March 9, 2005

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The Beat Face of God: The Beat Generation Writers as Spirit Guides, by Steve Edington (Trafford Publishing, 2005, 146 pages)

Steve Edington, minister of Nashua’s Unitarian Universalist Church, has made a specialty of studying Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and other American writers who emerged as the Beat Generation in years following World War II. An earlier work, Kerouac’s Nashua Connection (1999), traced the kingpin Beat author’s many Gate City connections. For this new volume, Edington broadens his scope to cover the spiritual aspects of the whole range of Beat authors, which is a lot more ground.

It’s a worthy topic, especially for those of us whose main image of the Beat generation continues to be Maynard G. Krebs, the goatee-wearing “beatnik” character played by Bob Denver on the old Dobie Gillis television series. The Beat writers were a lot more than beards and bongos, and Edington’s book provides a fresh perspective on their books and poetry, with an emphasis on the spiritual beliefs and societal context from which the writings sprung.

The resulting book is a beguiling mix of social history, literary analysis and personal commentary, all aimed at exploring how the Beat generation writers came together and why their accomplishments matter. Just as he guides visitors to Kerouac sites in Nashua and Lowell, Mass., Edington leads readers through the lives and work of such Beat writers as William S. Burroughs and Lawrence Ferlinghetti with the passion of an enthusiast and the knowledge of an expert.

But Edington is no star-crossed cheerleader. He acknowledges the weaknesses of Beat generation writers, in both their lives and their art, which lends to book credibility. He also explores what connects with him personally and what doesn’t, which grounds the book in reality rather than dry scholarship. It’s a technique the Beat writers themselves probably would have appreciated. The book’s only real flaw is a number of typos that somehow made it through the production process.

Edington is at his most compelling in explaining how the Beat writers matter today. In an age of dehumanizing conformity and relentless change, how can one preserve a sense of self? The Beats had answers for their own times, and Edington makes a good case for how those answers remain pretty good today or in any age. Reading The Beat Face of God makes you want to fish out that old college-era paperback copy of Kerouac’s classic On the Road and take a fresh look at it.

If that was one of Edington’s aims in writing the book, he succeeded with flying colors, man. A-
— Jeff Rapsis

Author Steve Edington will appear at the Toadstool Bookshop, Lorden Plaza, Route 101A in Milford on Friday, March 10, at 7 p.m. for a book signing and discussion of his new book, The Beat Face of God.