100 Book Project – The Dharma Bums


Book Title: The Dharma Bums

Author: Jack Kerouac

Number in #100bookproject: 6

Level of Recommendation: Low

Favourite Quote: “Trails are like that: you’re floating along in a Shakespearean Arden paradise and expect to see nymphs and fluteboys, then suddenly you’re struggling in a hot broiling sun of hell in dust and nettles and poison oak….just like life.”

Review:  Jack Kerouac was generally considered the father of the beat generation and the beat generation was an iconic literary movement. Before reading The Dharma Bums I hadn’t really read any beat poetry or literature and I have to admit after reading The Dharma Bums I don’t think I will be reading much more of it.

The beat generation as far as literature was akin to jazz, sporadic and fluid. Which I’ve discovered I’m not a huge fan of when it comes to reading that style throughout a whole book. The Dharma Bums follows Kerouac as he travels around the country with fellow beat generation poets. Throughout his bum like travels (thus the title) he explores Buddhism and its meaning to his life and life in general.

There is quite a bit of repetition as Kerouac spends a lot of time hiking mountains, sleeping under the stairs, hitching rides and jumping trains – just in different locations. And all this is laced with conversations about the meaning of life.

As a premise itself the plot, so to speak, was rather annoying to me. It was sort of like reading a philosophy majors journal as they hiked up and down an mountain. Thus combining two things I’m not a huge fan of, hiking and overthinking things. So for me right out of the gate I struggled with The Dharma Bums.

Another stumbling block for me was the combination of short, stark sentences jutted against long, lyrical ones. I would love the long, lyrical sentences that were full of imagery and metaphors but the following sentence would be something like “and we went to sleep and it was good.”

To me, it was as though I had to dig through pages of abrasive and crude writing to get to the hidden gems of beautiful prose. I’m not the kind of reader that enjoys doing that repeatedly and for The Dharma Bums I had to do it for over 160 pages. The last obstacle in my way of enjoying The Dharma Bums was the way it seemed the point of the book, that Kerouac had to accept himself and his faith and honor the moment he was living in to be happy, could have been made in about 40 pages instead of the 160 it took.

These reasons are why I give The Dharma Bums a low recommendation. However I will say Kerouac wrote some of the most beautiful imagery based scenes I’ve read in a long time, especially near the end when he is away from the other poets and is focusing on his own conscious. And the other aspect of The Dharma Bums I enjoyed was the way Kerouac highlighted how while his lifestyle had immense beauty it was also accompanied by immense pain and not everyone in his group could maintain such a life. There are a few incidents of his friends harming themselves and one woman even kills herself by throwing herself from a roof of one of the shacks Kerouac is staying in.

In that section Kerouac does an amazing job of communicating the confusion of these events and how because of his lifestyle instead of dealing with the pain he simply picks up and moves on to another shack, another mountain, another exploration of his faith.

Its these snippets of mastery that make me curious about Kerouac’s other work and have me considering reading some more. Only time will tell if I actually do but I will say this The Dharma Bums introduced me to the beat generation and a unique style of writing/an important part of America’s cultural history and that is a valuable thing indeed. After all being a writer is all about constantly expanding what we read and pushing our own boundaries of what we consider to be our style.

And say what I may about The Dharma Bums it most certainly has a style all of its own.

#100bookproject #beatgeneration #thedharmabums