All of Kerouac's work constitutes a dialogue between his Buddhist and Hindu learning and the residues of his Catholic upbringing. This autobiographical novel, his most joyous and optimistic work, centers on his meeting and friendship with Gary Snyder (here called "Japhy Ryder"), the American poet and student of Chinese and Japanese culture and Zen Buddhism. Kerouac, the child of immigrants and raised in a Massachusetts mill town, is guided by Gary Snyder, Oregon mountain man and anthropologist, in treks up mountains toward "heaven," and in his first steps toward an ecological view and a path of personal independence. Kerouac, in turn, becomes our guide to the spiritual possibilities inherent in the grandeur and beauty of the great American Northwest. As Kerouac and Snyder trade Buddhist one-liners and bring Eastern thought into contact with native American influences like Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, and John Muir, we realize we are witnessing a rebirth of American transcendentalism. The book is filled with a youthful energy and idealism that makes you wish you were there with them during a time when anything seemed possible for young Americans and for the American novel. See also5 Must-Read Summer Books
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