Congratulations to James Fadiman. Congratulations on his ability to express so many experiences and perspectives, moods and personalities in one story so tightly put together.
When I first picked up The Other Side of Haight, I wasn't sure what to expect really. I, of course, had heard of the sixties all of my life - the good, the bad, the weird. I was born during the sixties. Being raised in the Deep South, though, most of what I heard was the bad and the weird.
At some time in the nineties, the sixties returned for some people - sort of: a narrow cliche of its former self, maybe. I guess my imagination of the era and its people was some combination of these two: flowered jeans and freaks.
When I opened the book, I found real people with real lives, real thoughts, real aspirations and feelings. I was excited. I read the entire thing straight through. What took me the most were the characters, characters who held up mirrors in which I could remember my own life. Finding books or movies with characters so easy to identify with is a true pleasure. Finding so many in one story is rare. Angelo's slow opening to the world around him and his rethinking of the culture that he learned growing up was my life. Shadow's wide-eyed experiences and acceptances of her world reinvigorated my mornings and brought back experiences and perceptions too easily forgotten. Sweeps' looking back on his life and his switch from PhD student to janitor hit me hard. As a current graduate student who spent many years working in the world Sweeps now lives in, I identified so readily with his look at academics. Though I have no desire to return to that world, his recollections of the excitement that books and learning can offer (excitement that is so often dampened in this endeavor) was absolutely refreshing.
Reading this book was, for me, pure pleasure; a learning and a remembering experience at the same time. I learned about the sixties and its people from a positive, insightful perspective. But it is the remembering that was the most exciting (and impressive part). Finding characters who shared so many of my experiences - though mine were two or three decades, one generation and two-thousand miles removed - was a very nice and reaffirming experience.
This book is an exciting, interesting and insightful look at a remarkable period of American culture. Upon finishing it, I was completely refreshed. I recommend it highly, both as a novel and as a culture history.