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Before Jack Kerouac expressed the spirit of a generation in his 1957 classic, On the Road, he spent years figuring out how he wanted to live and, above all, learning how to write. Atop an Underwood brings together more than sixty previously unpublished works that Kerouac wrote before he was twenty-two, ranging from stories and poems to plays and parts of novels, including Before Jack Kerouac expressed the spirit of a generation in his 1957 classic, On the Road, he spent years figuring out how he wanted to live and, above all, learning how to write. Atop an Underwood brings together more than sixty previously unpublished works that Kerouac wrote before he was twenty-two, ranging from stories and poems to plays and parts of novels, including an excerpt from his 1943 merchant marine novel, The Sea Is My Brother. These writings reveal what Kerouac was thinking, doing, and dreaming during his formative years, and reflect his primary literary influences. Readers will also find in these works the source of Kerouac's spontaneous prose style. Uncovering a fascinating missing link in Kerouac's development as a writer, Atop an Underwood is essential reading for Kerouac fans, scholars, and critics.


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Before Jack Kerouac expressed the spirit of a generation in his 1957 classic, On the Road, he spent years figuring out how he wanted to live and, above all, learning how to write. Atop an Underwood brings together more than sixty previously unpublished works that Kerouac wrote before he was twenty-two, ranging from stories and poems to plays and parts of novels, including Before Jack Kerouac expressed the spirit of a generation in his 1957 classic, On the Road, he spent years figuring out how he wanted to live and, above all, learning how to write. Atop an Underwood brings together more than sixty previously unpublished works that Kerouac wrote before he was twenty-two, ranging from stories and poems to plays and parts of novels, including an excerpt from his 1943 merchant marine novel, The Sea Is My Brother. These writings reveal what Kerouac was thinking, doing, and dreaming during his formative years, and reflect his primary literary influences. Readers will also find in these works the source of Kerouac's spontaneous prose style. Uncovering a fascinating missing link in Kerouac's development as a writer, Atop an Underwood is essential reading for Kerouac fans, scholars, and critics.

30 review for Atop an Underwood: Early Stories and Other Writings

  1. 5 out of 5

    Reid

    I’d definitely recommend this collection of early writings to Kerouac fans, more than 70 pieces he wrote between the ages of 13-21. As in On the Road, his writing here is more an expression of his philosophical approach to life, his values and his pursuits, rather than traditional story fiction. I quite liked more than a dozen of these, not a bad proportion for a writer’s earliest stuff. Below are a few highlights, but I won’t include many quotes, partly because the best quotes are the highlight I’d definitely recommend this collection of early writings to Kerouac fans, more than 70 pieces he wrote between the ages of 13-21. As in On the Road, his writing here is more an expression of his philosophical approach to life, his values and his pursuits, rather than traditional story fiction. I quite liked more than a dozen of these, not a bad proportion for a writer’s earliest stuff. Below are a few highlights, but I won’t include many quotes, partly because the best quotes are the highlights of the book, not necessarily each piece as a whole. “Where the Road Begins”: A vision of an 18 yr old college freshman parting from his family and leaving his hometown for the first time, somewhat sadly, on a train bound for the big city, and then eagerly returning at the end of the first semester, greeted joyously by family and friends. The gist is that you can go home again because there is never a final destination, that life is a circular road of experiences, but your home is where your spirit will forever reside, for it’s where your soul and ideals were born. This idea of never a final destination matches Kerouac’s approach to writing itself, making his writing purposely non-traditional, without the typical structure of a beginning, middle and final ending. Life is forever a series of experiences, a flow of life, and so endings are artificial, especially for an artist with undying passion. “There’s Something About a Cigar”: a one act play, before which Kerouac would supply cigars to the entire audience and demand that all the men actually smoke them while watching the performance. The women must at least light them and hold them up. The scene is on the green grass beside a swimming hole, with everyone in wet swimming trunks, all taking the time to enjoy each others’ company and the relaxation of enjoying a cigar and a swim. The contrasting passage of Time is represented by a metronome and a roaring machine of some sort. Part of his message is that we’re losing our humanity, our love for one another, and what’s best for ourselves by being caught up in the rat race. Instead, he advocates a piece of the good life, less of making money, more shared experience, and the time to enjoy life somewhat care free. (In fact, the editor, Paul Marion points out that Kerouac once advocated a 3 hour work day, for more jobs and more time to appreciate life.) “God”: In this piece, he says that God is our consciousness when we are attuned to the beauty of life and living. When we tend not to be present to the beauty of life, caught up in the struggles of modernity, that is when and how “the basic scheme of man has been neglected.” Other pieces I enjoyed were parts of Go Back; Football Novella; Birth of a Socialist; No Connection - A Novel That I Don’t Intend to Finish; Farewell Song, Sweet From My Trees; and Beauty as a Lasting Truth. Other topics he wrote about include family life, growing up in a mill town, train hopping, writing and writers, horse racing, baseball, football, jazz (with insight and knowledge), Buddhist ideas, partying, college, reminiscing, working, the merchant marines, etc. Overall, this is a valuable collection of early writings, put together by Lowell native Paul Marion, with a good introduction and individual prefaces that highlight Kerouac’s writing influences (Thomas Wolfe, William Saroyan and Albert Halper, in particular) and his determination to be a prolific professional writer with artistic merit. I’d rate the book a 3 for the average reader, but a 4 if you have an interest in Kerouac.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Marley

