Get to Know the Beat Generation through these Four Books

A Photo of Allen Ginsberg by Cyril H. Baker, Getty Images

Writers of the Beat Generation were known for their liberal attitude towards life and literature. Read these four books to understand the movement that sparked a revolution and continues to influence artists till date. By Paridhi Badgotri

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by

madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at

dawn looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient 

heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the

 machinery of night . . .

—Allen Ginsberg, Howl

Post the Second World War, superficial order and conformity were emphasised in the American society. But it was ultimately detached from the human condition, resulting in rampant poverty, racism, sexual and psychological repression, and lost hope in the system. This structure reflected in literature as well—an intellectual supremacy in the standard forms of poetry and novels with little to no freedom of experimentation. 

Frustrated with conforming to social and literary traditions, a group of writers launched a daring movement against mainstream politics and culture. They focussed on inner consciousness and lived experience while dabbling in drugs, meditation, and Eastern spiritualism. Defying conventional forms of writing, the Beat Generation gave people a new way of life and literature—and thus, set them free.

Read literature that portrayed the human condition with these four books—all available at Kunzum.

A Beat Reading List

Collected Poems 1947-1997: Allen Ginsberg

One of the best-known pioneer in the Beat Generation, Allen Ginsberg altered the course of American poetry with his raw tone and verses of spiritual liberation. It catalysed a revolution in the tradition of post-modern verse. Gathering all of Allen Ginsberg’s works written over a half century, this thick collection is a great representation of his open, vocal, and spontaneous poems.

Collected Poems 1947-1997: Allen Ginsberg
Collected Poems 1947-1997: Allen Ginsberg

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Since its publication, the classic novel On the Road has inspired every generation to strive for individual freedom. The novel covers the years of Kerouac’s travels in the North American continent with tales of compassion for humanity and a unique free-flowing language, making it an essential read of the Beat Generation. Trivia: Did you know that On The Road is credited with kicking off many culture trends—in America, then elsewhere. His friend William S. Burroughs once wrote that the book “sold a trillion pairs of Levis and a million espresso machines”.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

Talking of William Burroughs, he broke all rules with Naked Lunch. This is an experimental novel that abandons the plot while immersing the reader into a drug addict’s consciousness. Burroughs knew this state all too well with his own experiences of various addictive drugs. The book is a series of vignettes, which can be read in any order—according to the author. It follows the protagonist William Lee from the US to Mexico and eventually Tangier and a dream-zone.

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

Robert Lowell Collected Poems

Winner of the 1946 Pulitzer Prize, Robert Lowell presents art as a proof of existence and a means of identity. Although he’s technically an autobiographical or confessional poet, Lowell was inspired greatly by the revolutionary verses of the Beat Generation. This volume reveals his own earnest attempt at reforming the tradition of poetry.

Robert Lowell Collected Poems
Robert Lowell Collected Poems

Related: Climate Change Reading List: Books To Help You Understand How Earth Is Changing 

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