It’s not every day that you get a chance to peek at a reading syllabus of sorts from one of the great American authors of the 20th century. In 1940, a young Jack Kerouac (then 18) scrawled a reading list on a piece of notebook paper. The titles included span eras and cultures, from the Bible to James Joyce, and offer a rare glimpse at the works of literature that were molding his teenage mind. 

In two years' time, Kerouac—who was born on this day in 1922—would join the United States Merchant Marines and then the Navy, where he’d write his first novel, The Sea Is My Brother—a work he later described as a “crock [of s--t] as literature.” We all have to start somewhere.


1. Indian Scripture
2. Chinese [Scriptures]
3. Old and New Testament
4. Gibbon and Plutarch
5. Homer (again)
6. Shakespeare (again)
7. Wolfe (always)

“Finnegan’s Wake”
“Outline of History” (again)
Thoreau and Emerson ([again])
Joseph Conrad
Proust’s “Remembrance”
Dante (again)

[h/t Bibliophilia]

This article originally appeared in 2015.