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A Jack Kerouac romnibus

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I wrote the book because we’re all gonna die,” reads author Jack Kerouac as talk-show host Steve Allen and his combo noodle jazz riffs in the background. With an appropriately ironic fillip, that 1958 video clip opens A Jack Kerouac Romnibus (Penguin Electronic, CD-ROM for Mac and Windows, $49.95), a rich wallow in Beat-ology.

The disc’s centerpiece is the entire text of Kerouac’s novel The Dharma Bums, thoroughly cross-referenced with maps, film footage, aural snippets of Charlie Parker performances — the works. There’s also a gallery of the author’s paintings, readings from other novels, a wealth of moody black-and-white photos (taken by the likes of Allen Ginsberg and Carolyn Cassady), and an essay on the Beats by Ann Charters. Perhaps the most illuminating section is the archive of handwritten materials, running from Kerouac’s diary entries to his recipe for ice cream, and including this sad note from his final years: ”I do nothing but drink and think….”

The only thing keeping the ROMnibus from being a true omnibus is the inexplicable omission of his best-known work, On the Road. Still, at a time when everybody from movie stars to paperboys is sporting a goatee and shades, it’s nice to hear from the original Daddy-o. B