Book Review: The Road by Jack London

I picked up The Road by Jack London without having any idea what it was about. I just knew that I’d read several of his novels before and liked them. While searching for free ebooks of classics, I came across it and added it to my Kindle library. Many months passed while I read other things until I eventually sat down and settled on reading The Road.

For a little context, I do this often. I actually have about twenty books (that are not samples) on my Kindle that I’ve not yet read entirely. Some, I’ve never even downloaded—they’re just in my cloud until I decide I’m in the mood for them. Others, I’ve started but put down for one reason or another—like Les Mis, which I read for days and days, but it still showed I was only 1% through the book and had dozens of hours of reading left. Yet others still, are “Complete Works” books of which I’ve only read selective stories. The exception to the latter is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I have two different “Complete Works” books of Sherlock stories, both of which contain different tales, and both of which I’ve read in their entirety.

So…back to Jack London.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the book was about being a hobo in the late 1800’s. Wicked cool. It’s full of all sorts of crazy slang that was so old, I bet my late grandparents wouldn’t have even known what a “monica” was, or what it meant to “throw one’s feet.” But, just so you know, a monica was just how they said moniker. To throw your feet was to go door-to-door in a town, begging for food and money before the next train rolled out.

It took me quite a while into the book to realize that this was autobiographical! I was blown away! Jack London, one of the greatest American authors to come out of the early twentieth century, used to be a bum! A hobo! A tramp that rode the rails, telling lies to beg for his dinner! Jack London used to be known as Sailor Jack, and he was a “blowed-in-the-glass profesh.” Why did I never learn about this in school?!? How is it that I’m 35 and just now hearing about this? It’s so fucking cool!

Jack bounces around in his tale. He starts in the middle, then he falls back to the beginning. He never really does quite tell the end. He tells us about a time that could’ve been the end, but it’s not quite definitive. He does tell us about after the end, though. He tells us about how even once he was in college, long done with the hobo life, he still had an instinctual urge to run from police when he saw those brass buttons. For the rest of his life, he says he’ll run from “bulls” because of the beatings he got from the law as a tramp.

All throughout the book, he freely uses the slang of that life to describe that life. Sometimes, he gives good, long explanations of what these words mean the first time they’re printed. Other times, he gives no explanation at all, but lets you figure it out by context. There are still other times where he’ll use a word or phrase many times before he finally explains what it means. So, in that way the book is a little rough. I can understand why many modern readers wouldn’t want to drudge through its dense language and unfamiliar terms. But, I like it when things are a bit difficult, so this was a good book for me.

There are some classics I can’t get into, yet so many others seem to love them. I’ve started Wuthering Heights three times and, while I get a bit further each time, I just can’t seem to get even a quarter of the way through it, let alone finish it. Les Mis? Back in January, I started it for the second time, but inevitably gave up.

Other classics, I totally get why they’re so popular. I read Jane Eyre twice in a row because I loved it so much the first time I read it. I’ve read The Scarlet Letter half a dozen times. White Fang was my most read classic as a child and I doubt I’ve read it less than a dozen times. I’ve probably read Oliver Twist four or five times. And now The Road by Jack London will join my list of classics that I’ll read again and again.