hits counter Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir - Ebook PDF Online
Hot Best Seller

Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir

Availability: Ready to download

Jack Kerouac. Allen Ginsberg. William S. Burroughs. LeRoi Jones. Theirs are the names primarily associated with the Beat Generation. But what about Joyce Johnson (nee Glassman), Edie Parker, Elise Cowen, Diane Di Prima, and dozens of others? These female friends and lovers of the famous iconoclasts are now beginning to be recognized for their own roles in forging the Beat Jack Kerouac. Allen Ginsberg. William S. Burroughs. LeRoi Jones. Theirs are the names primarily associated with the Beat Generation. But what about Joyce Johnson (nee Glassman), Edie Parker, Elise Cowen, Diane Di Prima, and dozens of others? These female friends and lovers of the famous iconoclasts are now beginning to be recognized for their own roles in forging the Beat movement and for their daring attempts to live as freely as did the men in their circle a decade before Women's Liberation.Twenty-one-year-old Joyce Johnson, an aspiring novelist and a secretary at a New York literary agency, fell in love with Jack Kerouac on a blind date arranged by Allen Ginsberg nine months before the publication of On the Road made Kerouac an instant celebrity. While Kerouac traveled to Tangiers, San Francisco, and Mexico City, Johnson roamed the streets of the East Village, where she found herself in the midst of the cultural revolution the Beats had created. Minor Characters portrays the turbulent years of her relationship with Kerouac with extraordinary wit and love and a cool, critical eye, introducing the reader to a lesser known but purely original American voice: her own.


Compare

Jack Kerouac. Allen Ginsberg. William S. Burroughs. LeRoi Jones. Theirs are the names primarily associated with the Beat Generation. But what about Joyce Johnson (nee Glassman), Edie Parker, Elise Cowen, Diane Di Prima, and dozens of others? These female friends and lovers of the famous iconoclasts are now beginning to be recognized for their own roles in forging the Beat Jack Kerouac. Allen Ginsberg. William S. Burroughs. LeRoi Jones. Theirs are the names primarily associated with the Beat Generation. But what about Joyce Johnson (nee Glassman), Edie Parker, Elise Cowen, Diane Di Prima, and dozens of others? These female friends and lovers of the famous iconoclasts are now beginning to be recognized for their own roles in forging the Beat movement and for their daring attempts to live as freely as did the men in their circle a decade before Women's Liberation.Twenty-one-year-old Joyce Johnson, an aspiring novelist and a secretary at a New York literary agency, fell in love with Jack Kerouac on a blind date arranged by Allen Ginsberg nine months before the publication of On the Road made Kerouac an instant celebrity. While Kerouac traveled to Tangiers, San Francisco, and Mexico City, Johnson roamed the streets of the East Village, where she found herself in the midst of the cultural revolution the Beats had created. Minor Characters portrays the turbulent years of her relationship with Kerouac with extraordinary wit and love and a cool, critical eye, introducing the reader to a lesser known but purely original American voice: her own.

30 review for Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Leavitt

    If I weren't taking a class about the Beat Generation right now, I probably would never have even been told about this book, much less read it. And that would really have been a tragedy, because very shortly after starting this book I found myself hooked. I was supposed to speed read it in just a week, but I found myself captivated. I couldn't rush through it, only gleaning the information I would need for whatever upcoming paper or discussion I would be taking part of. Instead I read this book If I weren't taking a class about the Beat Generation right now, I probably would never have even been told about this book, much less read it. And that would really have been a tragedy, because very shortly after starting this book I found myself hooked. I was supposed to speed read it in just a week, but I found myself captivated. I couldn't rush through it, only gleaning the information I would need for whatever upcoming paper or discussion I would be taking part of. Instead I read this book slowly, enjoying it only at moments when I was most relaxed. I allowed myself to fall deeply into the world that Joyce Johnson recreates in her memoir. And I found myself attaching to the characters almost against my will. I'll be honest: there is no love lost between me and the Beats. As much as I appreciate their writing for the literary value, I've never found too much to interest me in the people themselves. After reading entirely too many biographies on various big wigs in the movement, I've gotten somewhat tired of the same stories told by people who are academically removed from the people they are writing about. It is boring, and no one has made any of the writers and their circle come alive for me. That was Joyce Johnson's biggest success here. She brought these characters alive for me and made me feel for them and sympathize with them. I am not one hundred percent sure what the reason is, but I suspect her own love for these people played a large part in my own warming to them. I could see them not just as these detached literary figures, sanctified by generations of hipster kids, but as real people, with real flaws. And instead of those flaws making my distaste for the Beats feel vindicated, they made invited me into the lives of these men and especially the women. And I didn't want to leave. Even though I already knew how the story ended for all these characters, both major and minor, I didn't want the end of the book to come. Even as I rushed headlong toward the end of the narrative, I didn't want to reach that last page. I was hoping that Johnson would finish on the happy notes, or at least the bittersweet ones. But she doesn't hold back. Just as she let us into the lives of these rising stars of literature, she also let us into their downfall--either into anonymity or early death. Or both. In the end I was glad to have read this book. I would definitely recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in the Beats and their hangers-on. But I especially recommend it if you, like me, find yourself unimpressed with the character of the Beats. While this book will not necessarily change your mind, it will give you a deeper understanding of why they were the way they were.

