Enter The New York Times' John Leland, who doesn't attempt to defend the book so much as outline what Kerouac actually meant. Unfortunately, Leland tells most everyone who loves On the Road that their readings are wrong. Leland's Kerouac-er-than-thou attitude is devastatingly off-putting. Describing Kerouac's first-person narrator, Sal Paradise, Leland rants, "So Sal is a doting nephew and an aspiring hubby. Deal with it."
Lectures with a reprimanding tone might be tolerable if his points weren't so awkwardly forced. Leland repeatedly attempts to align Kerouac with the hip-hop generation, seemingly to spite the masses who "mistakenly" see On the Road as a precursor to hippies and rock 'n' roll (this despite the fact that Kerouac was one of the biggest influences on Bob Dylan).
Nonetheless, few have written such a well-researched book on Kerouac, and his continuous citations allow Kerouac to speak of his book in his own words. Likewise, perhaps never has the element of jazz, both Kerouac's fascination with and use of, been so eloquently observed as in Leland's expansive chapter on the theme. But by this point, most fans of On the Road, whom Leland seems to have forgotten would be the only ones interested in his book, have likely checked out.
So when the sun goes down on the 50th anniversary, what meaning is left to gather from Kerouac's work? To those (this writer included) whose worldview was molded, their personal creed outlined, their vision sparked by Kerouac's sympathy, tenderness and passion, is there anything besides high-brow lectures and $500 boots? As with On the Road's release, the only true response is to hold everything the world hands us about the book at arm's length and to find the meaning for ourselves.