My reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road over the last couple of days has been a unique experience and a type of travel in its own right. Not only am I reading this novel that narrates someone’s travel at a time when I am reflecting almost constantly on the anniversaries of different traveling experiences of my own from living in Ireland one year ago, but the experience has been altered for me by the circumstances of my reading, and have transformed both my reading of the text and me.
In our Senior Seminar, we got to talking about The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein as a collaboration and the awareness of Stein while writing of the book as a physical entity even before its publication and distribution. Since I am still hung up on this idea of traveling through time and from a point of innocence to a point of maturity, and though I am not going to write directly about this type of transformation in regards to Sal or Dean or any of the other characters of the book, my reading of the book has made me think about these themes in my own life. These two ideas are not automatically easily connected with each other or with the idea of transformation, but have come together incredibly well during my reading of On The Road and the physical copy of the text that I am using for our class.
My brother is eighteen, just under three years younger than me, and a freshman in college this fall. When we were young children we were absolutely best friends; we spent all of our time together playing soccer and watching movies (both with Disney princesses and Star Wars, etc. with battle scenes and warriors) and reading books. We dreamt of adventure and travel in all of those activities, as we escaped into the worlds of the movies we watched and books we read, and told each other we would one day become professional soccer players and travel the world being the first brother-sister duo to make the men and women’s national teams, respectively.
As we got older things changed between us, and became very difficult when he entered high school. Though things are on the upswing, and we are talking on an increasingly frequent basis while both at school and spending time together while at home, things are still difficult at times. This summer, before I left to go to Loyola, I was going over my book list with my dad and seeing which books I needed to order and which we already had at our house (we always have a surprisingly high number of my required reading books around either the house or my dad’s office). I came across On the Road, and my dad said he was sure we had a copy somewhere. He was right; we do own a copy, but it is my brother’s. I was hesitant to ask to borrow what I know is one of his favorite books, but he handed it over easily as long as I promised to return it at Christmas, unharmed.
Fast forward to November, and I am reading my brother’s copy of On the Road, looking at the marks he made in the margins, paying special attention to the lines he underlined, feeling a little bit closer to understanding my brother by experiencing this book with his experience alongside mine. There are many phrases underlined in this borrowed copy I’m reading, but I have been struck repeatedly by how frequently I absentmindedly reach for my pen to make a mark of my own, only to find that my younger brother has already noted what I intended to. We are not so dissimilar as we (or usually, he) likes to believe. His allowing me to read his copy of his favorite book, and my wanting to mark these pages he’s already seen and held and marked himself show me that we are always transforming, in ourselves, in our relationships, in the way we view the world and the works of literature in that world. One of the quotes that my brother knew I would want to mark is the following sentence, which I find beautifully poignant, “We give and take and go in the incredibly complicated sweetness zigzagging every side.” Life is a complicated zigzag, but when all else fails I can lean on the fact that when I needed to read On the Road, my brother gave me his dearest possession.