  2. 5 out of 5

    N

    Although there are moments of stunning beauty, this book is more often... dull. The nature of life may be fragmentary, but Johnson's swerving changes in direction make for a book whose narrative is confusing and even annoying. This book is three things: it's a memoir of a woman's early life; it's a reflection on women's place in society in the 1950s; and it's a book about the beat generation. I suspect most people who pick it up are interested in the third element. However, as a Beat memoir, I fou Although there are moments of stunning beauty, this book is more often... dull. The nature of life may be fragmentary, but Johnson's swerving changes in direction make for a book whose narrative is confusing and even annoying. This book is three things: it's a memoir of a woman's early life; it's a reflection on women's place in society in the 1950s; and it's a book about the beat generation. I suspect most people who pick it up are interested in the third element. However, as a Beat memoir, I found it disappointing. Johnson's interaction with the major Beat writers is, all told, a bit limited. She gives interesting portraits of those that she knew and attempts to demystify Jack Kerouac, but there are no particularly stunning revelations. As a book about women in the 1950s, it's a more chunky read. Johnson is clear and insightful on the subject of gender and the most memorable passages are those where Joyce navigates what it means to be a woman in society. Her accounts of illegal abortions are particularly vivid. Possibly the best part of the novel is Joyce's relationship with her friend, Elise, who suffered a much more tragic fate. However, Minor Characters is, predominantly, a memoir about an unremarkable young woman. Bear in mind, Johnson doesn't meet Kerouac until halfway through the book. I found much of the content about Joyce's childhood/adolescence incredibly tedious. Also, it's only a part memoir. We don't get to hear what happened to Joyce after her 30th birthday. We also don't get to hear what happened to any of the other "characters" later in life. (Johnson assumes a lot of Beat knowledge from her reader. I'm pretty well-read in that area and even I found myself on wikipedia, looking up information about the players in her story.)

  3. 5 out of 5

    James Murphy

    Another reread of New York City. This is such a lovely memoir, deserving of its near-classic status. Johnson was 47 years old when she first wrote about her love affair with New York City and with Jack Kerouac. Sometimes I think it's her writing about the city I keep returning to, sometimes I think it's her remembering the people, now famous or even legendary, she knew when she was a very young woman and included in the coterie around Kerouac. Johnson genuinely loves New York City but loves the Another reread of New York City. This is such a lovely memoir, deserving of its near-classic status. Johnson was 47 years old when she first wrote about her love affair with New York City and with Jack Kerouac. Sometimes I think it's her writing about the city I keep returning to, sometimes I think it's her remembering the people, now famous or even legendary, she knew when she was a very young woman and included in the coterie around Kerouac. Johnson genuinely loves New York City but loves the young bohemians of her past, too, and recognizes her debt to them. Her fond regard for people like Allen Ginsberg and Hettie Jones and Elise Cowen allows us to see them as she did, not as heroic Beat figures, because they weren't heroic, but because they needed and deserved her love. It's lovely, but it's sad, too. She nostalgically recalls her passage from teenage wanderings in Washington Square searching for a bohemian lifestyle to early jobs in publishing and connections with the Beats and love with Kerouac. She burns through some years with him as he burns himself up in the flame of his early fame, unable, finally, to follow her when she walks away. The regret of her memoir includes her gratitude she was allowed to be there. "If time were like a passage of music, you could keep going back to it till you got it right," she writes. I keep going back--I love this book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    robin friedman

    Because They're Young After reading a review of Joyce Johnson's biography of Jack Kerouac, "The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac", I read the book, together with "Minor Characters", Johnson's 1983 memoir of her relationship with Kerouac years earlier. Upon its publication, "Minor Characters" won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Johnson (b. 1935) has written three novels and other works of nonfiction in addition to the Kerouac biography and "Minor Characters." Born Joyce Glas Because They're Young After reading a review of Joyce Johnson's biography of Jack Kerouac, "The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac", I read the book, together with "Minor Characters", Johnson's 1983 memoir of her relationship with Kerouac years earlier. Upon its publication, "Minor Characters" won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Johnson (b. 1935) has written three novels and other works of nonfiction in addition to the Kerouac biography and "Minor Characters." Born Joyce Glassman, Johnson had an on-again, off-again love affair with Kerouac between 1957 -- 1959. When the relationship began, Glassman 21, had attended Barnard for four years, beginning when she was 16 but failed to graduate. She was working as a secretary for a publisher and writing her first novel, for which she had received a $500 advance. Kerouac, 34, had published one novel, "The Town and the City" and had written several other books, including "On the Road" which had not found publishers. He had already knocked around a great deal, with two failed marriages, stints in the Merchant Marine, and travels across the country that "On the Road" would make famous. He had the problems with alcohol and drugs that would get worse with time. When she wrote "Minor Characters, Johnson looked back upon her younger life with a sense of wisdom, detachment, and loss, as she endeavors to understand her life and the "Beat" era. The tone is wistful, sad, thoughtful, sometimes ironic, but unapologetic. Concluding her memoir,Johnson writes, "I'm a forty-seven-year-old woman with a permanent sense of impermanence. If time were like a passage of music, you could keep going back to it till you got it right." The book begins in 1945 when the Glassman family had moved to New York City. Joyce Glassman's parents were Jewish immigrants of modest means. Her parents had high ambitions for their daughter, with her mother urging Joyce to pursue a career as a composer, to study, and to defer involvement with young men. As an adolescent, Glassman developed a double life, sneaking away from homes during the evening to attend radical and cultural gatherings in Greenwich Village. Looking back on these years, Johnson describes herself as in search of "Real Life", which she proceeds to define with candor: "Real Life was sexual. Or rather it often seemed to take the form of sex. This was the area of ultimate adventure, where you would dare or not dare. It was much less a question of desire. sex was like a forbidden castle whose name could not even be spoken around the house, so feared was its power. Only with the utmost vigilance could you avoid being sucked into its magnetic field. The alternative was to break into the castle and take its power for yourself." The book alternates passages describing young Joyce Glassman's own life, with the parallel lives of the individuals who became formative of the Beats, including Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and more. Glassman's story and Kerouac's delve together when Allen Ginsberg arranges a blind date, months before Kerouac achieves the fame which hastens his demise with the publication of "On the Road". Johnson's book offers a beautifully described sense of place of New York City Bohemia in the years following WW II through about 1960. She describes the East Side and Greenwich Village, the bars, cafeterias, streets, and tenements where young people breaking away tried to live. The portrayals of Kerouac and his books, and of people such as Ginsberg, John Clellon Holmes, Neal Cassady, LeRoi Jones are highly perceptive. Johnson emphasizes the women who became part of the Beat movement and their frequently unhappy lives. They were often shabbily treated. The title "Minor Characters" is sometimes thought to refer to the Beat women. I think it refers to the Beats as a whole. Centered around Kerouac, they were a group who seemed marginal and "minor" at the time but proved to have cultural influence. For the most part, Johnson resists reading cultural developments from the late 1960's and 1970's into her memoir. She seems less than fully comfortable with these developments as she remembers her life and her largely unrequited love for Jack Kerouac. For the shock value it had at the time, there is a near universal character in the story of young people and Bohemia. Johnson comes to understand her parents and their hopes for her. The Beat movement was a product of youthful skepticism and rejection of received standards of conformity. I am not sure if a Bohemia could thrive today because of the lack of standards on which young creative individuals could push back. "Minor Characters" is a sadly lyrical book that helped me understand Joyce Glassman, Kerouac, the Beats, and the culture in which they were formed. Robin Friedman

