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Vanity of Duluoz
by Jack Kerouac

Field-Tested by Erik Hansen

in Agia Galini, Greece

I was standing on the rocky beach in the town of Agia Galini on the Southern coast of Crete when a guy I had just met handed me Vanity of Duluoz by Jack Kerouac. This was in the fall of 1974. I hadn't yet read On the Road. And I didn't want to read this book, knowing that it was one of Kerouac's later books, and I always preferred reading an author's works in the order they were written. It's just that I want to go on a journey with an author in the same order he went. It's a continuity thing.

Though it's a recap of his younger self from ages 13 to 24, and details high school, football, his family, playing hooky to watch films, Columbia, girlfriends, drugs, and a stint in the Merchant Marine, Vanity of Duluoz ends on a dark note, the older man looking back at his younger self and not feeling all that fabulous about it. Or maybe it was that he did like his younger self and wasn't so keen on the present version of himself. Kerouac was bitter and angry when he wrote this book, and only a year away from death by alcohol.

A few years later though, I found myself sleeping on a friend's sofa in a New York City apartment and looking for work in the Merchant Marine. Since WWII had long since ended, it wasn't so easy to get into the service and I gave up on that, but I've gotta believe that that was a Kerouac-inspired misadventure. And there would be others.

But, at the time, there on the beach looking South across the Mediterranean Sea, it was the only book going. I needed something to read. So I took the book proffered by the young man I didn't know and started in on my education of Jack Kerouac, which transported me from this idyllic interlude in the Greek Isles, straight back to the small town of my own youth.

Erik Hansen interviews Cool Friends at Tompeters.com and blogs over here.

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