I pick up my books on tape at the library for night listening (and books on CD at the library for car listening), so I pretty much take what I can get. The library's selection favors mystery and detective novels, which generally don't much interest me. A couple weeks ago, I saw Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises and thought that since I hadn't read it since high school (when I hated it, along with pretty much everything else because I was an obnoxious teen), I'd give it a try.
I remember in high school, complaining in class (did I mention I was a particularly obnoxious teen? I was serious about that) that Hemingway's narrative said six times in the space of a page and a half that it was raining. Six times. I had no appreciation of the genius.
I still don't.
I found the narrative repetitive (She was with them. She was very much with them. blah blah) and the plot uninteresting. The narrative didn't inspire me to care.
So on to Kerouac. I've only read On the Road before. I read it first when I was in the Peace Corps, 22 or so, living in the middle of nowhere in a rain forest, and I loved it. It was high adventure. I read it again at 30-something, and hated it. I have little patience these days for the ultra-romanticism of the very special tortured (almost always male) artist who's forced, FORCED to go around being obnoxious to other people who aren't very special artists.
But hey, Big Sur, there's a promising title!
I'm a cassette and a half in, so about one fifth of the book, and I'm irritated. I don't know whether I'll bother to listen to more, or whether my irritation will drive me to the library to get another book on tape.
Some of my irritation has to do with the very special tortured artist who treats everyone like crap and needs to go get drunk and piss on the world. I find drunks in texts marginally less irritating than drunks in person, and I detest being with people who are drunk in person.
Some of my irritation has to do with the sexism. The intro to the cassettes had a guy saying something about how Kerouac was never mean to anyone. I guess he doesn't consider women anyone?
There's a section where the narrator is trying to hitchhike back to San Francisco from Big Sur and not having much luck. He blames his lack of luck primarily on the fact that the cars passing are tourists with the husbands driving and the wives navigating and being far too petty and mean to let their husbands dare to stop to pick up a hitchhiker. It's clear from the narrative that wives abuse husbands horribly by not letting them go on their manly, homosocial fishing trips for the yearly vacation but insisting that the husband vacation with his family. The outrage!
Women in this text seem to come in two sorts: wives who abuse their husbands horribly by existing, and "girls" who are unnamed and merely temporary penis pockets.
My final irritation is petty, but serious. Kerouac keeps using "Frisco" for San Francisco. Bleah.
Here's what: San Francisco is either San Francisco, or, if you're in the Bay Area, simply "The City." If you're in New York or London or any other major metropolis, then you have to differentiate which "The City" you mean when you're saying "The City" and mean San Francisco, but if you're in the San Francisco area, everyone knows you mean San Francisco. Los Angeles is never "The City." Nor is San Jose.
I'm guessing being from Massachusetts, Kerouac thought of Boston or New York when he thought of "The City" and couldn't lose his snobbiness enough to listen to anyone actually in the Bay Area.
Kerouac takes a little dig at Hesse's Siddhartha, which is an interesting moment. Here's Kerouac, the rebel, taking a potshot at Hesse, who certainly wrote about the same sort of self-absorbed male heroes with a romanticist edge. (Yes, like everyone else in the early 80s, I read Hesse a lot.)
The good stuff? The flow of language is lots of fun. Some of the metaphors work well. But there's a sense of missing the landscape that just doesn't seem right for a text entitled Big Sur where all he notices is the ocean and some rocks, and then whines and goes back up to the City.