Sometimes Ken Kesey

I recently read a historical biography of Ken Kesey called Its All Kind of Magic, the Young Ken Kesey by Rick Dodgson.  It reminded me of my fondness for Kesey’s writing.

I became interested in Ken Kesey when I read Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test in high school. It was not assigned reading, I think I borrowed it from the cool crunchy girl who lived down the street when I was going through my hippie phase (I had to abandon my goth phase when I got a convertible, it was impossible to stay pale and sullen).

Then in English class senior year, we were asked to pick our favorite writer then the teacher would assign each of us another author based on who we liked.  I picked Ken Kesey.  Then I was assigned Charles Dickens (the guy who loved Kurt Vonnegut was assigned someone comparable to Dickens, the very prim girl was assigned D.H. Lawrence, you get the picture).  So, I read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion, then Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities. Ok, I really didn’t read very much of the Dickens books, just enough to write the book reports.  Anyways…

Do you like to go back and read books over again?  I don’t tend to re-read books, even books that I really like.  There are just too many books out there and I’m never going to get through all the ones that I want to read anyway.  In spite of that, I have re-read Sometimes a Great Notion several times over the years. It is so richly written, and I get more out of it every time.  The way that the scenes melt into each other is so interesting.

Sometimes a Great Notion would probably still be a good book if it was written in a more linear format, but the structure makes it so fascinating to me. Rick Dodgson talked about the process that Kesey went through when he wrote the book.  It was intense.  He had some sort of notated flowchart pinned up on the walls of the room where he worked. I really can’t imagine writing something with such a complicated structure.  Especially on a typewriter.  I mean, he was literally cutting and pasting sections together.  With scissors and tape, no CTRL X for him.  It’s no wonder that he didn’t write anything after it for a very long time.

As much as I love books, I try very hard to purge my hoard semi-regularly. Every so often I regret that I got rid of something like my collection of Larry McMurtry books, but in general, I try to only hang onto certain books (vintage etiquette books and dance histories are two big categories that get a pass).  For some reason, Sometimes a Great Notion has survived every book purge in the past 25 years.  After reading The Young Ken Kesey, I think that it is probably about time to dig it out and put it back on the “to read”pile.

3 Replies to “Sometimes Ken Kesey”

  1. I never read any Kesey but I did really enjoy reading Great Expectations. It was one of the few assigned books from high school that I actually read the whole thing. Maybe I will add Sometimes a Grwat Notion and some Kesey to my list.

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