Farina, Richard. Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. Penguin Classic, 1996.
Reason read: I just finished the biographies of Farina, Baez, and Dylan. This seemed like the natural choice for the next book to read.
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).
Quotes to quote, “Wise mother, though, hanging on in Athene, existence through academic osmosis, eluding the asphalt seas outside” (p 106). Amen. Another, “In the cobalt night he dreamed of disaster to come and cursed her sweetly into the sulfur cauldrons of hell” (p 233). Sure. Last one, “The loose beads of perception seemed to be falling through a hole in the tangible surface of the world and spilling all over the four-dimensional floor” (p 303). My favorite.
Author fact: Farina died in a motorcycle accident two days after the publication of Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me.
Book trivia: Thomas Pynchon wrote the introduction to Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me.
Playlist: Harry Belafonte, Corelli, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis (the best of all the jazz cats), Peter Yarrow, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Buddy Holly, Leadbelly, Mose Allison, Weill and Breck, and of course Mimi Baez. “Peggy Sue” and “Silent Night”.
Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me because he is the subject of a memoir from the 1960s. Been Down So Long… shouldn’t be in More Book Lust (or at least the chapter on the 1960s).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The 1960s In Fact and Fiction” (p 178).
Perry, Paul. On the Bus: the complete guide to the legendary trip of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters and the birth of the counterculture. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1990.
Reason read: Allen Ginsberg’s birthday is in June. He was not a bus rider with the Merry Pranksters, but he was on the scene and subsequently interviewed for the book. Additionally, the famed bus trip started on June 14th, 1964.
Written in 1990, twenty-five years after the famed Kool-aid acid trips, Paul Perry pulls together interviews from the most influential mindbenders of the day: Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Ram Dass, and of course, Neal Cassady…to name a few. They look back on the time when a total of thirteen free spirits (fourteen, if you count the teenaged neighbor) called themselves the Merry Pranksters, boarded a psychedelically painted school bus, and hit the road in search of the ultimate trip. What started as acid parties in Neal Cassady’s San Francisco home soon became experimentations on the road in the converted bus they christened, “Furthur.” Traveling through Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, New York, and Calgary before heading home to Big Sur, California, they conducted their LSD tests, made new friends, connected with musicians like Wavy Gravy and Jerry Garcia, and rode the wave of the psychedelic revolution. By the time the Merry Pranksters got home they were never the same again.
What I am constantly wondering about is how much of the tapes and recordings of the trip survived?
Line to linger over, “Arvin Brown, who drank several [cupfuls] of the green stuff, tells me what he didn’t recover full consciousness for 24 hours” (29). Good times. Here are a few more, “Mercy and goodness were swallowed by cannons and bombs” (p 84), “I live in a world where there is no error, so that is what was meant to happen” (p 102). Last one, “Speed was the thing keeping him awake” (p 190).
Author fact: Paul Perry was once the editor of a running magazine. Cool.
Book trivia: my copy of On the Bus was so weird. There wasn’t any publishing information anywhere within the book. I could only find the last name of the author on the spine and I needed to look at the marc record from the library I borrow the book to find more information.
Playlist: “Love Portion Number Nine,” Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, Jefferson Airplane, Wavy Gravy, Country Joe and the Fish, Rolling Stones, “Turn on Your Love Light,” and “The Flower.”
Nancy said: Pearl included On the Bus in a list of books she said “no discussion of books about the 1960s would be complete without” (More Book Lust p 179).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The 1960s in Fact and Fiction” (p 178).
Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: a Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. New York: Vintage, 1998.
Reason read: my cousin, Duane, lived and died in Vegas.
There isn’t much of a plot to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Raol Duke, aka Hunter Thompson, and his Samoan lawyer, Dr. Gonzo, travel to Las Vegas to cover a strange motorcycle race, but the real fun starts when they are asked to infiltrate a National District Attorney’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Oh, the irony as the two men are out of their minds in a drug-induced haze
most all of the time. Crashing cars, trashing hotels rooms, scamming their way out of restaurant checks, and all out hallucinations…this is just the beginning for the pair.