  5. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    The book was really enjoyable for me mainly because I got a personal account of what it was like to live in NYC in the 1950s. Her main stomping grounds were three of my former own: 1. The Upper West side (Morningside Heights) 2. The Village (west). 3. The East Side (East Village). Johnson states her disappointment with the fact that women were left out of the creative parts of the movement, yet she spent a lot of time waiting for Kerouac, failing to create much of anything herself, until her rom The book was really enjoyable for me mainly because I got a personal account of what it was like to live in NYC in the 1950s. Her main stomping grounds were three of my former own: 1. The Upper West side (Morningside Heights) 2. The Village (west). 3. The East Side (East Village). Johnson states her disappointment with the fact that women were left out of the creative parts of the movement, yet she spent a lot of time waiting for Kerouac, failing to create much of anything herself, until her romantic relationship with Kerouac ended. This passage really made see she wanted to be a part of the community / scene, but like most women of her time, didn't want to stand out in that community and be proud to be an individual: "If I weren't in love with Jack and maybe going away, I might be tempted to become Fee's "old lady," straighten him out a little, clean up the studio, contribute to the rent, have a baby or two, become one of those wary, quiet, self-sacrificing, widely respected women brought by their men to the Cedar on occasional Saturday nights in their limp thrift shop made interesting with beads" (170). It makes me sad to see Kerouac in this light, a selfish manipulator, but that's what he was. Maybe Jack is right, there are no more American heroes...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    The best memoirs make you feel that you have been hanging around the same apartments, sharing subway benches, drinking bottomless cups of coffee at the same diner with someone. Reading "Minor Characters" made me feel this way. Steeping myself in the world of the beats, a solid 15 years after I first read Kerouac and Ginsburg and after having now visited City Lights in SF and after about 4 and a half years of haunting Columbia University, I felt that becoming acquainted with Joyce wasn't unlike fa The best memoirs make you feel that you have been hanging around the same apartments, sharing subway benches, drinking bottomless cups of coffee at the same diner with someone. Reading "Minor Characters" made me feel this way. Steeping myself in the world of the beats, a solid 15 years after I first read Kerouac and Ginsburg and after having now visited City Lights in SF and after about 4 and a half years of haunting Columbia University, I felt that becoming acquainted with Joyce wasn't unlike facing a younger version of one's self. Perhaps the best chroniclers are the ones who stayed sober, cleaned up the apartment, and took out the trash. To say Joyce was a muse is to really sell short her own talent and accomplishments. It also sells short the beauty of a woman who so honestly displays her continued desire to be free despite all oppositions and her misgivings. She wasn't impetuous; she wanted life on her terms alone. Who said, "I was so old then/I'm so much younger now?" Something like that... I can't quite remember, but I feel that way reading this book. What a remarkable woman and a truly incredible memoir.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chloe

    Minor characters is a very telling memoir for those who are interested in the Beat generation, but I have a problem with it: it was the first Beat novel I'd ever seen written by a woman, and it's about how she followed Kerouac around and pined after him. She seemed to have many interesting friends, her own place, and a career that she was trying to start, which all would have made for an interesting memoir, yet she only mentioned them when she was talking about the things that she sadly filled h Minor characters is a very telling memoir for those who are interested in the Beat generation, but I have a problem with it: it was the first Beat novel I'd ever seen written by a woman, and it's about how she followed Kerouac around and pined after him. She seemed to have many interesting friends, her own place, and a career that she was trying to start, which all would have made for an interesting memoir, yet she only mentioned them when she was talking about the things that she sadly filled her time with while Kerouac was off having his own adventures. It was great to have a new look at Kerouac, but I would have liked to see more about Johnson's own life and interests rather than just her sad love affair. In my opinion, the women of the Beat generation could have been much more than "minor characters" if they had only portrayed themselves as such.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sara Batkie

    I have very little interest in (or patience for) Kerouac, as a writer or an icon. I grant that he was hugely influential to a great many people but I personally find his writing shallow and monotonous and the man himself much worse, and Johnson's memoir did little to dissuade me from that viewpoint. However, I have a great interest in the lives of women who felt marginalized at times that were supposed to be freeing and in that sense, Johnson was hugely informative, both about the ways a culture I have very little interest in (or patience for) Kerouac, as a writer or an icon. I grant that he was hugely influential to a great many people but I personally find his writing shallow and monotonous and the man himself much worse, and Johnson's memoir did little to dissuade me from that viewpoint. However, I have a great interest in the lives of women who felt marginalized at times that were supposed to be freeing and in that sense, Johnson was hugely informative, both about the ways a culture can hold us back and the ways we often do the same to ourselves.

