1. Big Sur by Jack Kerouac
One of the most recognisable literary adventures inspired by the Big Sur. This book can be polarising, following the story of addiction through protagonist Jack Duluoz (also Kerouac’s alter-ego) painfully soul searching, and eventually finding enlightenment.
Like all of Jack Kerouac novels there is an undeniable magnetism, exploring a push and pull between desire and ultimate happiness through his go between of the city of San Francisco and the canyons of Big Sur – Kerouac ultimately walks the line between a veneer of happiness and facing his true self.
In the end, even though hundreds of pages of hallucinogenic ranting pull us into the darkness, his breakdown, ultimately surprising us. The desperation of his character continues to mimic in the terrifying depictions of treacherous, often ominous scenery of the Big Sur landscape; however, in the end Kerouac finds the warmth of Big Sur and states:
“I sit there in the hot sun and close my eyes: and there’s the golden swarming peace of Heaven in my eyelid”
The most beautiful ending highlighting the duality of the beauty and despair of life.
2. Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch by Henry Miller
An infectious read. Published in 1957, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, although fiction, is a memoir of Henry’s Miller’s life in Big Sur. One of 20th Centuries most provocative writers, Henry Miller was known for breaking literary conventions, blending actual life and the imagination so seamlessly you could barely tell them apart.
Oranges and depictions of fruit, beaming warm sun rays, symbolise the delight of the paradise that is California, but also a paradise that he eventually finds within himself. A perfect story of the exciting and colourful life in California, with a touch of seriousness. Henry Miller adored the Californian life, it is after all, in California where he took up painting. It’s no wonder, with endless muses, from the free-spirited, idyllist types of people who made their way to the state from all around the country, all the way to the energetic landscapes and bold developing culture.
3. Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck, a California native; writes a modern adaptation of Arthur and his colourful band of knights, set in the Monterey town of Tortilla Flat. He tells a story of Danny, a paisano, descended from the original Spanish settlers who lived in an inherited house, eventually becoming a gathering place for six men who are loveable thieves and adulterers. Eventually it becomes obvious that camaraderie and adventure are more valuable to the characters than money and possessions. Danny eventually goes missing, looking for his miss-spent youth.
4. The Rum Diary by Hunter S Thompson
Thompson was a roamer who took inspiration from the places he travelled. Known as the “great Puerto Rican novel’ The Rum Diary was mostly written in Big Sur when Thompson came to find fellow novelist Henry Miller and his apparent “sex-cult”. Thompson never found Henry Miller, nor finished the novel, however he did publish an article, “Big Sur: The Topic of Henry Miller” which appeared in the October, 1961 edition of Rogue magazine.
The Rum Diary is written in Thompson’s very abrupt and distinct narrative style of stream of consciousness delivering cold hard truth, and an almost art-imitates life type subject matter, that makes for edge of your seat reading. A novel all about the adventure of a young journalist named Paul Kemp who leaves New York for Puerto Rico to pursue a career as a sports journalist, much like Thompson.
If you don’t feel like reading this novel, opt for the film adaptation starring Johnny Depp. Perfect for a plane ride.
6. Big Sur Trilogy by Lillian Bos Ross
This is for the lovers of Historical fiction who have some extra time on their hands.
Spanning over 100 years Big Sur Trilogy explores the life and rugged individualism of America’s last pioneer family.
Author Lillian Bos Ross was inspired by the land’s beauty when she backpacked into Big Sur in the summer of 1923 with her husband, finally settling in a homestead house in 1939.
Lillian was a bookseller and part of a bohemian writer’s group, while also writing for local publications.
During her time, she observed the pioneer spirit as well as detailed the remote wilderness that pioneers met on their travels. The terrain was mostly only accessible by foot, mule, or horseback until 1870 when a wagon road was built to get past the steep canyons and dangerous mountain ranges which plunged into the ocean.
In 1937 Highway 1 opened, after 18 years of construction, eventually becoming a gateway for American motor culture.