The title of the book comes from a description of Las Vegas, “bad waves of paranoia, madness, fear and loathing – intolerable vibrations in this place” (p 72).
As an aside, Fear and Loathing made me want to look up Kesey’s Bible, The Far Side of Reality to see if it really exists. I only knew of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Another aside about the bars of clear Neutrogena soap. I used to use that specific soap all the time. I can picture the smell perfectly. How bizarre.
Quotes to quote, “Las Vegas is not the kind of town where you want to drive down main street aiming a black bazooka instrument at people” (29) and “The idea of entering a coffee shop without a newspaper in my hands made me nervous” (p 124).
If I had a dollar for every time a drug was mentioned in Fear and Loathing… I could buy myself an entire wardrobe from Title 9. I decided it would be fun to catalog them all:
- Chivas Regal
- Nitrous Oxide
Author fact: Thompson really was a journalist.
Book trivia: Everyone and their brother knows Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was made into a movie starring Johnny Depp (perfect casting, I might add). If you know anything about me you also know I haven’t seen this masterpiece. Here is a piece of trivia more centered on the book. Fear and Loathing… was dedicated to Bob Dylan for his song “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man.”
Nancy said: Pearl said Fear and Loathing was a “drug hazed account of adventures in the city” (Book Lust To Go p 128). She also liked the opening sentence.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the very obvious and simple chapter called “Las Vegas” (p 128). Also, from More Book Lust in the more interesting chapter called ” Lines That Linger, Sentences That Stick” (p 140).
McInerney, Jay. Bright Nights, Big City. New York: Vintage Books, 1984
Reason read: New York became a state in the month of July. I am also reading this for the Portland Public Library reading challenge for the category of novel written in second person.
While reading Bright Nights, Big City you want to call its protagonist a sucker. On the mean streets of New York City he buys fake Rolex watches, falls for fake schemes, follows around false friends, and believes a model could fake loving him enough to stay married until death do them part. You want to call this guy a loser because you know there isn’t a happy ending for him. There can’t be. Drugs constantly addle his mind and he never sleeps enough. His spiral becomes out of control when he loses his fact checking job for a publication, he loses his freak friends, and nearly loses his mind. What he doesn’t realize is that he has a lot to mourn. He had wanted to be a writer. He wanted to be married to a hot girl. He wanted his mother to survive cancer. He is literally drowning his deep seeded in a tsunami of cocaine and bright lights. The end comes when rock bottom is met and our friend has to have an awakening of sorts.
Author fact: McInerney also wrote the screenplay for the movie of the same name.
Book trivia: Bright Nights, Big City was made into a movie starring Michael J. Fox in 1988. You can tell I haven’t seen it because I kept getting it confused with the movie starring Robert Downey, Jr., Less Than Zero.
Nancy said: Pearl called Bright Nights, Big City a “wonderful” novel.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “New York, New York” (p 170).
Simon, David and Edward Burns. The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. New York: Broadway Books, 1997.
Reason read: Maryland become a state in April.
The Corner is very similar to Simon’s other best selling book, Homicide: a Year on the Killing Streets. As a freelance writer he has been allowed access to the darkest and grittiest corners of West Baltimore. With Edward Burns as coauthor, Simon takes the reader on a cruel and complicated journey. Together they illustrate what junkies will and won’t do to score the next hit or blast; what crimes or capers they will commit or won’t…because even full blown addicts have their limits. West Baltimore is a shooting gallery where the drug war rearranges police priorities. It’s a harsh reality. The operative word is “real” because even though the plot line reads like a movie and the people you meet could be actors, they are all real. As readers, you get to know people and care about them. Be forewarned. It’s no fairy tale. It grips you as only a never ending nightmare could.
