April 6th, 2007

  • pgdf

Sixties Novels, Part 1

One thing I've discovered about blogging, after only two weeks, is that blogs are a great dumping ground for frustratingly unfinished projects. Grand schemes which have moldered undone or half-begun for years can still form the stuff of interesting posts. No offense to the audience, I hope, but in the more informal atmosphere of a blog, the poster can upload raw inspiration and unmediated material and receive feedback that might prod and inspire the project.

And that's what I'm about to begin doing in this first installment in a longish series of posts. I hope it's a fun trip.

For years I've been sporadically collecting what I think of as "Sixties novels." These are works of fiction that somehow encapsulate or unmistakeably embody the zeitgeist of that unique "decade" which arguably ran from 1963 to 1974. (Start with the 1959 publication of NAKED LUNCH, if you're so inclined, and go further on the other end, so long as you meet my criteria below. We're flexible!)

Now, I know there's an official canon of literary landmarks that fit this definition. Works from Burroughs, Kesey, Fowles, Heller, Barth, Roth, Bellow, Bukowski, Brautigan (why so many "B's"?), Pynchon, Heinlein, Brunner, Dick, Hesse, et al. But all of these milestones have been thoroughly documented, ranked, explicated and catalogued. They're all High Art.

And you should know by now, that's not where the fun is. It's down in the gutter.

So what I sought were novels--some nearly as famous as the canonical ones--which totally reeked of Sixties patchouli aura, but which were generally forgotten or never acknowledged. Like the advertisements in old LIFE magazines, these overlooked artifacts would unconsciously reveal more than the carefully calculated articles.

Now, here's where I'm going to skimp. I don't intend to actually read these books and draw my conclusions about the true nature of the decade. They've been sitting on my shelf for years now, and I realize it's not gonna happen. I don't have time or energy, and as the decade recedes, so does my interest (though it will never completely die!). So instead, I'm just going to list them here and annotate and describe them for your amusement. I'll try to get images up of each book, since the cover art is often one of the most exciting elements. But my scanner is broken and I'm using a camera. Pardon the flash glare.

Most of these books I have in their first and only editions. Some are reprints. A few, I've actually read--some of them even when they were new!

What qualifies a book for inclusion as a Sixties Novel? Many things. It could be be trippy, campy, hip, groovy, whether faux or authentic. Transgressive, satirical, experimental. Topical or allegorical. Commercial or underground. But in every case, using a kind of Supreme Court "I know it when I see it" test, the book should automatically summon up the decade in question, be an item that no other era could have produced.

As I start to give examples, the category should become clear, and I hope readers will provide many more instances, as well as any of their own experiences, or information on the books and authors.

1. THE INNERSPACE PROJECT, Jeff Berner, World Publishing, 1972.

I'm going to maintain alphabetical order by author in this series, and this book comes first. It violates the fiction rule, but was too perfect to leave out, and rather sets the tone for our whole exploration.

This is an instruction manual for getting your new head together, and a sociological analysis of all that's wrong in the world. Think THE GREENING OF AMERICA written by a total amateur. The author's opener is a Sixties classic: "In summer 1968 I awoke to the realization that I was not an Establishment human being, nor was I a dropout. I realized, too, that most of the 'troubles' of this earth world [sic] have originated because people are addicted to their own special interests and provincial wants and needs. At that moment I knew mankind has no chance of survival, if that's what it wants, unless it first thinks in terms of the universe, then in terms of the whole earth, then in terms of more localized situations, and then *simultaneously* about it all."

Whew, that's some heavy prescription, man. But Berner isn't done yet. Over the next 300 pages, he's going to give us instruction on everything from meditation to proper dress.

"Undergarments should not have elastic bands in them, nor should the socks, unless they are very, very gentle."

The main text of this book is printed ONLY ON THE RIGHT-HAND PAGES. This is incredibly annoying, and bound to introduce altered states of consciousness that mainly focus on wringing the author's neck. The left-hand pages are reserved for quotes, Berner's apercus ("Rain helps/you feel/a house/by making noise/on its/surfaces!"), photos, and brain teasers and advice ("Try easygoing perfectionism").

The final page of the text? A giant bumpersticker that says FUTURE.

But guess what? Berner's tome might actually be the secret to a happy life! Look at the man now:


A smiling professional photographer of some success who lives in Paris!

I'm throwing away my tighty-whities right now!