Saturday, November 18, 2017

Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski (a book review)

BRILLIANT stuff! Ham on Rye is a book that I'd been wishing were written for years now, and meanwhile it had been all along: a book about kids and teenagers being just that - kids and teenagers in their rawest form. And it's also about teachers, principals and other public-school authorities acting like children and lunatics as well, and I absolutely love that. I was actually really surprised that kids, preteens and teenagers spoke in such a lewd, raunchy manner back in the 1920s and 30s, but I guess that was just a naivety on my part. And the things they did...well, I won't spoil it for you.

Bukowski starts the book from the age of 2, at his first memory, under a dining-room table while adults chatted away, and ends it at the age of 21. So we have a long, solid timeline with a whole lot of character development and sad, funny, outrageous anecdotes that bring to light why Charles Bukowski (AKA Henry Chinaski in his novels) turned out to be the way he was, with the very eccentric, but razor-sharp, mind he had. It's the story of a person destined to be an outcast just for being different, quiet, introspective, ruminative and plain old ugly. 

Between an insane, cheap, abusive, anal-retentive father who for years beat him incessantly with his razor strop, and then, as a teenager, being covered from head to toe, front and back, with a horrific case of acne and gigantic boils that left scars all over his face and body - well, given he turned into a bookworm and lover of writing short stories as well - he was also destined for greatness. I mean, let's face it: Bukowski was, indeed, a writer with something to say, and so writing affirmed the tragedy which was his life from an early age: poor, abused, dejected, angry, and alone. He speaks of a nauseating whiteness that filled the air all around him and everyone else from the time he was 5. I found that so fascinating. It's no wonder he turned into a drinker at the age of 12 in order to escape the mundane, depressing world he grew up in and felt he had no other escape from, until he started reading books and then, after that, writing.

He became and always remained disillusioned by the rabble and their "American dream." He wasn't buying it. He saw through it all. To him, it was all just bullshit that stifled a person's individuality while offering false hope and an array of pathetic masks, that is, labels that really just amounted to embracing nothingness via gratifying the ego through man-made status and ignorance in a world where nothing really mattered at all. He was a nihilist, but one who wanted nothing more than to live the way he wanted to (9-to-5 life be damned!), preferably in isolation, away from Homo sapiens, while somehow denying that he was a misanthrope, yet having nothing but disdain for the human race. 

There is one thing in the book that really surprised and disappointed me. Bukowski said in an interview once that he didn't lose his virginity till the age of 24, because he was an outcast and that that woman was the only woman who ever liked him. But there are three incidents in the book that tell otherwise. I'll only name one of them here so as to not give away too much: One time, while still a high-school student, he was at the beach with his really messed-up chick magnet of a friend, and a group of attractive, chipper girls walked up to them and called them cute. The girls wanted the BOTH of them to join them and have some good old-fashioned beach fun. Chinaski said to count him out. No one, including his friend, understood why. They asked what was wrong with him, and his friend told them that he's just weird. Well, yeah, he was weird, but that wasn't his problem. His problem was that he preferred to wallow in misery and remain self-loathing over his acne and boils rather than get what he was dying for - to get laid with a beautiful girl. And he could have. But he chose to just watch them all having fun from a distance in order to feed off of the contempt he had for them and his life, like some emo masochist.

At any rate, I loved this book and so was able to get through it quickly. It was simply captivating in its raw, unabashed realism. Bukowski could write about anything and make it interesting. I love that in a writer. It's what made him so great. I didn't like it as much as Post Office and Women, which were drop-dead hilarious from beginning to end, but it was a really fun read. His writing style did evolve and improve by the time he wrote it, which I really appreciated too.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Post Office By Charles Bukowski (A Book Review)

I love this book - Charles Bukowski's first novel, published in 1971 when he was 50. There's nothing like the average Joe sticking it to the man. I'd read Women (book review below in March of 2016), so I just knew this would be awesome, and so it was, fulfilling all my expectations and then some - utterly hilarious! Bukowski really knew what he was doing. That's why he's the iconic, legendary American literary giant that he is. Who else could make the mundane life of the post office, racetrack and getting wasted night after night this much fun and entertaining? He really lets you in. I love that. I always loved honesty and authenticity, and I think a lot of people out there do too. He's proof that you can find meaning no matter who you are. You just have to search and dig a little. From the crazy residents on his postal route, to his irritating-as-hell co-workers, to the fast, often insane women, to the prick-bastard post-office bosses, this book is brilliant from start to finish and at times will actually have you laughing out loud. I was enthralled. It's really short (160 pages), so I think it's a novella, short and sweet. I love how his protagonist, Henry Chinaski (who's actually Bukowski himself), takes everything in stride, whether it's brutal working conditions, badgering bosses, being perpetually drunk or hungover, the tragic death of a loved one, brawling, having a kid and becoming a father - you name it, his character takes it in to add to the masterpiece of his mind, making you feel ever so comfortable in the process. The wit and sarcasm don't come off as pessimistic or bitter at all, but rather smart and mood-lightening. It's beyond doubt that he was a man comfortable in his own skin, and I think that's really great. A truly great, poignant read! 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year, Friends but not Foes, the Real but not the Fake

Happy New Year, one and all, from Tokyo, the greatest city in the world! I wish you all the best year of your lives. Let's make it count by being good to each other, being authentic human beings who say what they mean and mean what they say, who don't go back on their word, who want to contribute and inspire others rather than hinder and sap them of their vitality, ambition and strength. Let's cultivate ourselves like never before by doing the things we love and by spending joyous times with the people we cherish. And as for those who wish to stand in the way of our joy and self-realization, let us vanquish them into the oblivion of our past, never to be allowed to intrude on us, our life-journey, our "destiny" and our peace of mind ever again, and thenceforth, in that expiration of theirs within our lives, allowing us to be truly free. As for all my friends - my real friends, my true friends, my friends of the heart - you know who you are - I hope to continue to see and hear more from you throughout this New Year and many more to follow. Let's build each other up, baby. Let's create a bulwark of happiness and fulfillment that no enemy could ever knock down. I never forget anyone who's ever helped or supported me or nurtured my life goals and desires, those who have given me encouragement and have even come along for the ride. But I would rather forget all the rest - the petty, parasitical ones - altogether. To the New Year, comrades and friends! To hell with the past and psychic vampires of all stripes! Fuck the fakes. Let us ascend like never before! Up and away . . . up and away!