Quotes I need to repeat, “The corner is rooted in human desire – crude and certain and immediate” (p 57), and a couple of pages later, “For those of us riding the wave, the world spins on an axis of technological prowess in an orbit of ever-expanding information” (p 59). Here are two more, “Even heroine no longer suffices to obscure the daily insult that her life has become” (p 179), and “He knows what he likes and to some extent, he knows how to get what he likes, if God is in the details, when DeAndre’s view of the sexual world is decidedly agnostic” (p 225).
Author(s) fact: David Simon writes for the show “The Wire” and Edward Burns was a cop turned teacher.
Book trivia: The Corner has a few photographs of some of the main characters.
Nancy said: Nancy said she couldn’t go to Baltimore without first watching The Wire which was based on The Corner (p 34).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called simply “Baltimore” (p 34).
McKinney-Whetstone, Diane. Blues Dancing: a Novel. New York: William Morrow and Co, Inc. 1999.
We had a long weekend to laze around and do nothing so I decided to spend part of that time lazing around with a really easy book to read. Indeed, I read it over the course of three days.
To say that the plot of Blues Dancing simple doesn’t do McKinney-Whetstone’s novel justice. The plot is pretty straightforward but the substance of it is, at times, difficult to read. At the center of the story is Verdi. We bounce between her naive life as a young college student and, twenty years later, her adult life as a professional in the field of education. Young Verdi is dating Johnson. Mature Verdi is dating Rowe. Johnson is a college student one year her senior while Rowe is a college professor twenty years older…guess where they met? Throughout the plot Verdi’s over-the-top, willing to do anything passion for Johnson is revealed and her reasons for being with stoic, stodgy, stick-in-the-mud Rowe twenty years later are at best, murky. It isn’t until the past and present collide that it all makes sense. Along the journey we learn that Johnson introduced Verdi to heroin and being so eager to love Johnson allowed Verdi to love the drug even more. Rowe’s presence during this time is shadowy, progressively coming more into focus.
Author Fact: Diane McKinney-Whetstone won the American Library Association’s Black Caucus Award for Fiction twice, once in 2005 and again in 2009.
Book Trivia: There was a lot of music in Blues Dancing (beyond the title of the book). Artists like Johnny Hartman, Louis Armstrong, Roberta Flack, The Temptations, and Sarah Vaughn perform within the pages.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “African American: She say” (p 12).
Lauren, Jillian. Pretty: a Novel. New York: Plume, 2011.
This is another one of those can’t-put-down books that I read in just seven hours time (on a car ride from Jamestown, New York to Western MA). I was mesmerized by the characters, the story, everything. Beth “Bebe” Baker has just lost her boyfriend in a horrific accident. Disfigured from crawling over broken glass and deeply dependent on drugs she enters a halfway house to find sobriety and a sense of self. There, and at the cosmetology school, she meets a cast of misfit characters who take her under their own broken wings. It’s a troubling tale of coming to terms with not just the past, but the unknown future as well.
Before reading Pretty I had just finished reading Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts and I think I had that storyline running through my head because I found a few similarities where there shouldn’t have been. Letts’s character, Novalee Nation, shares many personality traits and similar experiences with Lauren’s character, Beth “Bebe” Baker. Both are young woman essentially far from home and practically homeless (Novalee lives in a Wal-Mart and Bebe lives in a rehab halfway house). Less than scrupulous men abandon both women. Both women deal with pregnancy. Both women adopt creatives outlets as a coping mechanism and a means of escape (Novalee takes up photography while Bebe studies cosmetology). Both women search for salvation in the arms of a quirky community of misfits. Both experience the return of lovers and learn to let go.
But for all that, this is where the similarities end. Lauren’s style of writing in Pretty is raw, gritty, real. While the title of the book is Pretty Bebe is someone who isn’t always pretty. She has her moments of displaying downright ugly. This characteristic just makes her all the more human. One example of this reality is the wearing down of her resolve to stay away from someone less than good for her. This man is a connection to her drug addled past and Bebe knows that in order to remain sober she needs refuse all contact with him. She does well to ignore his phone calls until the rest of her life starts to unravel and she weakens…but isn’t that always the way?
