The best Beat Generation books

Who picked these books? Meet our 14 experts.

14 authors created a book list connected to Beat Generation, and here are their favorite Beat Generation books.
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On the Road

By Jack Kerouac,

Book cover of On the Road

Linda Collison Author Of Looking for Redfeather

From the list on classic literary road trips worth reading.

Who am I?

Somehow, I keep moving. I love going places and I love reading about explorers, itinerants, migrants, wanderers, and lost souls on the move. Looking for Redfeather started out as my National Novel Writing Month novel; the first draft, written in a mad dash during November 2007, when I was on the road, promoting my novel, Star-Crossed, a novel that also involves traveling. Looking for Redfeather was inspired by members of my own family—young people bent but not broken, malcontents on a mission, seeking something, but what? Published in 2013, it's a 21st century-coming-of-age road story, my tongue-in-cheek homage to Jack Kerouac, and the runaway teen still hiding out in my old soul.

Linda's book list on classic literary road trips worth reading

Discover why each book is one of Linda's favorite books.

Why did Linda love this book?

On the Road is the mother of all 20th-century American road trips. It’s a mad rush West, an impetuous quest for life and friendship, as experienced by the protagonist, Sal Paradise. This is Kerouac’s episodic account of his own restless relationships among transients who question, postpone, reject, or can’t afford the post-World War II American dream of house, spouse, car, career, and kids. What I love about this iconic American road story is Kerouac’s authenticity, his thirst for life, his human fallibility, his truth. 

By Jack Kerouac,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked On the Road as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The legendary novel of freedom and the search for authenticity that defined a generation, now in a striking new Pengiun Classics Deluxe Edition

Inspired by Jack Kerouac's adventures with Neal Cassady, On the Road tells the story of two friends whose cross-country road trips are a quest for meaning and true experience. Written with a mixture of sad-eyed naivete and wild ambition and imbued with Kerouac's love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz, On the Road is the quintessential American vision of freedom and hope, a book that changed American literature and changed…

Off the Road

By Carolyn Cassady,

Book cover of Off the Road

Joseph Ridgwell Author Of Burrito Deluxe

From the list on road novels of all time.

Who am I?

I’ve been obsessed with travel and novels that feature travel in the narrative since my early teens. A near-death experience at the age of nineteen, forced me to confront my own limited life experiences and encouraged me to travel the globe and see some of the world we live in before it was too late, as there’s nothing worse than too late. Also growing up on an inner city council estate instilled a desire to escape the urban environment and international travel and travel writing satisfied those compelling urges.

Joseph's book list on road novels of all time

Discover why each book is one of Joseph's favorite books.

Why did Joseph love this book?

Although not a book about travel I feel this book fits the list, as it is essentially an extended love letter to both Jack Kerouac and Neil Cassady, who at certain stages in her life, were the lovers of the author. What this book also describes is how people who decide to stay at home, while their lovers and friends embark on endless road trips, survive the ordinary hardships of day-to-day living. The book is incredibly insightful and sheds new light on the lives of the aforementioned famous Beat Generation authors. It also warns that the perils of living in the moment, fast time, no responsibilities, does not always lead to a long and happy life. As I discovered during my own extensive travels, if you stay on the road too long, you might not be able to find your way home.

By Carolyn Cassady,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Off the Road as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The wife of Neal Cassady describes her life in the American Beat subculture, her marriage to Cassady and love affair with Jack Kerouac, and her relationship with Allen Ginsberg. Reprint.

Visions of Cody

By Jack Kerouac,

Book cover of Visions of Cody

Michael Stutz Author Of Circuits of the Wind: A Legend of the Net Age

From the list on big, lyrical, and packed with poetic prose.

Who am I?

Poetry is language at its most condensed and pure, potent and direct—the closest thing to thought. At its best, this mode and method is cinematic and penetrates like a powerful dream, and bringing it to narrative prose in a legend and key that can be woven together, like a tapestry, has been my lifework. Nothing in this list is ancient or even old, nor is any of it newI've picked all books from the 20th century, because that was the world and writing that immediately influenced me, it's long enough past to be settled and safely buried, but still new enough to have some currency with the life and language of now.

Michael's book list on big, lyrical, and packed with poetic prose

Discover why each book is one of Michael's favorite books.

Why did Michael love this book?

This book is sort of an alternate take of On the Road. Cody Pomeroy here is Dean Moriarty, this book is his legend, and instead of unravelling it all in a chronological spiel it's the koans and page-long dreams of remembrance, some of the richest extended prose he ever made.

The writing is true to the soul and heart of the continent and it captures the electric twentieth century.