  9. 4 out of 5

    vetathebooksurfer

    From a very young age I’ve been subconsciously taught that in order for a girl to live a life full of adventure and comprehend all walks of life you must fell in love with an extraordinary man (or boy, whatever is age appropriate) who is going to make your life so awesome, everyone would envy you. That life comes in return for your services, which are never domestic: you get a steady income, you support the family, you pursue a carrier path. But first comes the great love for the man who inspire From a very young age I’ve been subconsciously taught that in order for a girl to live a life full of adventure and comprehend all walks of life you must fell in love with an extraordinary man (or boy, whatever is age appropriate) who is going to make your life so awesome, everyone would envy you. That life comes in return for your services, which are never domestic: you get a steady income, you support the family, you pursue a carrier path. But first comes the great love for the man who inspires you. That’s the only ‘natural’ way to get into a grown-up life. Sounds appealing in theory, but how on earth this is ‘natural’? In that ultimate real life people are people, regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality, looks; they make mistakes and aren’t some kind of superheroes who rescue you at first notice. But also they do something, you don’t even notice right away: people inspire you to become the better version of yourself, for your own good only, not for someone else’s benefit. Everyone is an inspiration in their own way, and regarding mutual love as the ultimate outcome of being inspired is very wrong. Maturing together from a very young age is a miracle that should be celebrated as such and never pursued deliberately. I did, and i am very glad to understand I was wrong. I recognised myself in Joyce Johnson’s ‘Minor Characters’, me and my teenage aquanauts, who thought about making music themselves. We, the fangirls, were inspired and at same time listened to ‘Female vocal doesn’t belong in rock-music, it’s not the same’, ‘I dislike the female lead’ and such. Despite the most popular band being 1) very nice people, 2) active feminists, 3) LGBTQ+ supporters, 4) celebrated wlw love, the other folk wasn’t very open-minded and having a musician love-interest felt like a ticket to the unknown world of ‘real life’. Wish anybody would tell us that we already have everything at our disposal and a love-interest wouldn’t make it easier (unless they have money to give away, which they never had). I’m so glad memoires like Minor Characters were written, so people would understand their own worth and won’t feel obliged to tie themselves to anybody despite their differences. It’s great to stay in someone else’s shadow until you mature though. But never at the expanse for your own identity.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Jack Kerouac is the original f*ck boy. I don’t hold this against him. Joyce’s perspective of what the Beat generation was for women was terrifying in that I see so many similarities between then and now. My generation on overwhelming restless, drug-oriented, looking for an answer. Women then were mostly observers to the trips (both meanings) and run ins with cops. For women the adventure was dating the man with the adventures. I see that now too. Joyce was Jack’s safe and sound when he was tired Jack Kerouac is the original f*ck boy. I don’t hold this against him. Joyce’s perspective of what the Beat generation was for women was terrifying in that I see so many similarities between then and now. My generation on overwhelming restless, drug-oriented, looking for an answer. Women then were mostly observers to the trips (both meanings) and run ins with cops. For women the adventure was dating the man with the adventures. I see that now too. Joyce was Jack’s safe and sound when he was tired of getting high on everything and falling in love with everything in Mexico. I see girls in similar situations and it’s infuriating. Women are still living through Jack’s when with all the work Joyce’s generation and the 70’s did for us, we should be Jack’s but less impetuous and exploitive.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Audrey

    I would give the first 2/3 of this book four stars and the last third 2.5 stars. That averages to a three-star review I think. I really liked reading about this dorky, literary misfit who was at an awkward age growing up during the coolest time in history surrounded by some of the coolest people who ever lived (I'm told). Then she starts dating Jack Kerouac and her head gets up her ass and she can't get it out.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Darran Mclaughlin

    Fairly enjoyable memoir about the Beat Generation from a female perspective by a former lover of Jack Kerouac. It's interesting as it gives a insight into what it was like for the women in this scene and it fills some out the details on the legend of Jack and Allen and William and the rest, but it wasn't especially well written and it hasn't left a very big impression on me. Only worth reading if you are interested in the bohemia of 50's New York and fancy a light book on the subject.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Xanthea

    my psych gave this to me to read when i was 22 and broken-hearted over some abusive, alcoholic musician. 5.5 years later and i finally picked it up and was ready to read past page 32. this book is everything. why am i crying.

