Top 10 Beatnik Novels



5. Howl – Allen Ginsberg

Encapsulating the overall artistic tendencies and intentions of his own work as well as that of his beatnik peers, in 1955 Allen Ginsberg, already a prominent figure within the scene, released this seminal series of poems. There are 3 parts altogether, with each having a real go at each of the attritions which act to ‘dehumanize’ our noble species. Upon the poems’ release, Ginsberg found himself in court defending his work from censorship after claims that it was intentionally obscene. So what if it was?


4. Naked Lunch – William Burroughs

Always sure to cause waves, William Burroughs’ ‘Naked Lunch’ was originally published in Paris in 1959. Having received reprint several times since, the work has gone on not only to cement itself as a bona-fide slice of American literature/culture but also its author as one of the best of his time. Focusing on the relationship between the arts and the many potential obscurities surrounding, the novel is driven by narrator William Lee, a junkie who (in true beatnik fashion) travels about the place under various pseudonyms. As a hardened drug user himself, it’s not too hard to draw the conclusion that Burroughs has based much of the narrative upon his own experiences.


3. The Dharma Bums – Jack Kerouac

Easily passable as the godfather of beat writing, Jack Kerouac’s famous novel, first published in 1958, is an autobiographical take on his first experiences of the Buddhist ideals which would go on to influence him in future years. Based during the Massachusetts native’s time living on the West Coast (California I believe) in the mid-1950’s, The Dharma Bums documents the duality of Kerouac’s existence up until that point. As is common with many of his works, each of the characters are based upon real friends and acquaintances.


2. Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

A deeply influential works, Catcher in the Rye is the tale of a 16-year-old protagonist named Holden Caulfield, who bails on his Pennsylvanian prep-school to spend some time in New York’s dark underground. Although released in 1951, the book continues to be one of the most popular in recent decades- still selling some 250,000 copies annually. The novel has been subject to much controversy over the years, with several notorious criminals attributing an obsession with it as justification for their acts, perhaps the most notable of these being John Lennon’s killer Mark Chapman.


1. On the Road – Jack Kerouac

Yes another Kerouac work, this time falling into a deserved top-spot. On the Road may just epitomise this literary movement as a whole, if not then it’s certainly the only starting point for those of you who may have found themselves take influence over the course of this list. Defining what was meant by the ‘beat’ movement, On the Road is of course a tale of travel, adventure and discovery- with much, if not all, of its quirky content derived from autobiographical accounts of Jacks travels with friend, and beatnik peer, Neal Cassady.

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