The Story Behind: On the Road

by | Apr 3, 2024 | seth godin experiment

If these blogs are going to be published daily, they’ll be shorter. I’m going to have some recurring features, too.

I love all of the benefits of ebooks, like being able to find that random fleeting idea by typing a single word into a search bar, but I do miss the magic of real life books. “The Story Behind the Book” is a tribute to that magic.

I debated on that word: magic. It’s unexplainable.  I love the smell of used books, yellowed paper, and the stacks sections of libraries. I worry sometimes that the love of the luddite page is a fading ember of the 20th century. That worry makes my own book collection all the more important to me.

a back page from a copy of On The Road advertising other books by Jack KerouacI love how they tried to sell you more real books in the back of the book you were reading. 

What you need to realize is it’s not just about the story inside the book (although that is super important).

“Story is the foundation of all entertainment. You must have a good story. Otherwise it’s just masturbation.”

—George Costanza 

You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but you can judge its cover—how it looks and contributes to the overall Story Behind the Book. Take this copy of On the Road that I read in the late 90s. I was in my 20s, figuring out who I was gonna be. I loved the feeling of the book, the mystique, the aesthetic. It led me to learn more about the author and the real people the characters were based on. I sought out and next read the Beat generation of writers and started listening to jazz.

cover of a paperback version of On the Road

But I was conflicted about the misogyny, that women could never be western kinswomen of the sun, only side pieces or whores or moms or pocketbooks.

Then there’s the personal stuff of real books. The time in my life when I read this particular version of this book, how my personal circumstances affected that reading. Sometimes I remember the particular day or place when a coffee stain or rabbit ear was made. If I’m lucky, the old me left notes for the new me to reflect on and maybe even finally answer.

Do you understand then why it’s so hard for some of us to detach from and abandon our books?

This is the sentence that summed up how I felt about writing then and still:

I’ll be holding on to my books indefinitely, whether or not I ever plan to read them again. I just want to take them down sometimes, remember how they affected me, reflect on all the selves I’ve been.

Each book contains a thousand stories, you know?

K. Bye


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