Poetry News

Jack Kerouac On the iPad Road

By Harriet Staff

We've all heard by now about the digital iPad version of T.S. Eliot's poem "The Wasteland." The New York Times Arts Beat says the application even knocked Marvel Comics out of the top spot on the list for top-grossing book apps.

Arts Beat now reports that Kerouac's On the Road is next in line to blow our minds with extraordinary iPad app bells and whistles. Reporting on June 18:

The “amplified edition” of “On the Road,” released today by Penguin Classics, certainly comes tricked out with more fancy bells and whistles than a BMW M5. It includes the full text of the novel, of course, with expandable marginal notes giving historical and biographical background. An interactive map traces Kerouac’s three real-life cross-country road trips, with links to relevant passages from the novel. There are never-before-seen photos, rare audio clips of Kerouac reading from an early draft, previously unreleased documents from his publisher’s archive, and a slide show of international covers showing how the book has been marketed from Argentina to Ukraine to China.

Pretty much the only thing missing is the chance to hear the novel read aloud by that sexy-voiced woman from your GPS. . . .

What's perhaps more interesting is what happens to one's reading experience, however. They go on to review it:

The “On the Road” app — priced at $12.99, the same as the regular e-book edition (it rises to $16.99 on July 2) — was prepared with help from the Beat scholars Bill Morgan and Howard Cunnell, though it has a populist, unscholarly feel. Some of the notes embedded in the text give a helpful run-down of the real-life people and places behind the novel, sometimes with photographs that deepen the period flavor. But often they merely explain the obvious or the dubiously relevant, as in notes defining the G.I. Bill or giving the plot of “Fidelio” (which Sal Paradise sees in Denver), or confiding that a minor character named Denver B. Doll was based on a teacher who befriended the young Neal Cassady, the inspiration for Dean Moriarty. (You’ll have to look in the section dealing with the novel’s publishing history to learn that Kerouac thought the man would be “tickled” by the tribute, though he still took basic precautions to prevent a libel suit.) It would be easy enough to ignore endnotes of this sort in your average classroom-ready critical edition (though none in fact exists for “On the Road”). But on the iPad, it’s hard to resist tapping on the blue bars in the margin and pulling yourself out of the story Kerouac meant to unfurl as seamlessly as the 120-foot scroll of Japanese art paper he first typed it on.

Originally Published: June 20th, 2011