If you're a sophomore English major in college, say, and have recently figured out that it's no longer cool to tell people that your favorite book is Catcher in the Rye, your favorite book is probably On the Road. But. Did you know that Jack Kerouac didn't really write the whole thing in three hours on a single roll of half-used toilet paper in Allen Ginsberg's pantry, subsisting on nothing but Vienna sausages and coffee grounds? It's true — Kerouac offing On the Road in a single, unrevised breath is the sort of literary legend that popularizes the idea of the writer as a seizure-prone oracle that spits out brilliant writing in one unadulterated frenzy of composition.
Joyce Johnson, a writer who was once set up with Kerouac by the apparent Patti Stanger of literature, Allen Ginsberg, has written The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac, due out later this month just ahead of the wide release of On the Road's theatrical manifestation. Johnson's book details her relationship with the writer, but also debunks the idea that Kerouac's "spontaneous writing" was all that spontaneous — crafting On the Road was "a much longer process … each paragraph had to be a 'poem'." The book includes some juicy biographical details about Kerouac's love life and his fluency in Joual, a Canadian dialect of French, which Johnson suggests served as a significant (and often overlooked) source linguistic inspiration for Kerouac.