June 8, 2010
I love to read books that are collections of letters. The best ones share intimate emotions and stories of success and disappointment in day-to-day living. They are conversations written down, and it’s the impassioned letter writer’s voice I like to hear inside my reading mind.
I add more books of letters to my bookshelf than I read, due to the hefty page counts of letter collections. When I do read the books, I like to linger in them. It doesn’t work to inhale a bunch of letters in a long sitting. I suppose the lingering imitates how I used to read letters back when they arrived in the mailbox by the front door with a stamp, those years before e-mail.
Next month, Viking Penguin will publish Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters. Publisher’s Weekly describes the Kerouac-Ginsberg correspondence between 1944 – 1963 as “intense and offbeat.” It was the time when these young American authors were ushering into our post-war conservative country a countercultural, freer way of living and thinking, opening the doors for the sexual, political and social revolutions of the 1960s. They with William Burroughs were the authors who became known as the Beat Generation with Kerouac writing On the Road (1957), Ginsberg writing Howl (1956) and William Burroughs writing Naked Lunch (1959).
In On the Road, Kerouac writes: “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time.” He famously wrote the book on a continuous roll of Teletype paper. It took only three weeks to write, but seven years to get published. In the letters, according to Publisher’s Weekly, Ginsberg tells Kerouac that On the Road is unpublishable. Kerouac asks his friend to regard his magnum opus as the next Ulysses.
The book’s publisher Viking/Penguin says two-thirds of the letters have not before this book been published. Even so, I doubt Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters will hit the “beach reads” summer lists coming out this time of year, but it will be a cool luxury to have close by during hot summer nights.
April 1, 2010
Here is something beautiful to look at and intriguing to consider. London-based data artist and book designer Stefanie Posavec visually represents the patterns and rhythms of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. She dissects, maps and color codes Part One’s chapters, paragraphs, sentences and words into a blooming diagram called “Literary Organism.”
Via the website Notcot: “meticulous scouring the surface of the text, highlighting and noting sentence length, prosody and themes, Posavec’s approach to the text is not unlike that of a surveyor.”
Below is On the Road Chapter 10.
This image doesn’t come near the exquisite detail of that “meticulous scouring.” You can see it and the rest of the image better at Notcot — scroll down Notcot’s page for “high res glory.” You’ll also find in high resolution Posavec’s additional interpretations that include:
- visualizations of rhythm textures of selected On the Road quotes
- sentence length organized by word per sentence
- sentence drawings of the novel
Below is Stefanie Posavec’s working copy of On the Road.
Posavec’s website contains further explanations and more of her work that’s all part of her project Writing Without Words. For example, she diagrams the writing styles of various authors from first chapters of their books: Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf and A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, to name a few. Posavec says this about her First Chapter drawings:
“The more tightly wound the drawing means a shorter, choppier flow of sentences was used, while a larger drawing represents a writing style that utilises long, flowing sentences.”
Below is George Orwell’s “choppier” 1984 First Chapter.
Thanks to Dave C. who directed me via Facebook to author David McCandless’ Information is Beautiful website. From there I went down the rabbit hole and discovered all the above.