For a story about some of the more influential writers and poets of the 20th century, you would think a book would be more lyrical. But reading Bill Morgan’s “The Typewriter is Holy: The Complete, Uncensored History of the Beat Generation”, I came away feeling flat. Oh, Morgan’s account of the lives of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs has the details. Lots of details. But it reads more like a laundry list of things they did. Allen Ginsberg did this. Then he met up with this guy, this guy, this guy and this guy and they did this. Then he went there. A few pages of this would be bad enough but chapter after chapter was numbing.
Yes, all the juicy details about Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs are in here. And of course, all the associated men and women: Neal Cassady, Greg Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Herbert Hunke, Gary Snyder etc. are included. I did find I learned quite a few things and the anecdotes seemed to put them in a proper light of who they were and what they were feeling. Morgan is a good researcher, and clearly an expert on the subject. He peppers the stories with a few well known and accepted opinions of the Beats (Burroughs could be misogynist, minorities weren’t well represented), and quotes extensively from the letters they continually wrote between each other.
Morgan’s overarching belief is that Ginsberg was the catalyst and the glue that kept the Beat Generation together. Ginsberg’s associates, his friends, and his influence were certainly crucial to the burgeoning literary movement, and Ginsberg’s friendships and relations certainly provided an avenue for some of the lesser known writers and poets. For a beginning student of the Beat Generation, I suppose this is a perfunctory overview of who they were as people and what they did. For someone looking for insight, poetry, language, or just reading paragraphs of beautifully written, lyrical imagery about angel headed hipsters, stick the the Beats themselves and pick up a copy of their words.