Monday, February 21, 2005

Speed-reading the Subterraneans

A typical scenario where a reader is swept by the magical power of a book and considers it as one of his favorites is purchasing a title (learned and heard from a friend or those people he reads) from a bookstore. He then relish its content, probably with his feet prop up on a coffee table.

But then, there are other ways that can spice up the reading experience where the reader and the book get a complete concentrated connection, thus creating a memorable reading nirvana. The potency of the book itself strikes him like a battering ram straight to the marrow of his soul and the experience does not just come from the text itself, but also from the events surrounding him when he devours every written word of the book.

What can be a more extremely exhilirating experience than trying to finish a book amid a bombardment in a time of war, and the knowledge that any moment a bomb can end your life abruptly without reaching the last page? Well, that is far from my story. Nevertheless, I like to think of it that way.

With just enough money for fare on my way home (my broods just dropped me on the mall on their way to my parent's house as the night descended), I went straight to the bookstore to do some "free" reading, oblivious to the fact that I looked like a ragged bum in pair of borrowed sandals, hundred-peso t-shirt, and fading black shorts.

I could have picked Italo Calvino's titles from the bookshelves if there were no Kerouac titles that caught my fancy. I was then just recently acquainted with the literature of the Beat Generation, having read Jack Kerouac Big Sur and Dharma Bums and been salivating for a copy of On the Road (which I have to read until this day since it seems to disappear on bookstores the moment it hits the shelves).

What I found was just more than a hundred pages of a book titled Subterraneans, which according to the blurb, Kerouac wrote in marathon typewriter-yakking for three days and three nights. And probably he wrote that in an inebriated frenzy.

I picked a vacant chair and proceeded to devour the book with a resolution to read it in one sitting. What is a more apt way to read a three-day frenzied labor of typewriter-yakking than finishing it in one sitting with an estimated highway speed that can make your hair recede from the strong winds of printed words slapping your face and your brain. That resolution also stemmed from lack of dough and to avoid reading a book in weekly installments, which I know would slow down the momentum of the story and with me expectedly forgetting what the book is all about.

I breathed in a lungful of oxygen then promptly submerged myself in the ocean of reality of the post-war American literature of the Beat Generation.

The book is a narration of a bohemian writer Leo Percepeid, about the history of his breakup with a Negro girl named Mardou Fox, a member of an intellectual group called Subterraneans.

Here Kerouac wrote again about the free-spirited, amoral culture of the Beat Generation in search for an identity along their pursuit of artistic goals: be successful writers and poets. It was the time of bob jazz, never ending boozing and arguments about literary subjects. It was the time when the post-war children of America were growing up.

Amid this wayward culture of "tea" smoking, casual sex, teenage angst and rebellion to be left alone by the authorities, still, deep longing for love could blossom. But the twist is that that was an era when everybody was leeching each other.

By the time I submerged myself again into the book (seeing those sitting around me changed faces and I looking at the staff of the bookstore, wondering if they would approach and tell me: "Sir, there is a minimum quota of hours for reading a certain book for free. If you want to continue reading, go find another book), a Yugoslavian young poet by the name of Yuri Gligoric has already surfaced in the story.

I again zipped in the rollercoaster/talkfest/speed-typing text set by Kerouac on Leo and Mardou's bohemian love affair. And before I knew it, getting all weary in the eyes and the bookstore's well-lighted interior blurred before me, I failed to notice that I was up for a heart-wrenching ending as I reached the last several pages.

And there happened the tragic breakup of Leo Percepeid and Mardou Fox because of Yuri Gligoric. This is a 20th century fiction that can hit any reader's heart with the hip word: "Well, baby we made it together," with Mardou Fox telling Leo Percepeid casually about what happened to her and Yuri.

The jeepney I rode going home sped on South Super Highway with me still seeing visions of printed words on darkened factories, of the 50's America, of the Beat Generation, of Leo, Mardou and Yuri. And that hip word "made it" reverberating in my ears. My head was throbbing. I needed to pound on my PC to release this neverending yakking in my head.

And now, finally, I write this.

Note: This appeared on The Philippine Star on November 9, 2003 as the week's winning essay in My Favorite Book Contest. I posted it here since I could still recall the rush I felt when I first read the book.

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