I've just finished reading my third Charles Bukowski novel, which are all semi-autobiographical. The first, and so far the best, Ham On Rye, I read last year, and the last two, Post Office, and Factotum, I read this week. I was originally also planning on reading Women, his sequel to those books, and started to, but gave up, having concluded that reading Bukowski is a waste of my time.
Why? Because it's all pretty much the same. If you've read one, you've read them all. Bukowski is an alcoholic. All he cares about is getting drunk and getting laid. Sure, he writes about different job experiences, from working over a decade for the U.S. Postal Service, to working dozens of temporary menial labor jobs across the country, but it all centers around his obsession with getting drunk and getting laid. That's pretty much it, the end all be all of his existence. And it gets a bit tiresome after awhile.
Perhaps his essays are better, I may give them a try, but his novels are shit. I really don't get their popularity. Maybe it's because he uses the word "fuck" a lot, and gives graphic descriptions of his sexual experiences, at a time when perhaps few did, which maybe gave him a sort of countercultural appeal, I don't know. He does on the other hand have a very easy to read style, but ultimately its very shallow, that when its over you feel like you've gained nothing.
The only thing I really liked about it were some of his insights concerning the absurdity of certain types of jobs, and the humorous ways people adapt themselves to it.
Here's a good quote, probably the best quote out of the entire book, from Factotum:
--- "How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?"
"I had elaborated on my work experience in a creative way. Pros do that: you leave out the previous low-grade jobs and describe the better ones fully, also leaving out any mention of those blank stretches when you were alcoholic for six months and shacked up with some woman just released from a madhouse or a bad marriage. Of course, since all my previous jobs were low-grade I left out the lower low-grade." ---
I've been there, unfortunately, if you are a hardcore alcoholic who follows this line of thinking to its logical conclusion, you'll likely end up an unemployed wino sleeping outside on park benches or living under a bridge begging for spare change and eating out of dumpsters. Or if, like Bukowski, you happen to win the lottery and manage to make millions of dollars off of mediocre writing, you can drink yourself into an early grave without ever having to work another day of your life and without ever becoming homeless. But you'll still be just as pathetic, except you'll be too drunk to care.
That's Bukowski, everybody: alcoholic, sexaholic, bum; with an occasionally good insight, but mostly not worth reading. That's my assessment. It's something that would only appeal to alcoholics, sexaholics, slackers/bums, or people under 25.
Well, it's not like I didn't already know that going in, but was hoping that maybe there was something more to it that I might have missed had I not read it. Guess not. Most people read this shit when their sixteen, I waited until I was in my thirties. Better late then never, and good riddance. Burroughs is a dirty old bastard too, but definitely more interesting. I'll be reading him next.