On The Road is fifty this year. I read it and just about everything else Kerouac wrote when I was in high school. I was such a fan (read: dork) that I published my second two (and last) poems under the name "Jean K. Louis," because Kerouac's real first name was Jean-Louis. (The first two poems, under my own name, were spotted by my English teacher on the Buffalo News Poetry Page. Humiliation ensued.)
But since then I haven't so much as looked at On The Road, The Dharma Bums, Desolation Angels (my favorite), Visions of Gerard, Dr. Sax, Satori in Paris, or even my treasured first edition of Big Sur. Why not? Because my experience reading them was perfect and unrepeatable. They were completely different from everything else I'd read. For a while when I was seventeen, almost every used bookstore I entered had a Jack Kerouac book I hadn't yet read. I don't need to tell you how much fun that was.
And of course they made me think, Hey, maybe I can do this, too. Not be Kerouac, of course, or even write like him. But maybe I could find my own way into writing, as he did.
While I now have a considerably jaded eye about his subject matter -- about finding God in cars, drink, women, small Mexican bathrooms, and run-on sentences -- I'm not jaded about the exciting and freeing effect Kerouac's prose had, and continues to have, on young writers.