An investment in my writing and in the magazine… Something to inspire me to write, to study, to get my act together.

A trip around Borders bookshop, out by the Reading Rooms on the edge of town, resulted in my purchasing of Paul Maher Jr.’s Kerouac: His Life and Work. I needed something about a specific Beat figure that could be used as research for a variety of articles and features, and there was a lack of anything about Burroughs or Ginsberg or anyone else.

And Kerouac has served its purpose. The book details the Father of the Beat Generation’s life beautifully and in frightening depth. There’s not much worth knowing about Jack Kerouac that isn’t in there somewhere, backed up by meticulously sought references and loving analysis.

But had I known more about Paul Maher Jr., I wouldn’t have been so pleasantly surprised. Firstly, he has the same degree as I do: in American Studies and English; the sort of blend of study that inevitably leads one to modern and controversial, as well as politically and culturally significant, American literature. Secondly, he is the author of three additional Kerouacian studies: Empty Phantoms: Interviews and Encounters with Jack Kerouac (2004), Home I’ll Never Be: Jack Kerouac and On the Road (2007) and The New Vision: Jack Kerouac in the 1940s (2009); as well as of Miles on Miles: Collected Interviews with Miles Davies (2007) and a forthcoming book scheduled for 2009 about the life of Henry David Thoreau.

Maher can therefore be considered as a bit of a Kerouac expert, with an appreciation of related musical and literary influences.

Originally entitled Kerouac: A Definitive Biography, this book certainly lives up to both of its names. ‘Definitive’ is right, although concerning his works in addition to his life.

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Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee, Jack’s Book: An Oral Biography (St. Martin’s Griffin: New York, 1978)

Now a bone-fide Kerouacian classic, Jack’s Book takes oral interviews with friends and associates of Jack Kerouac and combines them to draw a distinctive biography of the Beat legend. Gifford and Lee interviewed numerous figures in Kerouac’s life, from Ginsberg, Burroughs and Hunke, to old schoolfriends and relatives.

The result is a superb addition to the volume of Kerouac biographies, and certainly a unique addition at that. It reads more like something Kerouac would have put together himself than some of the heavy-going scholarly books of facts and dates.

Barry Gifford’s work was brought to my attention by an e-mail from a friend, who directed me to the author’s website, where I found his e-mail address and entered into correspondence with him, resulting in the interview later in this magazine.

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Ann Charters (ed.), The Portable Beat Reader (Penguin: 1992)

Anne Charters edits together a collection of Beat texts to offer a literary-historical study of the Beat Generation. Included in this collection are excerpts from On the Road, Howl! and The Naked Lunch, as well as writings by Diane di Prima, Bob Dylan, Herbert Hunke and Gregory Corso.

The Portable Beat Reader is a nice starting point in an exploration of Beat literature, though perhaps a little pointless to well-read Beat enthusiasts. Nevertheless, it’s one of those ‘nice-to-have’ books that you’d happily read again and again if you couldn’t find your own full copies of the included texts.