Back in 1996, I was in Ireland. Staying up late at a hostel, I was reading by myself in the kitchen. A woman walked in. We looked at each other, and I nodded hello before going back to my book. She busied herself about the kitchen, and a minute later, asked me, “Where are you from?” I told her, but, intent on reading, I didn’t ask her the same. From her accent, I guessed France. Not taking the hint, she went on, “And what are you reading?”
I held up the book. “Keruoac.”
“And how old are you?”
She waited a second - and grimaced - before responding. “That seems about right.” And she waited a few more before walking out of the kitchen.
It took me a moment to realize what she’d meant, and a bit longer to feel irritated. Although if it was due to her rudeness or the fact that she might have been right, I still can’t say.
I thought of this story because it’s April, and April is National Poetry Month, and in looking up material for the poetry lessons I’m teaching, I came across the fact that sixty years ago this month, Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road in a marathon three week stretch. I read the book once in high school, again in college, and again on that trip to Ireland. I don’t think I understood it all then or now, and maybe that French woman was right. Maybe reading Kerouac is something that certain people do in their late teens or early twenties because they think they’re supposed to. I don’t care. I loved that book, and I’ll be handing it to Violet when she turns eighteen and telling her to soak it up.