Still Vital, ‘On the Road’ Turns 50

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The best-selling novels of 1957 included “Peyton Place” by Grace Metalious and “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac.

Both were cultural touchstones: “Peyton Place” as a precursor of the modern soap opera and “On the Road” as a clarion call for the Beat generation and, later, as an underground bible of the 1960s and ’70s. Today “Peyton Place” is mostly regarded as a historical curiosity, but “On the Road,” celebrating the 50th anniversary of its publication, still has a vibrant life on college English course syllabuses and high school summer reading lists, and in young travelers’ backpacks.

“It’s a book that has aged well,” said Martin Sorensen, floor manager at Kepler’s Books and Magazines in Menlo Park, Calif. A “noticeable” number of copies are sold each year at the store, he said, “certainly more than the average 50-year-old book.”

The autobiographical, stream-of-consciousness “On the Road” follows Sal Paradise (a character based on Kerouac) and Dean Moriarty (based on Kerouac’s friend Neal Cassady) as they ramble back and forth across the country, drinking, listening to jazz and having affairs.

Viking is releasing a 50th-anniversary edition on Thursday (the original came out Sept. 5, 1957), and is also publishing, for the first time in book form, the original version that Kerouac typed on a 120-foot-long scroll and a new analysis by John Leland, a reporter at The New York Times, titled “Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of ‘On the Road’ (They’re Not What You Think).” ...

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