  14. 5 out of 5

    PJ McCormick

    A very nicely written memoir that confirms that Jack Kerouac is a real prick

  15. 4 out of 5

    Moises Sheinberg

    How it was to be a beatnik An awesome personal account of what went down with the beatniks. Heartfelt and very well written. Johnson is an invaluable witness, as, as she says, she had a place at the table in the center of the universe. Wonderful book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cathon

    "Beat women... At the turn of the century in Paris, Rilke sighted their predecessors - the girls who came by themselves to the Cluny Museum to sit in front of the Unicorn tapestries and make small drawings of the needlepoint flowers. The main thing is just to keep drawing, he wrote, for that is the reason they left home one day rather violently. They came from good families. But when they lift their arms as they draw, it appears that their dress is not buttoned in back, or at any rate not comple "Beat women... At the turn of the century in Paris, Rilke sighted their predecessors - the girls who came by themselves to the Cluny Museum to sit in front of the Unicorn tapestries and make small drawings of the needlepoint flowers. The main thing is just to keep drawing, he wrote, for that is the reason they left home one day rather violently. They came from good families. But when they lift their arms as they draw, it appears that their dress is not buttoned in back, or at any rate not completely. There are a few buttons that they couldn't reach. For when the dress was made, no one had imagined that they would suddenly go away, alone."

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mel

    When I first read on the road I was very interested in the women in the story. I was interested in what kind of woman would be able to leave the standard domestic life of the 50s and be part of something different. To me one of the best things about that book was that I could read through it and see myself and my friends reflected in a different time. In a way it was reassuring. When I read this book however I didn't find myself identifying with the main character at all. I think part of the pro When I first read on the road I was very interested in the women in the story. I was interested in what kind of woman would be able to leave the standard domestic life of the 50s and be part of something different. To me one of the best things about that book was that I could read through it and see myself and my friends reflected in a different time. In a way it was reassuring. When I read this book however I didn't find myself identifying with the main character at all. I think part of the problem with it was that I didn't feel much sympathy for Joyce. She came across as wanting to be terribly normal, and not really seeming to enjoy her time with bohemians or the beats very much. She seemed only obsessed with the men, and wanting to get married and settle down. There were no wild stories of drunkenness or drug use or just general craziness. She seemed completely unable to understand or accept any of the open lifestyles that were going on around her. She worked as a secretary by day and seemed to fall into the interesting crowd almost by accident. And most importantly, unlike the other people in the story she never left New York, not even for a holiday. The point of the book seemed to be that Kerouac lived with her for 6 weeks and she was never able to get over that. Even her friend who was a lesbian was portrayed only in her inability to get over her love affair with Allan Ginsberg. Johnson seemed to indicate that the entire reason she was sleeping with women was to seem more queer like Allan. I also felt that her style was lacking, in what I think was a poor choice of hers, she kept putting in quotes from other writers, which really made her writing seem to pale. There were a few parts that flowed well and were enjoyable, the discussion of her abortion and the death of her friend, but even these seemed to be lacking in emotion. There was none of the raw energy that can be found in Kerouac's stories. Just what seemed like the life of a rather uncomfortable woman. Perhaps the distance in her writing about the events and living them took the edge off. But I would have been very much interested to know what a young college girl thought of all that homosexuality and what it was like to have been seen as an outcast for being sexually active. I don't regret reading it, there were some good moments but on the whole it was rather disappointing. Next I shall read Carolyn Cassady's book. Hopefully that will be a little more engaging.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lauren G

    a superb and tender account of a life lived in the center of a rather marvelous hurricane of talented souls, including her own. without being sappy, overly nostalgic, or sentimental, johnson recounts her strongest and most poignant memories of her relationships with jack, leroi and hettie jones, allen ginsberg, peter orlovsky, and many others. she was with kerouac the night before, and for many days and nights after-'on the road' hit america's consciousness after its gleamingly positive review i a superb and tender account of a life lived in the center of a rather marvelous hurricane of talented souls, including her own. without being sappy, overly nostalgic, or sentimental, johnson recounts her strongest and most poignant memories of her relationships with jack, leroi and hettie jones, allen ginsberg, peter orlovsky, and many others. she was with kerouac the night before, and for many days and nights after-'on the road' hit america's consciousness after its gleamingly positive review in the new york times. she was with him the moment his anonymity was neatly murdered. it's an account of anyone who has loved those who needed love, wanted it, craved it, but were still able to reject it in its purest and most selfless form. it is also a fascinating account of the divisions within america at the time, within new york, within the world. when 'mixed' marriages still shocked people, girls were not supposed to wear black stockings, or stay out past midnight, or live on the lower east side where the 'artists' got up to various troubles, and what it was like to be a woman in that world, with creative needs, desires, and fulfillments all your own. i finished it inside of two days. highly recommend it. i quote a poignant reflection musing on the relationship between artists and their audience: "artists are nourished by each other more than by fame or by the public, i've always thought. to give one's work to the world is an experience of peculiar emptiness. th ework goes away from teh artist into a void, like a message stuck into a bottle and flung into the sea...the true artist knows the pitfalls of vanity. dangerous to let go of one's anxiety. but did you UNDERSTAND? must always be teh question. to like and admire is not enough: DID YOU UNDERSTAND?..'

