Title: Book of Sketches
Author: Jack Kerouac
Page Count/Review Word Count: 418
Words alone can’t describe how beautiful this book is to hold in your hands – it’s a gorgeous, pocket-sized collection of some of Kerouac’s poetry, which is as delightful to read as it is to look at it. Perhaps the coolest aspect of it is the serrated pages – every twenty pages or so, the page size changes slightly, creating a visual effect a bit like a harpsichord that feels incredible when you ruffle the pages.
But enough about the cover and bindings – what you really want to know about is the contents, and that’s where this is really special. Kerouac’s friend Ed White first suggested that he “sketch in the streets like a painter but with words” in 1951 – I reckon you see where this is going.
This book, then, is a record of the two years in which he recorded his “travels, observations and meditations on art and life”, whilst doing the usual travelling, of course. He has his usual way with words, and I’d argue that his skill here is greater than it was at most other points in his career – it’s certainly more civilized and refined, although it still holds the edge that the rest of his body of work contains.
It’s the sort of book that most people wouldn’t even think about, but if you’re a Kerouac fan or a follower of the Beat Generation then I can promise you, you’re going to enjoy it. Likewise, if you’re a bibliophile then it’s a necessary addition to your collection, partly because of the story behind it, partly because it looks fantastic and partly because it’s a pretty good book in its own right.
Sure, it does feel a little incomplete, but that’s probably because there’s no real narrative to speak of and so the ending seems to come all of a sudden. Kerouac was also notorious for rarely, if ever, revising his manuscripts and making addition or amendments – in fact, that wouldn’t work here, because of the way in which his stream-of-consciousness poetry came about. It’s all about the moment, like a sketch is.
I can’t help but wonder what this book could have been if Jack Kerouac was an illustrator as well as a writer – his writing is evocative and helps you to picture his subjects in your mind’s eye, and I’d be interested to see whether my own interpretation matches up to Kerouac’s reality.