Review: Charter’s The Portable Beat Reader

The Portable Beat Reader

Ann Charters

A collection of excerpts from many of the most important beat works and writers including Kerouac, Burroughs, Cassidy, and Ginsberg. I read this as a teenager eager to learn about the world outside the small Connecticut town in which I was raised, and boy did it deliver.

Back then, there was no Wikipedia, Kerouac and crew were just cultural references in the magazines I read, citations in the songs I liked. I’d puttered around a bit in some of their works (I think I’d taken a crack at On the Road) but I knew almost nothing about their work, and even less about their lives, before I read this.

For a kid like me, finding this in the store at the mall was, frankly life changing. I write this now at a remove of more than twenty years, so the specifics of what I thought of the book have vanished. I do remember pouring over the biographical material, and I remember adding scores of books to my “to be read” list.

The internet’s great and all, but there’s something to be said for having to figure it all out on your own.

At 17, this stuff like a drug, sending me off imagining a world much bigger, more dangerous, and more exciting than the life I was then living. Of course, now my view of these writers is far more critical. I see the rampant sexism now, the often clumsy writing, the chauvinism in all its forms, but then it was exciting, and new… at least to me.

Recommended for the enthusiast (and the teenager, circa 1992)

This was the cover on the edition I had.

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