I visited Bukowski’s grave after moving to Los Angeles. It’s in San Pedro, about a 40 minute drive from my apartment. Better yet, my apartment is about a ten minute drive from the house he grew up in. Well, not better for Chuck ‘ol boy – it wasn’t really a happy home.
To put it mildly, I am a Bukowski fan and have been for years. Oddly, Ham on Rye is a book I’ve only read recently (because someone stole my copy). <- true story. The reason it is so odd is Ham on Rye is by far his best book. I liked Factotum, I loved Women and Hollywood, and I was even amused by Pulp (his last book published shortly before his death 20 years ago.) Say what you want about the man – hate him for all I care – but Ham on Rye is one of the most genuine coming of age stories I have read in a very long time. Starting from when he is 3 years old and ending at the beginning of World War II, Bukowski takes on his alter ego “Hank” and tells you his story like it was. (With a little embellishment here and there just to give it that extra flair.)
Are there women? Some.
Is there booze? Of course.
Why is this different from all of his other booze induced, women laced books? Because it shows you the “why”. Why did he become the man he was? Why did he crawl inside a bottle? Why was he so obsessed with women and words? Every single answer is right there smashed between orange groves, high school angst, the great depression, and trolley rides to and from Pershing Square.
Loud, brash Bukowski is known for getting right in your face and saying, “What the hell are you going to do about it?” That quality is still there, but that’s not what you’re looking for. You’re looking for the spider. The small tiny moments that subsequently mould us into our adult selves.
So that’s why I pick this book. I pick Charles Bukowski for his poetry, for his soul, and for his courage to say out loud all those things that are very easily hidden behind booze and broads. Maybe you’ve read him, or maybe he is new to you – this is the place to start.
Ham on Rye won’t let you down.
“So, that’s what they wanted: lies. Beautiful lies. That’s what they needed. People were fools. It was going to be easy for me.”
Maybe it wasn’t always easy, but it was totally worth it.
Please feel free to recommend books below!