He wanted to roll up all his books together, standardize the names, and call it The Duluoz Legend. When I read him now I think of all those words as a part of it. There are so many pieces and places to dive into, but if you're ready for the deep stuff then get digging into this golden loam and be glad.

By Jack Kerouac,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Visions of Cody as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"What I'm beginning to discover now is something beyond the novel and beyond the arbitrary confines of the story. . . . I'm making myself seek to find the wild form, that can grow with my wild heart . . . because now I know MY HEART DOES GROW." -Jack Kerouac, in a letter to John Clellon Holmes

An underground legend by the time it was finally published in 1972, Visions of Cody captures the members of the Beat Generation in the years before any label had been affixed to them, with Kerouac's trademark appreciation for the ecstatic and ephemeral…

Book cover of Sometimes a Great Notion

Mark Jabbour Author Of Election 2016: The Great Divide, the Great Debate

From the list on understand personality and who you are.

Who am I?

I’ve always been a talker. In the fourth grade my teacher, L. Wood, wrote on my report card, “Mark is a good worker. He is well adjusted and is well-liked in the classroom and on the playground. Mark needs to control himself when he likes to speak out too frequently.” Some things (personality) never change. Now, sixty years later with the help of my doctor, I’m working on it. I've been trying to understand myself, and others for most of my life. Using Nettle's descriptors I could be called a confident, callous, Poet Wanderer. Now, in my seventies, and having written three books about it - I'm beginning to get it.

Mark's book list on understand personality and who you are

Discover why each book is one of Mark's favorite books.

Why did Mark love this book?

This is a novel published by Ken Kesey in 1964. Not only is it one of the best books to understand personality, but it is one of the best novels ever. It tells the story of an American family whose patriarch, Henry Stamper, is a classic narcissist. Stamper could be described as a confident, callous, Controlling Wanderer. He is an independent logger and owns his home and business on a river on the central coast of Oregon. He defies the small town, his neighbors, and the national union. His behavior ultimately leads to much pain and suffering. However, Henry has a good time.

The writing is poetic and insightful. All the characters' personalities are well fleshed out. It is the story of America coming of age in the '50s and '60s. Today, sixty years later, America's culture is changing; but personalities remain as they've always been. Personality is the bedrock…

By Ken Kesey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sometimes a Great Notion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The magnificent second novel from the legendary author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Sailor Song is a wild-spirited and hugely powerful tale of an Oregon logging clan.

A bitter strike is raging in a small lumber town along the Oregon coast. Bucking that strike out of sheer cussedness are the Stampers: Henry, the fiercely vital and overpowering patriarch; Hank, the son who has spent his life trying to live up to his father; and Viv, who fell in love with Hank's exuberant machismo but now finds it wearing thin. And then there is Leland, Henry's bookish younger…

Book cover of The Practice of the Wild: Essays

Belden C. Lane Author Of The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality

From the list on spirituality and wilderness.

Who am I?

Belden Lane is a wilderness backpacker and storyteller who has written extensively on the connections between human spiritual experience and the power of place. As Professor Emeritus of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University he taught theology and spirituality for thirty-five years with the Jesuits. Drawing on backpacking trips in the canyonlands of Utah, the Wind River Range of Wyoming, and the Australian outback, his books include Landscapes of the Sacred, Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice, and The Great Conversation: Nature and the Care of the Soul

Belden's book list on spirituality and wilderness

Discover why each book is one of Belden's favorite books.

Why did Belden love this book?

A Buddhist activist and Pulitzer Prize-winning beat generation poet, Snyder celebrates “wildness” as a moral principle. It gives value to the living world and invites us to the wild places within, the inner wilderness that carries us beyond the comforting assurances of the mind. He cautions against looking for metaphorical and spiritual meanings “beyond and through” the natural world. This risks our not “seeing what is before our very eyes: plain thusness” … which in itself is more than enough to astound!

By Gary Snyder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Practice of the Wild as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"This is an important book for anyone interested in the ethical interrelationships of things, places, and people, and it is a book that is not just read but taken in." ―Library Journal

Featuring a new introduction by Robert Hass, the nine captivatingly meditative essays in The Practice of the Wild display the deep understanding and wide erudition of Gary Snyder in the ways of Buddhist belief, wildness, wildlife, and the world. These essays, first published in 1990, stand as the mature centerpiece of Snyder’s work and thought, and this profound collection is widely accepted as one of the central texts…

Big Sky Mind

By Carole Tonkinson,

Book cover of Big Sky Mind: Buddhism and the Beat Generation

Laurence Cox Author Of The Irish Buddhist: The Forgotten Monk Who Faced Down the British Empire

From the list on Buddhism and the West.