  19. 4 out of 5

    John

    In her memoir of the “Beat Generation” Ms. Johnson has documented her self-erasure in the service of her man, Jack Kerouac. She tells the story of her rearing as non-entity, and states that she rebelled and decided to devote her adult years entirely to self-fulfillment, self-realization and independence. That’s her claim. Yet insofar as I can tell, she merely moved her “bohemian” self from the upper west side of Manhattan to the Village, where she wore little black dresses, attended poetry readi In her memoir of the “Beat Generation” Ms. Johnson has documented her self-erasure in the service of her man, Jack Kerouac. She tells the story of her rearing as non-entity, and states that she rebelled and decided to devote her adult years entirely to self-fulfillment, self-realization and independence. That’s her claim. Yet insofar as I can tell, she merely moved her “bohemian” self from the upper west side of Manhattan to the Village, where she wore little black dresses, attended poetry reading in smoke-filled cabarets, drank to the point of stupefaction. And so on. She donned the requisite costume and adopted the obligatory life style of the poor, struggling and unpublished writer – known only to others of her tribe - who hadn't completed her novel. All that notwithstanding, I can’t detect that Ms. Johnson changed in fundamental ways at all. Jack was her man intermittently, only when and only so long as he found it needful or convenient to use her as a highly reliable, labor-saving household appliance – and then to vanish until weeks, months had passed and he found himself in Manhattan, once more in need of food, shelter and sex. [That appears to be the other side of the “on the road” life – the way of the shameless, predatory parasite. Revolting – no matter what rationalizations one might adduce.] Ms. Johnson presents a story that is familiar enough - for someone of my advanced age in any event. As she tells us, she was one of a gathering of other “beat” women who led lives nearly identical in structure and organization to her own. These were highly intelligent and talented women, who started out adult life, aiming to succeed as writers or artists, but who, as wives and lovers, chose, rather, to earn incomes (as typists and secretaries, of course) just sufficient to establish and maintain their households' meager circumstances, who kept house, bore and raised children, etc., etc., and who most evenings stayed home while their men swilled every concoction that the barkeeps of the Cedar Bar served up until, one by one, the Beats fell off their stools and collapsed senseless to the floor. These pitiable guys – supposedly “hypermasculine”, but I wonder. All that is distasteful enough. Yet I find the narrator, twenty years on and forty-eight years old (in 1994), highly unsettling – detached from her own experience nearly to the point of dissociation. I have found that the talented memoirist expresses their perspective and the trajectory of their story on the very first or in first few pages of their narrative. [The first page of Tobias Wolff’s “This Boy’s Life” is the best example of this narrative design that I’ve encountered – so far.] In the first pages of "Minor Characters" Ms. Johnson introduces herself by telling of her perusal of a book about the Beats. She examines and comments on a snapshot of the “boys”, and on page two or three of her memoir she recalls that she was once connected to them – rather casually, its seems. So she turns to the book’s index, where she finds her name, Joyce Glassman, and several page references, and mentions in passing her associations of the past – with a tone something on the order of: “Of course. I remember her. Whatever happened to Joyce?” Just as if she were paging through a high school yearbook as she prepared to attend a twenty-year reunion for reasons that she doesn’t understand fully and can’t articulate clearly. Throughout her account Ms. Johnson continues to observe Joyce Glassman, her “self” and behavior with clinical detachment. Ms. Johnson remains curious about the character she presents, but I couldn’t find a single jot that suggests Ms. Johnson cares the least little bit about Joyce Glassman, her experiences or the trajectory of her life course. All this despite the abiding presence of Joyce Glassman in Ms. Johnson’s extraordinarily capacious and retentive memory. All in sufficient detail so as to require 260 pages for her recollections. I find this disparity jarring, and so I wonder: how it is at all possible? Why hadn’t Ms. Johnson forgotten all about Joyce Glassman? Why did she bother to write a memoir of her years (Were they really her years?) as JK’s all-purpose utensil to be brought out of storage, employed, then put away until the next time something-or-other needed fixing? I’m not entirely sure, but two possibilities come to mind. Perhaps her narrator is a literary device, a persona she devised (but who Ms. Johnson really isn’t) in order to reinforce a reader’s sense of the person Joyce Glassman had been. Perhaps Ms. Johnson allowed this particular narrator to tell Joyce Glassman’s story so that nothing in the narrative present (first edition -1983, second edition - 1994) would interfere with the telling of Joyce Glassman’s story, distract the reader from the past and bring the reader into the narrative present in which Ms. Johnson lives and writes. If that had been her purpose, Ms. Johnson failed – at least with this reader. Throughout my reading I remained as curious and as much concerned for the narrator, her recovery and well-being in the narrative present as I was about the abused and struggling Joyce Glassman of the past. I still am. I kept wondering when Joyce Glassman in her incarnation of later years would appear. I still do. (Joyce Johnson would be 82 or 83 years old in 2019 - if she still lives.) Yet it’s equally plausible that Ms. Johnson’s narrator isn’t a literary device at all. Perhaps Ms. Johnson has given us an authentic representation of the woman Joyce Glassman became. If that reading is fact, then I don’t know what to say other than to express condolences and regret that Joyce Glassman had been mauled emotionally and psychologically so severely that she and Ms. Johnson have endured or accepted as “normal”, a selfless, hallow, emotionally deprived – even vacuous – existence and remained a shattered human being even though she developed and applied her extraordinary gifts and became a highly acclaimed writer of superb non-fiction narrative prose. ‘Tis a puzzlement.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Alicia

