The road in context

The phone needs charging and I’m in a fit of the humdrums. I look over to the bookshelf and ask if there’s anything there to entice me?

With this house being so drafty, I haven’t been game to bring my books out of storage – a fear justified by last summer’s dust storms. On top of that, my recent attempts to buy engaging books were a bit hit and miss.

What chance then that I’ll find something on the bookshelf to counter this drumming of the hums while I wait for the phone to charge?

I laugh out loud. We are still unable to travel and atop the pile sits Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, with a big red sticker jumping off the cover: “Buy one Get one 50% off”. Buying more than one increases the odds of coming home with something interesting.

There’s a massive blowfly just come in the back door.

Should every novel come with an introduction? I don’t read a lot of novels so perhaps many do; just not the few I’ve read recently. Non-fiction often has an introductory chapter, spelling out why the book was written and giving an overview of what the reader will now encounter.

This version of On the Road does have an introduction. That’s because this one is classified as a modern classic, a seminal text to be studied rather than just read and (hopefully) enjoyed. In this case, the introduction is a story in itself and starts with the Jack waiting for, and reading, and feeling underwhelmed by the heady reviews given to the just published book. Apparently, he didn’t understand why he didn’t feel happier.

I’m a fan of context. Let’s give that a capital C.


With context, there is meaning, there is response. Without context, there is only reaction.

Sometimes, reaction’s OK. While I enjoy the enhanced experience provided by the text panel on the wall, it is OK to simply react to the piece of art or sculpture. Perhaps, if I read more, I could do that with novels as well.

It’s about layers of experience. For example, have you read Virgina Woolf’s Mrs Daloway, and Michael Cunningham’s Hours, and seen the 2002 film of the same name? In whatever order. I do not have the mental dexterity to unfurl and describe the impact of that layering. Throw into the mix the 1997 filmed version of Mrs Daloway (the Vanessa Redgrave version), and the fact that I first read the book when it was squashed (perhaps abridged) between advertisements in a weekly women’s magazine in the 1970s … mmm.

(For those who haven’t heard of some of these, they all attach themselves to the ideas embodied within the original book. I’ll let you research that for yourself!).

So now I’m reading On the Road at a time when I cannot legally travel beyond the local supermarket and while owning a car that I’ve been told should not be driven for extended periods on any open road anywhere anyway. Local trips only. I must get a second opinion on that!

Part One Section 7 begins: “The following ten days were, as W.C.Fields said, ‘fraught with eminent peril’ – and mad.”

The blowfly is silent, likely dead from an overdose of odourless natural ingredients, my small affront to the plaque brought on by the declining number of dung beetles – another overwhelming impact upon the Australian outback thanks to the drought and summer’s heatwaves. Except, I live too far east for it to be any kind of contribution one way or the other.

Back to the book. “Then everyone began planning a tremendous trek to the mountains”.


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