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Charles Bukowski Novels
Charles Bukowski’s first novel, Post Office, was published in 1971. Protagonist/Bukowski alter ego Henry Chinaski works at a job he hates in the Post Office, lives with various women, some more stable than others, and tries to become a writer.
The book was published by John Martin’s Black Sparrow Press. Martin began paying Bukowski $100-a-month, what he said he needed to live, in 1969, under the agreement that he’d shun future day jobs in order to write full time.
When he became famous, he continued to publish with Black Sparrow Press. Martin has since retired and sold the Bukowski publishing rights to HarperCollins/ECCO.
Sample Post Office Quote:
“I went to the bathroom and threw some water on my face, combed my hair. If I could only comb that face, I thought, but I can’t.” ~ Charles Bukowski
Factotum is Charles Bukowski’s second novel, published in 1975. Factotum is set in 1944, and again sees alter ego Henry Chinaski as protagonist. Chinaski has been deemed unfit for service, sparing him from having to serve in WWII. This was true of Bukowski as well, who was labeled 4F.
Factotum is very similar in tone, theme, setting (Los Angeles, California) and plot to Post Office. It serves as something of both sequel and prequel to Post Office. A factotum is someone who holds a variety of responsibilities or jobs. Chinaski works in a number of low paying, menial jobs, drinks, tries to make it as a writer, and struggles to keep a relationship going with a female barfly named Jan.
Factotum was adapted into a film in 2005, starring Matt Dillon as Henry Chinaski.
Sample Factotum Quotes:
“But starvation, unfortunately, didn’t improve art. It only hindered it.” ~ Charles Bukowski
“When you drank the world was still out there, but for the moment it didn’t have you by the throat.” ~ Charles Bukowski
Ham On Rye was Charles Bukowski’s attempt to write a book about his childhood, which was turbulent at best. Bukowski was an outsider from the beginning. He was singled out for being from Germany, as well as for his lack of social skills and sports abilities due to a childhood that was both sheltered and abusive.
When Bukowski started to find his stride he was hit by a particularly severe case of acne vulgaris. Bukowski had acne so bad that at one point he had a drill taken to his face to drain the cysts, and then had his face wrapped in gauze to soak up the oozing acne fluid.
We see Bukowski discovering alcohol and writing, and outlines what his first workaday jobs were like. Ham On Rye was written after publisher John Martin pointed out to Bukowski that the only part of his life he hadn’t written about extensively was his childhood.
Ham On Rye was published in 1982.
Sample Ham On Rye Quotes:
“The parents of rich kids tended to be more patriotic because they had more to lose if the country went under.” ~ Charles Bukowski
“The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they slice a little bit more off you, until there was nothing left. At the age of 25 most people were finished.” ~ Charles Bukowski
Charles Bukowski was not a big fan of movies, but he actually ended up writing a screenplay for a movie called Barfly, released in 1987. French director Barbet Schroeder asked Bukowski to write a screenplay and was at first rebuffed. When he called back and offered $20,000 for the job, Bukowski relented and write a screenplay about a young barfly trying to be a writer, named Henry Chinaski.
He also wrote a novel about this time, called Hollywood. Barfly had a bumpy ride into production and release. Bukowski profiles this experience, and comes through it with as many negative thoughts about the movie making industry as he had before, if not more so.
Hollywood was Bukowski’s penultimate novel, published in 1989. It was also his last autobiographical novel.
Sample Hollywood Quotes:
“In a capitalistic society the losers slaved for the winners and you have to have more losers than winners.” ~ Charles Bukowski
“I must have been crazy but there are many kinds of crazy and some are quite delightful. I starved so that I could have time to write. That just isn’t done much anymore.” ~ Charles Bukowski
Charles Bukowski’s final novel, Pulp, tells the story of private L.A. detective Nick Belane. Pulp is a surreal novel, offering strange cases for Belane to solve, all the while focusing heavily on the theme of mortality. The novel was written over several years at the end of Bukowski’s life, and was published just before his death in ’94.
The novel reads as satire and homage, paying tribute to the classic pulp detective novels of the early 20th century. It stands apart from the books preceding it in this way and others, which causes it to often be overlooked. However, those who read Pulp almost always have a special affinity for it.
Sample Pulp Quotes:
“Most of the world was mad. And the part that wasn’t mad was angry. And the part that wasn’t mad or angry was just stupid. I had no chance. I had no choice. Just hang on and wait for the end. It was hard work. It was the hardest work imaginable.” ~ Charles Bukowski
“Boring damned people. All over the earth. Propagating more boring damned people. What a horror show. The earth swarmed with them.” ~ Charles Bukowski
Charles Bukowski Short Story Collections
Charles Bukowski wrote a lot of stories. An insane amount of stories. Enough to make any writer feel lazy in comparison. Even still, Bukowski’s first collection of short stories wasn’t published until 1983, as Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness.
Tales of Ordinary Madness is half of this collection, the original book having been republished as the aforementioned and The Most Beautiful Woman in Town. This makes Tales of Ordinary Madness a good place to start for Bukowski newbies, as well as being a must have for Bukheads.
Sample Tales of Ordinary Madness Quotes:
“Belford stopped outside a bar. We went in. I hated bars. I’d written too many stories and poems about bars. Belford thought he was doing me a favor.
You can get just so much out of bars and they won’t go down anymore. They come up. People in bars were like people in 5 and dime stores: they were killing time and everything else.” ~ Charles Bukowski
“you begin saving the world by saving one man at a time; everything else is grandiose romanticism or politics.” ~ Charles Bukowski
“You can steal my women but don’t play with my whiskey.” ~ Charles Bukowski
It is an interesting look into the writer’s head, as is often the case with collections published after a writer has died and become immortal. More of the work sees the light, and there is less editing.
Books like these aren’t necessarily the best places to start with a writer, but it helps create a more complete picture of the artist for the already devoted.
Sample Portions From A Wine-Stained Notebook Quotes:
“Pain doesn’t make anything, nor does poverty. The artist is there first. What becomes of him depends upon his luck. If his luck is good (worldly-speaking) he becomes a bad artist. If his luck is bad, he becomes a good one.” ~ Charles Bukowski
“I write as a function. Without it I would fall ill and die. It’s as much a part of one as the liver or intestine, and just about as glamorous.” ~ Charles Bukowski