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Perhaps the most famous and influential of the Beat novels, Jack Kerouac's On the Road represents much of what made the Beat and Counterculture movements so unique and important. The plot concerning the road trips and adventures experienced by Kerouac and his friends is well-known, as are the rumors and tall tales of the books' production. Kerouac often claimed that the wrote On the Road in a mere three weeks on a single 120-foot scroll of paper. Although that scroll does indeed exist and is featured in museums, Kerouac kept detailed journals of his travels that would later become passages and chapters in the finished product. The book was first published by Viking in 1957. True first printings of the book include the $3.95 pricing information on the top right hand corner of the front inside dust jacket flap. Later printings and subsequent book club editions do not feature the price in that location. Additionally, a photo of Kerouac is featured on the back inside cover flap along with a brief description of the author. Viking Press would go on to publish an edited version of On the Road in 2007 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first printing. They substituted the fictional names for the real Beat protagonists, and they even included some of the more sexually explicit passages that were edited out of the 1957 edition. Due to the cultural significance of the book, true first editions/first printings of On the Road are quite valuable. But be warned: it is easy to mistake reprints or book club editions for the real thing, so always check with an expert before making a significant purchase.
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A few years ago, 50 years after its initial publication, and 35 years since I had read it for the first time myself, I loaned my battered paperback copy of On The Road to a young friend of mine who had asked me "What should I read next?". Her reaction was, as I would have hoped, overwhelmingly positive. "It made me want to go hitchhiking" she told me. She didn't go, of course, that's considered too dangerous these days, but she caught the spirit of Kerouac from those yellowed old pages and that made me happy. It made me remember myself from the days before I was twenty. When the world was wide-open in front of me with all my limitless imagination and inexhaustible energy to carry me forward. Those two-and-a-half-hundred pages created in a Benzedrine-fueled typing frenzy spoke to both of us across generations as great writing is meant to do. Jack's tales of Casady, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and the rest would continue in his books that followed but the spirit and zest of On The Road stand alone. Bob Dylan said of On The Road, "It changed my life like it changed everyone else's". Myself and my young friend were lucky enough to experience it that same way.
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