    Whenver I read Kerouac, I'm re-inspired to carry around a notebook and write whatever I see. Even early Kerouac speaks to me. Whenver I read Kerouac, I'm re-inspired to carry around a notebook and write whatever I see. Even early Kerouac speaks to me.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    READ THIS. it's fantastic. there are a few stories that i skipped over because they were not very interesting to me (such as a baseball story) but every short story is so beautifully written, and the ideas he presents will really make you think. READ THIS. it's fantastic. there are a few stories that i skipped over because they were not very interesting to me (such as a baseball story) but every short story is so beautifully written, and the ideas he presents will really make you think.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Simon

    Atop An Underwood By Jack Kerouac Edited by Paul Marion "Early Stories and Other Writings" 1936-1943 I haven't read any great Kerouac in a very long time indeed, this is by far the best collection of previously unissued writings by Jack that I have come across. Published by penguin I got my copy from City Lights last year. This is a carefully edited collection taken from Paul Marions extensive searching through the large archive of Jacks writings, he apparently kept everything he ever wrote almost! Atop An Underwood By Jack Kerouac Edited by Paul Marion "Early Stories and Other Writings" 1936-1943 I haven't read any great Kerouac in a very long time indeed, this is by far the best collection of previously unissued writings by Jack that I have come across. Published by penguin I got my copy from City Lights last year. This is a carefully edited collection taken from Paul Marions extensive searching through the large archive of Jacks writings, he apparently kept everything he ever wrote almost!! So you get to see Jack starting to develop as a writer and there are sketches that later became scenes in his books and reports from his own fictional sports league, as well as real reports of games he played in or attended. Through to his early travels both across America and to europe when he was in the merchant marine and the stuff in London is fantastic describing going to the Albert hall and then to Piccadilly drinking at the height of the blackout for the blitz, seeing Taxis driving in the pitch dark! Damn that must of been a hell of a trip. This book is a must for any fans of Kerouacs and is also a good look at how Kerouac made himself into a writer. there is some great Poetry and some good lessons for anyone who enjoys writing. The only pity is that as it has been so edited that you only get snippets of the longer pieces like the Sea Is My Brother his first attempt at a Novel that they include 19 pages from a manuscript that was 158 pages long!! Damn that is tight even by Readers Digest standards;) Still that is a minor quibble on a book this enjoyable to read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jerry Oliver

    This was a wonderful book that reveals the talent that was abundant from the get go for a young Jack Kerouac who understood his calling to be a writer as an adolescent and never waivered his entire life. These pre- On The Road writings are a treasure for any true kerouac fan.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mat

