Charles Bukowski

I must have been in the 1oth or 11th grade when I borrowed three Charles Bukowski novels from M***ael J***ings. These were:

Women, easily my favorite and Bukowski’s best. I didn’t return this one.

The short story collection, Tales of Ordinary Madness. I kept this one too, but it is no longer in my possession. Loaned out, never to be returned.

And another collection, The Most Beautiful Woman in Town. I think I gave this back; anyway, I don’t have it anymore.

I was reading Henry Miller and Hemingway at the time, and macho Bukowski fit right in. Something about being a teenager, trying to gain access to the “adult world”–or something like the adult world. How to act, what to say. I read just about all the short stories that Bukowski wrote. Factotum and Post Office were two of my favorites. Everyday when I see our mailman I think of Post Office.

 Our mailman is old, and skinny as a sick girl, and he has a nose like a bird’s beak to boot. He runs his entire route; he has a strange little knock-kneed hustle. He always tells me to “Stay safe” when I see him. He’s withered. Post Office makes working for the post office sound like an annihilating, damning, Sisyphean task. I wonder: “Does the mailman not feel safe?”

Charles Bukowski

Bukowski painted some pictures.

Factotum was recently made into a movie starring Matt Dillon as Bukowski’s alter-ego, Henry Chinaski. Mickey Rourke played the “real” Bukowski in a horrible-looking movie called Barfly. I haven’t seen either film.

So Bukowski’s sort of been “branded” commodified as “type”–like Hemingway and Miller (and HST, and Anaïs Nin, and Wm Burroughs,  and Nietzsche, and so on) He becomes a stolen writer, a lazy gesture, a footnote in the movie Swingers. Then again, maybe a few people saw that movie and picked up Hollywood, a really funny late-period Bukowski novel about making the film that will come to be Barfly. In Hollywood, Bukowski endures the trouble of having other people manipulate his writing and sweats sweats sweats that he might have sold out.

6 thoughts on “Charles Bukowski”

  1. I remember when you lent me Women back in our old college days (, chap). It inspired me to procure Post Office, Factotum. and Hollywood — the book about the making of the slightly not-so-bad Barfly.

    Of the three that I own, Post Office is my favorite because it moves at a steady pace. Bukowski/Chinaski’s heavy-drinking, low-paid, and constantly harassed mailman is an interesting anti-hero because he is utterly deplorable in his high times as a horse gambler but also unbreakable in spirit, no matter how much the postal service (and God) throws at him.

    He’s a real [hu]man described in terse verse, though not quite the fake macho Übermensch of Hemingway. Chinaski is writer, a drunk, a bad fighter, and a mediocre lover.

    Factotum was less cohesive than Post Office, kind of jumping around multiple cities where Chinaski held menial and frustrating jobs. I’d imagine it would make a better movie than Post Office or Women because it’s got more variety as far as settings; it was more situational than Women which was basically a collection of short stories of relationships with various women after Chinaski’s, ahem, resurgence, joined strictly by the presence of the same main character.

    Women is a great read because it is so crass, truthful, self-deprecating, and hilarious.

    I have a Bukowski biography if you’re interested. You’re welcome to borrow it, though I’d prefer if you return it.

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  2. i really liked Women when i read it in high school. it was plain reading, but as Damon noted, self-deprecating and funny. those aspects of the writing made it much more palatable to me than Hemingway, who i was losing interest in w/ each passing day.

    that said, i don’t remember anything specifically about Women. there aren’t any memorable characters or any lessons to be learned in any of his books, really. i think, as you correctly note, that Bukowski is more of a “brand” than a writer.

    a recommendation to your readers: for bad sex writing, see “Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga.” there’s a terrible story about one of the members of the band using a red snapper in a sex act with a groupie.

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  3. […] A few posts back, this blog turned some attention to what happens when writers become commodities sold by persona. Commodification results in a kind of lazy cultural shorthand that pre-empts the need to actually read the author and discuss their works: the author instead becomes a signifier of an abstracted ideal, a rubric of adjectives that the consumer can use to “identify” with their own life. It seems to me that no author has been more commodified than Ernest Hemingway. For example, check out The Ernest Hemingway Collection for a selection of clothes, home furnishings, and other chintzy crap. From their website: “You can now share in his spirit as an adventurer, author and romantic. His legend can be brought to your home through this entire Ernest Hemingway Collection. Every item has been hand selected and approved to ensure authenticity. Enjoy this celebration of the man and the memory.” […]

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  4. i’ve read all bukowski’s novels except for pulp. ham on rye is another great one.

    you should watch barfly. i don’t think bukowski was pleased with mickey rourke’s performance (at least it doesn’t seem so based on hollywood), but i think barfly is a really good supplement to bukowski’s novels, and it’s probably mickey rourke’s best performance. this was at his peak as an actor, so that is saying a lot. either way, barfly, is a lot better than the film version of factotum.

    have you read john fante? he was a big influence on bukowski. if you haven’t, you should borrow or steal ask the dusk from someone.

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