WHEN I WAS COOL: My Life at the Jack Kerouac School: A Memoir

Sam Kashner, Author . HarperCollins $25.95 (318p) ISBN 978-0-06-000566-5

With characteristic modesty, writer Kashner opens his memoir with a caveat to readers: this isn't an encyclopedic history of the beat generation. Rather, it's his own story of how it felt to leave home and learn to be a poet by hanging out with the great beat poets, albeit in their more gentled phase (past their road-tripping days, but still full of "crazy wisdom"). It was 1976 when Kashner, a fresh college dropout, decided to follow his dream and apply to the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, a yet-to-be-accredited division of the Buddhist Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colo. As their first (and for a while only) student, Kashner's assignments included finishing and typing Allen Ginsberg's poems; preventing Gregory Corso from scoring heroin; cleaning the home of their guru, Rinpoche; and mediating between William Burroughs Sr. and Jr., not to mention attending the odd lecture. Kashner undertook all this weirdness with fretful earnestness—e.g., forever worrying that Ginsberg would attempt to seduce him, that Corso would shoot up and he'd be branded a failure, that the school wouldn't get accredited and his parents would regret letting him go there, and that his lack of poetry expertise would be discovered by his teachers. Were this just the saga of an innocent in beat bohemia, Kashner's chronicle would be merely amusing, but his genuine love for his crazy-wise mentors makes this a curiously affecting coming-of-age story. 8-page b&w photo insert not seen by PW. Agent, Nat Sobel. (Dec.)

Forecast: A word-of-mouth campaign could help Kashner's book get momentum, fueled by a three-city author tour.

Reviewed on: 09/29/2003
Release date: 02/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 318 pages - 978-0-06-000567-2
Open Ebook - 368 pages - 978-0-06-144731-0
Ebook - 368 pages - 978-0-06-144735-8
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 368 pages - 978-0-06-144734-1
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