This is a quick read…but that’s a good thing because that only means you’ll have time to start at page one and read it all over again.
Barry, Lynda. Cruddy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.
From the very first pages you want to know what this Cruddy book is all about. First, you are introduced to sixteen year old Roberta Rohbeson via her bizarre suicide note. Then, hoping to shed some light on the situation, you read chapter one which is only seven sentences long which says nothing about anything. Then you encounter chapter two and read the word “Cruddy” nineteen times in the first paragraph. Funky, funky, funky was all I could say. I was not prepared for what happened next. Little did I know I would end up saying sick, sick, sick by the end of the book.
Cruddy is told from the perspective of Roberta Rohbeson at two different times in her life; as an eleven year old troubled little girl and as a sixteen year old angry teenager. Her story is tough and tragic and tinged with terrible humor. As an eleven year old she is thrust into the raging, alcohol-blurred world of her father who refuses to see her as his daughter. Instead, Roberta is not only his son, called Clyde, but his accomplice. When he discovers her in the backseat of his getaway car he takes her on a murderous journey across the desert fueled by hatred for his suicide-dead father who left him nothing.
As a sixteen year old Roberta is strung out on drugs and driven by abandonment. She befriends a group of outcast suicidal drug dealers who do nothing but fuel her craziness. One boy in particular, Turtle, gets Roberta to tell her sad tale.
This was a book I found myself wondering about long after I put it down. Was Roberta modeled after anyone Lynda knew? Where did she come up with such a violent, messed up plot? What was the acceptable age range for this book? Would parents cringe if they knew their kid was reading this under the covers late at night?
Lines that got me: Roberta’s father’s motto: “Expect the Unexpected and whenever possible BE the Unexpected!” (p 142), “He was explaining how perfect it would be because he could kill me right in the concrete ditch itself and when the water came it would gush me and all the evidence away” (p 163), and my personal favorite, “There is a certain spreading blankness that covers the mind after you kill someone” (p 273).
Author Fact: Lynda Barry was born on January 2nd, 1956 and is a cartoonist (among many other things).
Book Trivia: This was called a novel in illustration but only the start of each chapter has an illustration (creepy illustration).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lustand More Book Lust . From Book Lust in the chapter called “Graphic Novels” (p 104), even though Cruddy isn’t a graphic novel. Also in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Teenage Times” (p 217). What Pearl should have called the category for this book was “Fukced up Teenage Times.”
Book Lust trivia – Lynda Barry and Cruddy were not mentioned in the index to Book Lust. In fact, only One! Hundred! Demons! made it into Book Lust’s index.
Matloff, Judith. Home Girl: Building a Dream House on a Lawless Block. New York: Random House, 2008.
I could not put this book down. From start to finish it had me looking to answer that What Happened Next? question.
Matloff trades in one adventurous life (as a foreign correspondent) for another (home owner and wife in New York City). The exchange seems benign until the reader (and Matloff herself) realizes the Victorian she is buying is decrepit; in need of repair in every possible way, the new neighborhood is a one of the biggest drug zones in the country, and on a daily basis she must protect her property from the addicts who have called it home. If that wasn’t enough, Matloffmust walk a fine line of graceful respect and distance with the dealers on the street while becoming a mother, a crime fighter and witness to the tragedies of September 11th. Throughout it all, Matloff remains humbled and humorous.
Other observations: The picture on the inside cover indicates the title would have been Home Girl: Building a Dream Home in a Drug Zone. Not sure what I think about that.
I hope they keep the author’s note. Matloff’s sentiment about wishing the events weren’t true really intrigued me…really made me want to read the book.
Of course, there were quotes I absolutely loved, but I’ll keep them to myself until the book is published.