cover image Book of Sketches

Book of Sketches

Jack Kerouac, . . Penguin, $18 (413pp) ISBN 978-0-14-200215-5

Somewhere between diary, verbal sketchbook and play-by-play account of whatever passed before his eyes, this collection of poems transcribed from notebooks Kerouac kept in his pocket between 1952 and 1954 turns out to rank with his most interesting work. From clipped descriptions of America's underbelly ("a pile of junk, —& the/ girders of the viaduct have / great black bolt heads/ like knobs of a / sweating steel black/ city") to vague hipster prophesying ("The next great con-/ flict will be between/ Hip & Christ"), Whitmanesque embraces of his fellow man ("...I have cared/ for ye dutchmen"), love notes to famous beatnik friends ("O Allen Sad Allen Ah / Mystery") and sad, self-deprecating prayers ("Drink is good for/ love — good for/ music — let it/ be good for writing"), Kerouac hits all the notes for which he and his fellow beats are known. While not everything here is golden, the immediacy and unpretentiousness of this off-the-cuff writing makes it an intimate glimpse into the consciousness of a man who simply couldn't stop observing. A short, aggrandizing introduction by painter George Condo sets the tone. (Apr.)