    This book was truly an excellent surprise! Reading this book shows you just how good Jack already was when he wrote these stories (I think he was around 20 when he wrote 'The Sea is My Brother'). My favourites in this collection were the selected excerpts from 'The Sea is My Brother' (which incidentally is not only believed to be Jack's first-ever novel but one which has just been published for the first time last month), a short story on baseball called 'Rookie Nerves' and a short piece he wrot This book was truly an excellent surprise! Reading this book shows you just how good Jack already was when he wrote these stories (I think he was around 20 when he wrote 'The Sea is My Brother'). My favourites in this collection were the selected excerpts from 'The Sea is My Brother' (which incidentally is not only believed to be Jack's first-ever novel but one which has just been published for the first time last month), a short story on baseball called 'Rookie Nerves' and a short piece he wrote the night before he and his family moved house (called something like ‘Farewell My Trees’). This latter short story literally moved me to tears as I recalled the near-forgotten sad feeling of leaving your childhood home forever. Only Kerouac is able to stir up and recreate those feelings and that is one of the many reasons why he is so dear in the hearts of his fans. This language is so vivid and visceral that you can feel the language almost crawl under your skin. Suddenly, you can see, breathe and hear all those 'word-sound brushstrokes' that Jack so magically paints. Don't listen to the critics (like Capote) who called Jack's work 'typing'. Most of the journocritics (Capote excepted) are just wannabe failed writers themselves who couldn’t write an epic like ‘The Town & the City’ to save they life. Hence, what do they do? They become ‘journalists’ who can only write short columns and judge Jack's work and literary success with evident bitter jealousy. Although Jack had yet to develop his 'spontaneous bop prosody' for which he is so famously celebrated in novels like 'On the Road', 'The Subterraneans', 'Visions of Cody' and more, the quality of his writing in this collection offers much support for what his biographer Anne Charters said: "frankly he could write any style you like". Kerouac has often been criticized as being 'childish'. However, I feel that this is one aspect of his personality and set of values (out of many others) that has been devastatingly misunderstood. Remember Kerouac was a Catholic (or Catholic/Buddhist). I am not a full-blown Christian myself, so do not think that I am trying to evangelize in any way but let us recall the words of Matthew 18:3 from the Bible for the purposes of literary argument: "Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" Given his strong innate spirituality and Catholic upbringing, it is quite easy to see how Jack might have perceived 'childishness' in a positive light, unlike most of us in the modern age who have become incredibly cynical and arrogant as ‘adults’. Finally, I think that even in the 21st century, Jack's refreshingly honest and child-like (and remember I mean that in a positive way) reverence for and celebration of life serves as an important wake-up call to everyone one of us when we get too hung up on our jobs or other trivial stuff that there are plenty of moments and things out there amid the mad maelstrom that we know as ‘life’, staring us in the face every day, beckoning us to bear witness and take part. These fleeting stolent moments of our life are beautiful tableaus, which should be celebrated (through living) and which should be remembered to the full (through writing) and I think that’s what Jack was all about. Jack considered it his divine mission to record all what he witnessed for posterity. And what a legacy he has left behind for us readers too.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Taylor Bush

    This is a ragtag collection of Jack Kerouac's early writings that range from the profound and inspiring to the different (some more fiction-based than you might be used to reading from him or on subjects like food and baseball) to the ehhhh. Essential for any Kerouac fan to chart the beginnings and growth of his writing or aspiring writers to be inspired that so many of his ideas he spoke so passionately about from an early age eventually flowered--giving one hope that with enough zest one can a This is a ragtag collection of Jack Kerouac's early writings that range from the profound and inspiring to the different (some more fiction-based than you might be used to reading from him or on subjects like food and baseball) to the ehhhh. Essential for any Kerouac fan to chart the beginnings and growth of his writing or aspiring writers to be inspired that so many of his ideas he spoke so passionately about from an early age eventually flowered--giving one hope that with enough zest one can also take their work to the places he did.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Zach

    best insight into a legend before the world knew how great he was...

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jesper Sorensen

    he knew what he was doing all along

  10. 4 out of 5

    Marisa

    It was really interesting to read things that the author had written in his younger years.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Brendan

    A great book. You can watch Kerouac's style grow and mature from page to page. These early works crackle with energy. A great book. You can watch Kerouac's style grow and mature from page to page. These early works crackle with energy.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Chris "Shining One" King

    6 STARS ...******

  13. 4 out of 5

    Genek

    Beautifully written and read on his birthday :)

  14. 5 out of 5

    Raymonds009

    Exceptional.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    If you're contemplating becoming familiar with Kerouac's work, I urge you to pick up a copy of Atop an Underwood. When I first picked Jack Kerouac's writings off of a Wisconsin library shelf, I turned to two pages. The first in order to read the first sentence of the book (if at least the first paragraph doesn't trigger immediate intrigue, you might as well put that book back where you pulled it from. One more test: I always turn to page 111 when browsing a new novel, book, memoir, what-have-yo If you're contemplating becoming familiar with Kerouac's work, I urge you to pick up a copy of Atop an Underwood. When I first picked Jack Kerouac's writings off of a Wisconsin library shelf, I turned to two pages. The first in order to read the first sentence of the book (if at least the first paragraph doesn't trigger immediate intrigue, you might as well put that book back where you pulled it from. One more test: I always turn to page 111 when browsing a new novel, book, memoir, what-have-you. If something jumps off the page (something symbolic, meaningful, deeply personal), then that's it. Check out. Atop an Underwood remains one of my most beloved works of Kerouac's and I can't tell you how pleased I am that I decided to read his writings chronologically. It was almost like it was meant to be. If you do decided to embark on an journey to your local library or give your nearest bookstore a visit, do us both a favor and take a peek inside first. Find "I Tell You It Is October!" (p.129), [Here I Am at Last with a Typewriter] (p.130), Credo (p.153), [I Am Going to Stress a New Set of Values] (p.160), [I Am My Mother's Son] (p.162), and ... This I Do Know— (p.169).

