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Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me (1966)

by Richard Fariña

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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9641718,710 (3.65)20
A witty, psychedelic, and telling novel of the 1960s Richard Fariña evokes the Sixties as precisely, wittily, and poignantly as F. Scott Fitzgerald captured the Jazz Age. The hero, Gnossus Pappadopoulis, weaves his way through the psychedelic landscape, encountering-among other things-mescaline, women, art, gluttony, falsehood, science, prayer, and, occasionally, truth. For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.… (more)
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» See also 20 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
Which is better? To know more about the author than his work or vice versa, especially when starting to read his debut novel? I had just finished reading a biography that included Farina and it seemed like a natural progression to dive into his novel. But before I began I questioned, was this a good idea? What if my reading and interpretation would be skewed by knowing Farina's life more intimately than not? Pynchon admits Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me is transparently autobiographical. Gnossos Pappadopoulis ("the G is silent") is Richard Farina in more ways than probably the author intended. Art imitates life in this case. There is a collision of blood with the manic boo to make everything a little more celestial in its demise.
In addition to being autobiographical, Been Down So Long is a tribute to the culture of the late 1950s. Drugs, relationships, music, college, sex, religion, all show up and parade past the reader waving their colors of glory. Amidst the electric blue imagery seethes black comedy. There is a jaunty style of half lying that simply cannot be believed. Buzzy. I am sure with all the farmland there are plenty of rainbows and you should not forget about the umbro horrors rocks in the roots that fall down like marshmallows in cloudlike wisps. Gnossos, like Farina, was the king of tall tales, as he says "ovarian doom waiting to be fertilized" (p 12). ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jun 28, 2022 |
Most likely few people, perhaps militant fans of mid-tier 60s folk, will come at this book from any other direction than from the Thomas Pynchon connection, like I did. Pynchon's Introduction to my copy has a lot of interesting things to say about the background behind the novel - the inspirations for the characters, Fariña's storytelling abilities, how stultifying life during the mid-50s was - but whether it's due to his sentimental memories, its similarities to his own early work, or perhaps some ability to see things in the book I can't, he rates the book much more highly than I do ("like the Hallelujah Chorus done by 200 kazoo players with perfect pitch", in his infamous phrase).

It's at heart one of those books that's almost more a reaction to the artistic conformity of the 50s than it is a work of its own. The plot is a mix of the kind of cheerful antisocial hooliganism of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas and Animal House, while the writing style is more reminiscent of contemporaries like Ken Kesey or Jack Kerouac; think fast, irreverent, funny, loose, filled with drinking and drugs and friends breaking rules. There's a lot of overlap with the Whole Sick Crew from Pynchon's V. So much of the book is obviously based on Fariña's personal life, like the setting, the characters, the stories like the wolf one, and probably the dialogue, that it comes off like he took "write what you know" extremely literally. The Gnossos Pappadopoulis is not completely a Mary Sue protagonist, but his overwhelming coolness - like the climactic rally scene where Gnossos is adulated for seemingly no reason at all - says perhaps more than was intended about the author's self-image. I'm willing to believe Pynchon that Fariña was a better person than his hero, however there are a few scenes in the book, such as the resolution with the Kristin character, that are repulsive and not in a good way (then again, the same is true of Pynchon's books as well).

Another reason why the book seems a bit lighter than, say, one of Pynchon's novel's from that period, is that the novel isn't really about much. Gnossos doesn't grow or change much; his self-image of Exemption from the nastier sides of life come off as much more juvenile or adolescent than McClintic Sphere's "keep cool but care" mantra from V. Also, though there's tons of drug use in the book, there isn't the same fascination with druggy/nerdy ideas that his friend had; compare the scene with L'Hôpital's Rule here to the brilliant band-pass filter scene of Kilroy in V. In terms of writing style, there are many sentences with lists like in V., but they don't have the same kind of ring to them even though both authors have an affinity for the same Miles Davis and Mose Allison tunes that permeate their respective atmospheres. I don't mean to compare the two novels or writers so much, yet they are so nearly similar in so many ways that it's almost unavoidable - there's even a fun raga instrumental called "V." on one of Fariña's folk albums.

Ultimately, Been Down So Long It Seems Like Up to Me comes off like a fascinating alternate take or set of demos from a band that was in the same scene as a more famous group yet whose career never took off in the same way. Fariña's tragic death obviously affected Pynchon deeply, and maybe that's why his books published after the accident do treat death and mortality a little more seriously than Fariña's does. I'm not sure the famous writing advice that dealing with death is required to be a "serious" writer is really true since there's no one way to write a novel, but this one seems to lack something that would put it in the first tier of novels from the time. Maybe if he'd lived this book would be seen as the beginning of something great instead of the merely acceptable half-forgotten relic it is now. Still, it is filled with the kind of exuberance that's moving at times and delivers its own brand of enjoyment, so if you've sworn an oath to track down every piece of literature connected to Pynchon, like I have, then this is a decent stop after Oakley Hall's Warlock. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
This book SUCKED! it made me so ANGRY! So contrived, so solipsistic, so self-conscious and BORING! What a try-hard! Do not read this!! ( )
  uncleflannery | May 16, 2020 |
Sex and drugs but no rock n' roll. Pretty dated, the humor especially -- presuming the sexual assault with the heroin suppository shoved up the ass was intended to be funny? Which might most charitable interpretation of that scene. ( )
  encephalical | May 12, 2019 |
“Other cats seek revenge, come after me in the night, smell the gland in my antic hoof. You killed our brother. Die, infidel.”

Counter-cultural paragon? Certainly. Experimental and drug-infused (one would suspect) prose? Of course. Funny? Yes. Exaggerated Dickensian character names? Check. Outlandish events somehow still cutting too close into reality’s flesh? Well, yeah, otherwise it would’ve gone out of print long ago. Scooped from the same amniotic stew as Pynchon’s best early work, and yet a voice all its own. Singing, in fact. Self-aware and ugly and unafraid to perch its protagonist perilously on the ledge of an old brick building. Gnossos takes advantage of women, abuses hallucinogens, vandalizes private property, shits his pants, goes to Cuba and hangs out with revolutionaries. And yet his wit and insight and undying fidelity to his inner soul absolves him just enough to put him squarely into Purgatory—awaiting judgement while popping mushrooms and making the whole shadowy vault echo with laughter. How could a god not invite him on up the stairs to Paradise?

The title says it all, but you’d have to read the book to get it. Sure, he’s down as in “down and out”. A rover. A vagabond. And yeah, he’s down with what’s cool, dig? Like smoking pot and riding the wake from the mini-disaster he’d created. But, more importantly, he’s down as “dead”; a string of stories of his death in various parts of the globe precedes his arrival at Mentor University. The report of his death was an exaggeration . . . I think Twain would’ve loved this character. Ultimately, however, it’s “up to” him to pull himself from the depths. Man, I get it. Mr. Fariña died too soon. He had heights of greatness yet to scale and dance along the loose-bricked edge.

And Thomas Pynchon’s introduction? Holy Hell, it’s nearly as good as the novel.

“The immortality worm has been chewing.”
“What if it has?”
“Try chewing back.” ( )
  ToddSherman | Aug 5, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Fariña, RichardAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pynchon, ThomasIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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This one is for MIMI
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A witty, psychedelic, and telling novel of the 1960s Richard Fariña evokes the Sixties as precisely, wittily, and poignantly as F. Scott Fitzgerald captured the Jazz Age. The hero, Gnossus Pappadopoulis, weaves his way through the psychedelic landscape, encountering-among other things-mescaline, women, art, gluttony, falsehood, science, prayer, and, occasionally, truth. For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

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