    Joyce Johnson is my literary hero. Her stories are told so candidly and stoically. I can only hope to one day tell my story as well as she tells hers. As she looks back on her years with Kerouac--and in the beat movement in general--it's amazing to see how crystal-clear she remembers, and how much she's learned from those times. It was so easy for me to forget as a young woman in my 20s going through much of the emotion and pain she endured, the incredibly different world she came of age in. It' Joyce Johnson is my literary hero. Her stories are told so candidly and stoically. I can only hope to one day tell my story as well as she tells hers. As she looks back on her years with Kerouac--and in the beat movement in general--it's amazing to see how crystal-clear she remembers, and how much she's learned from those times. It was so easy for me to forget as a young woman in my 20s going through much of the emotion and pain she endured, the incredibly different world she came of age in. It's astonishing, the courage this woman had to leave her family, to live on her own, and to place herself--even on the fringes of the New York City beat society. Coincidentally, this book and Joyce's other works made me fall in love, even more, with New York City.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    Best stuff: I feel much the same in later years whenever I part from a man I love. The anxiety is not so much over leaving as over an impending fading of identity. I'd learned myself by the age of sixteen that just as girls guarded their virginity, boys guarded something less tangible which they called Themselves. They seemed to believe they had a mission in life, from which they could easily be deflected by being exposed to too much emotion. I started walking forward. I was going to thank him for Best stuff: I feel much the same in later years whenever I part from a man I love. The anxiety is not so much over leaving as over an impending fading of identity. I'd learned myself by the age of sixteen that just as girls guarded their virginity, boys guarded something less tangible which they called Themselves. They seemed to believe they had a mission in life, from which they could easily be deflected by being exposed to too much emotion. I started walking forward. I was going to thank him for inviting me and use all my strength to walk to the exit and go home by myself. Maybe he'd be too drunk to ask me what I thought and I wouldn't have to lie to him. I loved him, but it didn't mean a thing to him, really.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nirvana Margaret

    This took me only a little over a day to read. I’m sorry there wasn’t more of Joyce Johnson during this era-her command of prose rivals that of any of her male counterparts. Her insight into the true culture of the era, especially the parts that we’d like to forget today, proves just as valuable as the values depicted by the more famous Beats. This book is bittersweetly nostalgic and humbling; I could relate on a personal level. Very grateful to have been able to read it at a time when I needed This took me only a little over a day to read. I’m sorry there wasn’t more of Joyce Johnson during this era-her command of prose rivals that of any of her male counterparts. Her insight into the true culture of the era, especially the parts that we’d like to forget today, proves just as valuable as the values depicted by the more famous Beats. This book is bittersweetly nostalgic and humbling; I could relate on a personal level. Very grateful to have been able to read it at a time when I needed it most. Interesting how things happen like that.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Gary

    Memoir of a fantastic writer in her own right who dated Kerouac as On The Road was published. A great insight into the life of creative women in the late 1950s.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Debbie Robson

    I assumed, I’m guessing like most people, that the main reason readers would be drawn to Minor Characters: Life with Kerouac and the beat generation by Joyce Johnson would be to find out more about Jack Kerouac. I, myself, was drawn to the book more to find out about life in New York in the 1950s and the beat movement. Each of these reasons are valid ones but having finished Johnson’s book I am here to say that the main reason to read her book is actually to find out how to write memoir because I assumed, I’m guessing like most people, that the main reason readers would be drawn to Minor Characters: Life with Kerouac and the beat generation by Joyce Johnson would be to find out more about Jack Kerouac. I, myself, was drawn to the book more to find out about life in New York in the 1950s and the beat movement. Each of these reasons are valid ones but having finished Johnson’s book I am here to say that the main reason to read her book is actually to find out how to write memoir because she is so good at it. Here’s an example: “I saw my first tenement apartment when I was twenty - top floor of a six-story walkup in Yorkville. Four very small rooms leading into each other railroad style, cracked walls and old tin ceilings that sagged a little. My best friend Elise who had just moved in there, had painted all of it white, even the linoleum on the floor, What I remember is the amazing light in that place, how it flooded in as if there was no real separation between inside and outside, and everything - what little there was - seemed to be set afloat in it. A light that was almost Mediterranean, giving the scarred patched walls a chalky thickness like the walls of Greek villas, beatifying the mattress on the floor, the Salvation Army table, the chairs carried in from the street. I saw some extraordinary light in the early apartments of other friends. Why there? The defiant absence of anything over the windows, I guess. Maybe it was just as simple as that.” Johnson writes of how she rebelled at a young age and escaped to Greenwich Village and the fashion accessories that marked you as Bohemian in New York at that time: “I long to turn myself into a Bohemian, but lack the proper clothes. Oh, the belts I see in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which is tucked away in a little courtyard off Eighth Street, like a cobblers shop in a fairy tale. That’s where everyone gets them. There are two styles that are popular. One laces up the front like the girdle of Lena the Goosegirl, the other fastens dramatically with a spiral made of brass about the size of saucer. Such a belt - aside from enhancing your appearance, which I was sure it would immeasurably - is a badge, a sign of membership in the ranks of the unconventional.... “I’m cool and clever as any double agent needs to be. No one on 116th Street would guess my destination. I have switched my route to the subway, so much faster than the bus. I can get to the Village a whole half-hour earlier, and wait till the very last minute to go home to make my seven o’clock curfew.” “After many beers, I made Jack come home with me. He slept tossing and sweating, muttering through clenched teeth. At dawn he sat up in bed and said he’d had a terrible dream - “an endless train pulling into an endless graveyard, the passengers not monsters but geek faces of friends.” When I put my arms around him, he was shaking.” Johnson brings the village, the lifestyle, the people, particularly Kerouac to life. Reading about him from her point of view really highlights how restless he was and the effect his troubled relationship with his mother had on this lost soul.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    I was assured that it was not necessary to love the Beats in order to get something out of this memoir. This proved to be true. What I got out of this memoir was a trenchant social portrait of "the scene" in Manhattan from 1953-1959. Joyce Johnson was 4 years older than my mom and her diction and phrasing reminded me of talking with my mom about the life of women in the 1950's. If I didn't improve on my meager appreciation of the Beats through this recounting, I guess I did learn more about why t I was assured that it was not necessary to love the Beats in order to get something out of this memoir. This proved to be true. What I got out of this memoir was a trenchant social portrait of "the scene" in Manhattan from 1953-1959. Joyce Johnson was 4 years older than my mom and her diction and phrasing reminded me of talking with my mom about the life of women in the 1950's. If I didn't improve on my meager appreciation of the Beats through this recounting, I guess I did learn more about why they were the way they were and why that ended up being important, even inspirational, to so many. Its easy to forget that Johnson was only 24 at the end of this narration. She got started early in life and had been through relatively a lot by that age. I forgive her frequent breathless name-dropping throughout the memoir, I'm sure it was very exciting to many of her readers when the book was published in 1983, I came away thinking that if you stripped away the alcohol and drugs from these raucous war stories, there was precious little underneath. The Beats are not for me. What she does well is render the world of her youth. Here she describes the mindset of her friend, who married Amiri Baraka during the first era that African-American culture started to appeal to white people of a certain strain: "...for Hettie, black came to seem the color of a great deal more that was realer than what she'd known, some purer definition of experience, some essential knowledge that the white suburbs denied their children." This is a nice summary of Black culture's appeal to white suburbia up to the present day. She couldn't realize in 1983 how far away 1953 would seem to us now. She was an unenthusiastic participant in the changes of the 1960's: "Revolution was always in the wind, but it never came--and if it had, there would have been no room in its orthodoxies for a Kerouac." But, in some ways, she experienced and even propelled the revolution. The days when a brilliant young woman could only hope to work as a typist and be harassed by her neighbors and building super for being a whore because she brought men home are gone. If I don't appreciate the Beats, Johnson at least helped me to appreciate the suffocating social context (in NYC of all places) that made there rebellion an important cultural event.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Suju