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jt

    Jack Kerouac is a literary icon. His writings, both of poetry & prose should be read by younger generations. He has affected me profusely since jack composed On the Road & Dharma Bums. I consider him a major influence towards my own pursuits in creative writing. I realise that Kerouac is not beloved as he should be. The Beats didn't follow the status quo of what society dictated. Maybe that's why they were considered outsiders, controversial characters. Anyhow, I do hope you read these stories. Jack Kerouac is a literary icon. His writings, both of poetry & prose should be read by younger generations. He has affected me profusely since jack composed On the Road & Dharma Bums. I consider him a major influence towards my own pursuits in creative writing. I realise that Kerouac is not beloved as he should be. The Beats didn't follow the status quo of what society dictated. Maybe that's why they were considered outsiders, controversial characters. Anyhow, I do hope you read these stories. It provides a glimpse into the greatness & sensitivity of a Canadian French American who understood the spirit of jazz, blues, ZeN meditation, & wanderlust. It's ok to be overwhelmed by the size & impact of his words. You will be resorting towards a dictionary for certain language. Jack Kerouac is a true legend. His prolificness & discipline for churning out endless streams of short stories, novels, & poetry is astounding. He was a young writer. He died at the age of 47. Take care my friends. Jack will have a place in my heart.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    Just as everyone else has said, the writing in here isn't necessarily stellar, but it provides some pretty fascinating insights into the earliest works of an author whom I consider to be incredibly influential. However, in addition to the novelty of being able to read works that weren't really meant to be published, written by an adolescent who would eventually go on to be the voice of an era, the writing in here was reminiscent of all writing that kids do around that age. I found myself relatin Just as everyone else has said, the writing in here isn't necessarily stellar, but it provides some pretty fascinating insights into the earliest works of an author whom I consider to be incredibly influential. However, in addition to the novelty of being able to read works that weren't really meant to be published, written by an adolescent who would eventually go on to be the voice of an era, the writing in here was reminiscent of all writing that kids do around that age. I found myself relating strongly to all the "this is who I am, this is what I like, and this is what I'm doing" kind of pieces, that aren't great pieces of fiction, more just a description of personality as you viewed it at that moment, and I feel bad that we can't read pieces like that from more writers from their youth.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michael Webb

    This is a pretty varied collection in terms of its quality as it is a post-mortem collection of Kerouac's early writings. The earliest stuff is the most disposable to me, particularly the sports-related ephemera from his earliest writings where he would create fictitious sports leagues and narratives to go with them. The back half of the book flows more with fragmentary "super short stories" (comprising a page or three) intermixed with poetry and slightly longer fragments, most notably one sectio This is a pretty varied collection in terms of its quality as it is a post-mortem collection of Kerouac's early writings. The earliest stuff is the most disposable to me, particularly the sports-related ephemera from his earliest writings where he would create fictitious sports leagues and narratives to go with them. The back half of the book flows more with fragmentary "super short stories" (comprising a page or three) intermixed with poetry and slightly longer fragments, most notably one section that was part of the creative process leading to The Sea is My Brother. I have read the Duluoz Legend as a whole, so for me filling it out with some of these extra writings is worth the time. This text has the virtue of reading easily in fits and starts, though one could also see the fragmentary nature of its contents as making it less fulfilling as well. Worthwhile though.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

    I struggled through this book, but I am not saying that as a negative. This was a collection of early Kerouac leading to his meeting Ginsberg and Burroughs and his ultimate "On the Road" fame. Some of it was meaningless and rambling to me. Some of it was writing genius and words that wove stories and images in my mind that haunted me for days. As I have said in other Kerouac reviews, he is one of my all time favorites and I genuinely enjoy learning more about him. I learned so much from reading I struggled through this book, but I am not saying that as a negative. This was a collection of early Kerouac leading to his meeting Ginsberg and Burroughs and his ultimate "On the Road" fame. Some of it was meaningless and rambling to me. Some of it was writing genius and words that wove stories and images in my mind that haunted me for days. As I have said in other Kerouac reviews, he is one of my all time favorites and I genuinely enjoy learning more about him. I learned so much from reading this and have found other authors I know want to know better. In summary, I think this is a realistic view of what you would find out of any author's work: a hodgepodge of good and bad that glint with genius, beauty and eventual greatness.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lauren G

