By Jenny Maurer
The pandemic has no doubt been very hard on all of us and we’re desperate to fill time until at least April 24th or early May. Some people are watching netflix films while others are working on novels. As for me, I have been working on a Simpsons puzzle and reading a few books that are tangentially related to the current crisis.
The first book is Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums in which the author talks about taking up Buddhism, wild beatnik parties, and camping in the outdoors in order to achieve spirituality. It’s a very rambling text as beat poetry and prose often are but it’s nice to read about a man trying to balance between his new life as a Buddhist and maintaining friendships with his old drinking friends. It reflects on how the coronavirus is forcing many of us to limit our social activities for the greater good.
On a similar note, I also read celebrity stylist Jonathan Van Ness’ memoir Over the Top which chronicles his issues with drug addiction, personal trauma, and general search for stability. Van Ness grew up admiring figure skaters and wanting to be an athlete himself, but an incident of abuse as a child led him down a path of drugs and unprotected sex. Coping with this trauma, he goes on a journey trying to find himself and a sturdy relationship. My main issue is in terms of tone; some of the segues between rousing speeches about self love and confessional accounts of eating disorders make the narrative seem rather glib when I am sure that was not Van Ness’ intention. The casual prose also makes it seem aimed at people in the late teens to early twenties audience who use Instagram and twitter frequently (the term of endearment “honey” is practically every other word). Nonetheless, this is a very touching book with its heart in the right place and it’s a good book for young people getting ready to go out into the real world.
Over the Top also compliments Dharma Bums in a way as both books are about how people try to find spirituality in their own way; Kerouac found it through solitary trips to the mountains while Van Ness finally found with his family and friends. Both books are worth examining in this time of isolation with family.