Today is my dad’s 60th birthday. I’m not sure if Nigel Beale knows that fact, but today he posted a long interview with dad about his once-immense, and still substantial, Jack Kerouac collection. You can listen to the interview here.
My life mirrors my dad’s in innumerable ways. I can trace my pursuit of a PhD in English Literature to a summer spent reading through the core of the main component of his Kerouac Collection. I was in my first summer of traffic counting for the City of Ottawa, a job that my dad (and mom) had done decades earlier. On a two year break from grad school, I worked at the wonderful Octopus Books, where my dad was still working at the time. I regularly contact booksellers outside of Ottawa who still know and remember my dad (on more than one occasion I’ve received the “Rod Anstee” discount). I could go on.
The Kerouac Collection was a force in our household while I was growing up. The sheer scale of it dominated different rooms in the house at different times. I have vivid memories of moving parts of it as the house evolved. People visited (and sometimes stayed) to examine the collection. George Bowering. Gerald Nicosia. Jim Christy was a regular visitor. Carolyn Cassady spent a few days with us. Dad wrote and published an annotated bibliography of bootleg Kerouac material with Water Row that can still be found online. When I see a book about Kerouac in a store in Ottawa, I often recognize it as a piece from the collection that was sold off at some point. As I read further into the collection, Dad revealed different parts that weren’t on shelves, that were tucked away in closets and boxes and storage. I saw a lot of it growing up, but have no real sense of how extensive it was at its peak.
Bookstores were visited weekly. Dad spent innumerable hours driving me to and from soccer practices, games, tournaments, and everything else that went along with the sport. If there was a bookstore near a field, we stopped before or after. I certainly didn’t appreciate it at the time, but dad passes me books now that I have no doubt were picked up on these trips and it amazes me to think of the paths of those books to my shelves today. Books were inescapable in the house, and I appreciate that today more than ever. Reading was encouraged and supported, but never forced on me or my sisters. I was aware of the Kerouac Collection, and in some vague way of the importance of the collection, but I approached the books finally on my own time.
Pictured below is the first copy of On the Road I read. Not the finest copy in the collection, haha, but I still have it (I’m certain that I did in the spine, dad wouldn’t have allowed that to happen). Next to it is a third printing of the first edition that dad trusted me with later.
The collection, and all of the books in our house, nurtured a respect for books as literature and as objects. Moving the books between shelves and floors, and being trusted to do so, let me handle hundreds and thousands of beautiful books in excellent condition. My partner Jenn mocks the way I read books today, saying that you can’t even tell a book has been opened after I’ve read through it.
The Kerouac is not as central as it once was. Dad has moved on to other interests, but he pursues them with the same passion. The focus, the knowledge, the dedication, and the respect that Dad brings to these pursuits continues to amaze and inspire me. I don’t have the words to thank Dad for all of this, and an awful lot more in my life. I don’t have to look very far for a model to aspire to.
If you’ve got (or had) an interest in Kerouac, or book collecting, please give the interview a listen and glimpse of bit of what I am lucky enough to have access to in my dad.
I spent a while going through childhood photos this morning, but couldn’t find many with Dad in the photo. Of course, he was behind the camera. There are two below. One, dad celebrating a birthday of mine. The second, Dad in our backyard on Cahill. Can you see the resemblance?
Happy 60th Birthday, Dad!