    i suppose this might be for the more 'hard core,' fans of kerouac or the beats, but actually not really. this is his very early writing, including faux news stories he wrote as a kid, mostly of sports news for one of his dozen 'publications' he worked on in his little bedroom in Lowell, MA. i am fascinated by early writings of my favorite writers and this book was no exception. lots of short stories, snippets and essays, and you can hear the threads of influence from saroyan among other authors. i suppose this might be for the more 'hard core,' fans of kerouac or the beats, but actually not really. this is his very early writing, including faux news stories he wrote as a kid, mostly of sports news for one of his dozen 'publications' he worked on in his little bedroom in Lowell, MA. i am fascinated by early writings of my favorite writers and this book was no exception. lots of short stories, snippets and essays, and you can hear the threads of influence from saroyan among other authors. it's a lovely collection but unfortunately is only about 1/4 or less of his early writings. some day i hope they publish the rest.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    i really took my time on this one and enjoyed every word. it was fascinating to see his early work and the evolution of kerouac's writing from his younger days into his more well known novels from later in life. favourites: where the road begins god here i am at last with a typewriter the good jobs hartford after work* credo this i do know famine for the heart the romanticist *i especially enjoyed "hartford after work," like kerouac identifying with brittany, my family hails at one point from hartford (abo i really took my time on this one and enjoyed every word. it was fascinating to see his early work and the evolution of kerouac's writing from his younger days into his more well known novels from later in life. favourites: where the road begins god here i am at last with a typewriter the good jobs hartford after work* credo this i do know famine for the heart the romanticist *i especially enjoyed "hartford after work," like kerouac identifying with brittany, my family hails at one point from hartford (about the same time as kerouac was living there, interesting) and from what i know and imagine, it was once the city that people say it was.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tim Weakley

    I'm always suspicious of posthumous works. Martin edits a collection of very early stories, and creates a marvelous selection of prose, poetry, and commentary. While reading Atop An Underwood it occurred to me that I was enjoying Kerouac's very early works much more than the examples chosen from a time period closer to his period of fame. I kept confirming Kerouac's age when a particular piece had been written. He was so insightful as a young man that I felt floored. He kept this, of course, in I'm always suspicious of posthumous works. Martin edits a collection of very early stories, and creates a marvelous selection of prose, poetry, and commentary. While reading Atop An Underwood it occurred to me that I was enjoying Kerouac's very early works much more than the examples chosen from a time period closer to his period of fame. I kept confirming Kerouac's age when a particular piece had been written. He was so insightful as a young man that I felt floored. He kept this, of course, in his later writings, but when you add his youth into the work it creates an even greater achievement in my opinion.

  23. 5 out of 5

    GK Stritch

    LOVED very early writings of Jack Kerouac: "I am the American temperament . . . I am not Socrates wearing a robe, nor Shakespeare in breeches, but I am a poet in trousers . . . and my hair is combed, parted on the left side . . . I play football and baseball, I go out with dames and I love America. That's who I am." LOVED very early writings of Jack Kerouac: "I am the American temperament . . . I am not Socrates wearing a robe, nor Shakespeare in breeches, but I am a poet in trousers . . . and my hair is combed, parted on the left side . . . I play football and baseball, I go out with dames and I love America. That's who I am."

  24. 5 out of 5

    Matt Long

    This collection reveals that Kerouac was destined to be the great observer and recorder he became; the seeds of his future obsessions are all on display in these early writings. To gain a clear idea of how Kerouac became the man he was, this is a required read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Colvinsb

    It was an enjoyable read, but I think it may be more interesting to devoted fans of Kerouac. I have not read enough of his work to appreciate how his style developed over time. I found only a couple of the pieces to really stand out and the rest just seemed mildly interesting.

  26. 4 out of 5

    kate

    A great collection of early work; lends to an understanding of Kerouac's evolution as a writer. A great collection of early work; lends to an understanding of Kerouac's evolution as a writer.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    I really enjoyed this collection of early Kerouac short stories and essays.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    great collection of shorts and plays!!!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Juls

    An inspiring look into the mind of a young Kerouac. If you're a Kerouac fan then this book should be in your collection. An inspiring look into the mind of a young Kerouac. If you're a Kerouac fan then this book should be in your collection.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sandro

    The passion of youth expressed with a love of literature that only he could have delivered.....

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