The Best Minds of My Generation: A Literary History of the Beats As Taught by Allen Ginsberg.
Beat biographer Morgan’s (The Beats Abroad) transcript of Ginsberg’s university lectures, given first at Naropa Institute in 1977 and later at Brooklyn College, are a gold mine for anyone interested in beat literature. Ginsberg discusses William Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, Herbert Huncke, and himself, but Jack Kerouac is the soul of the book, portrayed throughout with admiration and affection, if not always reverence. Citing their influences in everything from jazz to Dostoyevsky, Ginsberg depicts the beats not as criminals, addicts, or delinquents but as restless, beatific seekers after spiritual truth. Covering mainly the years between 1947 and 1957, Ginsberg’s critical technique is to offer a catalogue of breakthroughs, epiphanies, and favorite passages or “big sentences,” interspersed with gossipy anecdotes and revelatory asides. Ginsberg reads and thinks like a poet; interested in language and style, he abandons narrative to leap from image to image, yoking grandiloquent statements with pungent summations and deadpan remarks. Fans of the period will embrace Ginsberg’s raconteur style and insider knowledge about his friends and their achievements; those who need a more comprehensive or linear grounding in beat literature might start with another of Morgan’s works. (Apr.)