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Imprints Literary Supplement

The Best Books You've Never Read

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me

By Michael Anft | Posted 10/13/1999

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me

Richard Fariña

Reprinted by Penguin in 1996

An amalgam of Woody Guthrie's proletarian folkie spirit and John Dos Passos' worldly literary activism, Richard Fariña was granted considerably less than the 15 minutes of fame he deserved for this supercharged, hilarious, and panoramic novel of a culture in social and psychic turmoil.

Fariña was a folksinger of note who married hootenanny royalty (Joan Baez's sister Mimi) after fighting with the Irish Republican Army and supporting Fidel Castro—and studying engineering and literature at Cornell. His would-be larger-than-life figure was reduced to mortality by a motorcycle accident in 1966, two days after Been Down So Long was published. A first novel—with all of that genre's overstoked pyrotechnics and self-consciousness of style—it nonetheless qualifies as a crystallizing period piece. Earthy, hyperactive Cornell student Gnossos Pappadopoulis' search for kicks, nirvana, and the continued inattention of his draft board transports readers back to a world full of schemers, idealists, fascists, Vietnam, innocents, quacks, grass, Coltrane, and countercultural catharsis. In short, this book is the '60s—much more so than anything by Tom Wolfe, Ken Kesey, or the baleful Richard Brautigan.

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