    Working my way (selectively) through the NYT list of 50 best memoirs of last 50 years. Very subjective list, obviously, but very happy to have been pointed towards Minor Characters, which I doubt I would have found on my own. Joyce Johnson has become an award-winning writer who has outlived her Beat cohorts by a mile, but during the 50s she was an aspiring writer who was involved with Jack Kerouac for over a year, during the time when he became famous. She manages to touch on what a male world i Working my way (selectively) through the NYT list of 50 best memoirs of last 50 years. Very subjective list, obviously, but very happy to have been pointed towards Minor Characters, which I doubt I would have found on my own. Joyce Johnson has become an award-winning writer who has outlived her Beat cohorts by a mile, but during the 50s she was an aspiring writer who was involved with Jack Kerouac for over a year, during the time when he became famous. She manages to touch on what a male world it was without ever making herself seem small and without ever making the men around her out to be monsters. It's quite an accomplishment as well as being a fascinating read that immerses the reader in the time and the place. And if you're interested: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2...

  27. 5 out of 5

    manatee

    I loved this book because it perfectly captures the experience of living in the Bohemian center of the universe in the late 1950's. Joyce Glassman, later Johnson, lived the life we would have all liked to experience in our early 1920's full of exciting happenings and independence. Her portraits of Hettie Jones and Elise Cowen are particularly captivating. I just wanted to be there. I read this book when it first came out after buying a copy at B. Dalton in the mall. I also read Baby Driver by J I loved this book because it perfectly captures the experience of living in the Bohemian center of the universe in the late 1950's. Joyce Glassman, later Johnson, lived the life we would have all liked to experience in our early 1920's full of exciting happenings and independence. Her portraits of Hettie Jones and Elise Cowen are particularly captivating. I just wanted to be there. I read this book when it first came out after buying a copy at B. Dalton in the mall. I also read Baby Driver by Jan Kerouac. I remember just wanting to be there. I also thought that the exploration of women's roles in the Beat movement was very thought provoking. So many women artists had to take a secondary role as acolytes or "old-ladies."

  28. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    It's been ages since I read this book but it was incredibly formative for me at the time, so I'm giving it all the stars for its impact on a developing mind. If you love the Beats, you'll enjoy getting to spend some time with them and then discovering who got left out of the conversation. If you don't love the Beats, you might enjoy watching them get taken down a peg or two. Or if you're indifferent to The Beats, this book is still worthwhile in its telling of women's stories, women who didn't g It's been ages since I read this book but it was incredibly formative for me at the time, so I'm giving it all the stars for its impact on a developing mind. If you love the Beats, you'll enjoy getting to spend some time with them and then discovering who got left out of the conversation. If you don't love the Beats, you might enjoy watching them get taken down a peg or two. Or if you're indifferent to The Beats, this book is still worthwhile in its telling of women's stories, women who didn't get remembered or get their say the first time around.

  29. 4 out of 5

    K A G

    I found this book incredibly interesting and entertaining to read. Not only was it a look into the beat writers and characters as people instead of celebrities, it also gives us a glimpse into different social aspects and issues of the time period. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this book is being able to learn about Elise and the other figures some people may have never heard of otherwise. Learning more about the beat writers is why I initially picked up this book, but I finished it wanti I found this book incredibly interesting and entertaining to read. Not only was it a look into the beat writers and characters as people instead of celebrities, it also gives us a glimpse into different social aspects and issues of the time period. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this book is being able to learn about Elise and the other figures some people may have never heard of otherwise. Learning more about the beat writers is why I initially picked up this book, but I finished it wanting to know more about everyone else and the issues discussed within.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Debbie Hoskins

    I had someone ask about a book that changed my life. This is the one that I thought of, except I had problems finding it. And then when I was looking for the edition with the cover I remembered. Covers are easier to remember than titles and authors. I couldn't find the cover, but this is the book! This book made me "question authority" and think about creativity, art, radical possibilities and lifestyles.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.