Who am I?

I’ve been a street musician, set up kindergartens, worked in special needs education, and run wood-fired showers in a field for meditation retreats. I’m also associate professor of sociology at the National University of Ireland Maynooth. I became a Buddhist partly out of interest in a very different culture and started wondering how Buddhism got from Asia to the West. I think about this through my own experience of teaching meditation, being an activist for 35 years, living in five countries, and learning ten languages: what do you have to do to make an idea come alive in a different culture? 

Laurence's book list on Buddhism and the West

Discover why each book is one of Laurence's favorite books.

Why did Laurence love this book?

One of the first places I heard about Buddhism was through Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Gary Snyder. The joy of reading Kerouac has worn off a bit, but Snyder and Ginsberg have become lifetime companions and real sources of inspiration for me, not least in their engagement with Buddhism. This collection of poems, essays, letters, and other writings brings them together with a much wider range of writers – Diane di Prima and Philip Whalen, Anne Waldman and Kenneth Rexroth, William Burroughs and Lawrence Ferlinghetti – showing how the best minds of two generations heard, felt and responded to Buddhism in their many different ways. It’s a real treasure-house of words.

By Carole Tonkinson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Big Sky Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Essays, poems, photographs, and letters explore the link between Buddhism and the Beats--with previously unpublished material from several beat writers, including Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, and Diane diPrima.

Book of Haikus

By Jack Kerouac,

Book cover of Book of Haikus

B.L. Bruce Author Of The Weight of Snow: New & Selected Poems

From the list on contemporary nature poetry.

Who am I?

My name is Bri Bruce, writing as B. L. Bruce, and am an award-winning poet and Pushcart prize nominee from California. Over the last decade and a half, my work has appeared in dozens of literary publications. I am the author of four books and Editor-in-Chief of nature-centric magazine Humana Obscura. I was raised with a wildlife biologist/avid gardener for a mother and a forestry major/backpacker/fisherman as a father. Both my parents instilled in me at a young age a love of nature. A lifetime spent outdoors inspires my work—so much so that I’ve been called a “poetic naturalist” and the “heiress of Mary Oliver.”

B.L.'s book list on contemporary nature poetry

Discover why each book is one of B.L.'s favorite books.

Why did B.L. love this book?

While Jack Kerouac can arguably be synonymous with the Beat generation, the poems in this collection reveal a lesser-known and seldom seen but poignant side of Kerouac’s legacy. He distills his surroundings into short vignettes, reminiscent of the Beat style and motif, but incorporates a significant amount of nature imagery. They’re beautiful glimpses of the world through the eyes of one of America’s most influential authors.

By Jack Kerouac,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Book of Haikus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Above all, a haiku must be very simple and free of all poetic trickery and make a little picture and yet be as airy and graceful as a Vivaldi pastorella.' Jack Kerouac. Renowned for his groundbreaking Beat Generation novel "On the Road", Jack Kerouac was also a master of the haiku, the three-line, seventeen-syllable Japanese poetic form. Following in the tradition of Basho, Buson, Shiki, Issa, and other poets, Kerouac experimented with this centuries-old genre, taking it beyond strict syllable counts into what he believed was the form's essence. He incorporated his 'American' haiku in novels and in his correspondence,…

The Dharma Bums

By Jack Kerouac,

Book cover of The Dharma Bums

Seth Wynes Author Of SOS: What You Can Do to Reduce Climate Change - Simple Actons That Make a Difference

From the list on fiction about our place in nature.

Who am I?

Seth Wynes is a climate researcher studying how everyday people can fight climate change more effectively. His work has been featured in media outlets from around the world including The New York Times, NPR, and The Guardian. Before pursuing an academic career, Seth was a high school science teacher in England and Northern Quebec, and still draws inspiration for his research from the questions and concerns raised by his students. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.

Seth's book list on fiction about our place in nature

Discover why each book is one of Seth's favorite books.

Why did Seth love this book?

“The little flowers grew everywhere around the rocks, and no one had asked them to grow, or me to grow.” The joy in Kerouac is stumbling along with his absent-minded musings and finding the stretches of poetry that really speak to you. Dharma Bums is spiritual and inward-focused, but the characters spend time in nature, trying to figure out their place in it. It’s the kind of companion that you want to have with you on a canoe trip or sharing space with you on a hammock on a warm fall day. 

By Jack Kerouac,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Dharma Bums as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Published just one year after "On The Road", this is the story of two men enganged in a passionate search for Dharma or truth. Their major adventure is the pursuit of the Zen Way, which takes them climbing into the High Sierras to seek the lesson of solitude.