Friday, April 4, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: The Portable Beat Reader

By H. Tim Sevets

The beat movement has been misunderstood for years. For one thing, it was larger than many commentators credit it with being. The Portable Beat Reader helps set the record straight in this regard, with its generous sampling of a remarkably large number of poets, authors and essayists who may credibly be placed squarely within the beat tradition.

Certainly, it contains generous helpings of Allen Ginsburg, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Kenneth Rexroth. Gary Snyder and other leading lights of this all-too-short-lived phenomenon. But there are many lesser knowns as well, including several individuals who were a bit younger than the founding beats but who served to transmit the authentic beat spirit into the 1960s and beyond.

On this note, The Portable Beat Reader really shines at demonstrating the lasting influence that the beat movement had on American art and culture. That influence rippled down the years, surviving, growing and evolving long after the movement itself had disappeared with the aging and deaths of its progenitors, as well as its parodying in the comic-grist image of the "beatnik."

This magnificent collection was edited by Ann Charters, who has nurtured a lifetime fascination with the beats. This fascination even led at one point to a job working with Jack Kerouac to complete a bibliography of his work. Following Kerouac's death she wrote the first of his biographies.

In addition to editing The Portable Beat Reader, Charters contributed an excellent introduction that sets the beats in the context of their time as well as in the context of the stream of American nonconformist and rebellious intellectualism.

The Portable Beat Reader will stand as the definitive collection of beat writings for many years to come, if not forever.

The Portable Beat Reader is published by Penguin Books of New York, London and elsewhere; ISBN # 0-14-015102-8.

H. Tim Sevets is books editor for the Solid Gold Info Writers Consortium, where he specializes in objective reviews of the top money-making reports available over the Web. Recently, he reviewed an e-book that claims to show how to make money by tearing up old books and magazines and selling them on eBay. Read his opinion at

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