Thursday, February 18, 2010

My apology to Bob Byrne; Forgotten Books: The Beats by Seymour Krim

My apologies to novelist Bob Byrne who wrote the fine Donald E. Westlake remebrance I wrote last night. I forgotten to list him as the writer. Very sorry, Bob.

Forgotten Books: The Beats by Seymour Krim

To me Seymour Krim was one of the most interesting figures in the rise of Beat culture. He was more of a traditional literary man than a Beat and was thus able to be the bridge between the followers of Jack Kerouac and the skeptics who disdained them. He had an understanding of both sides.

For those not around at the time the hatred of Beats turned into a literary lynch mob. Here's the father of neo-conism, Norman Podhoretz, vile and ugly as always to anybody who doesn't share his fascist leanings: "(Beatism is for the crippled of soul...young men who can't think straight and hate anyone who can.") Norman Mailer took exception to Podhoretz one night in a debate in Brooklyn and ripped into him, exposing him for the creep he was. It was rumored that Mailer was sober when this happened.

But Podhortez wasn't alone. The Beats were decried by most "respectable" (i.e. mainstream and dull) critics who were defending the kind of literature that was putting everybody to sleep.

Into the breach came Seymour Krim, a passionate and powerful cultural reporter who, among other things, turned his terrible mental breakdown in the fifties into true literature. With the late Knox Burger as his editor at Gold Medal Krim edited The Beats, one of the two or three best books ever assembled about the Beats as both serious writers and cultural phenoms.

How's this for a list of names from that time: Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, William Burroughs, Hubert Selby, Jr., Anatole Broyard and (yes) Norman Podhoretz's rant "The Know- Nothing Bohemians." And many more--a heady brew of fiction and non-fiction alike. There's even a piece from Krim's own much longer piece on his breakdown "The Insanity Bit." The excerpt from Mailer's "The Deer Park" is riveting and demonstrates that the novel was unjustly trashed in its time (Mailer famously took out an ad in the Village Voice reprinting the worst of the reviews: "Total trash. Belongs in the garbage can." Etc.)

This is a serious book and a great read, covering everything from the subject of beat New Orleans of the time to the pleasures and perils of hitch-hiking. The cover is a black and white photo depicting an Allen Ginsberg look-alike sitting across from a very fetching young woman everybody wanted to know a lot more about.


mybillcrider said...

When I was in grad school, I visited the office of one of my profs and was surprised to see a Gold Medal book on his shelves. Before I left, I managed to get a closer look at it. It was THE BEATS.

David Cranmer said...

Some history I was unaware of but, obviously, need to know more about. I've only scratched the surface of the Beat generation with the more popular works.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Looks interesting, Ed, re: THE BEATS. Thanks for the heads up.

Ed Lynskey

Evan Lewis said...

The Beats scene sounds like a good setting for a mystery novel. Are there any?

Ed Gorman said...

There no mysteries that I know o--though I'll bet there were back then--but to suspense novels of note Malcolm Braly's excellent Shake Him Till He Rattles and John Trinian's North Beach Girl.

Dan_Luft said...

Hardcase published an old Lawrence Block called "A Diet of Treacle" that I think was a beatnik mystery.

The only Thomas Dewey book I ever read was "Sad Song Singing" about the early 60s folk circuit. Kind of the same world.

Anonymous said...

I have a good collection of Seymour Krim's writings called VIEWS OF A NEARSIGHTED CANNONEER (I think that's the title!) - thanks for the blogs Ed!

Mark Cohen said...

Krim fans will be interested to know that there is a new collection of Seymour Krim out from Syracuse U. Press called Missing a Beat: The Rants and Regrets of Seymour Krim.

I'm the editor. More on Krim on my site.