Josh in California - Part 9: More Bukowski

Friday, November 2, 2001

I ended up just hanging around the library at UCSC. I wandered the campus for an hour in the sun and looked at different places including the simple little student center but couldn’t find much to do. Lingering at the McHenry Library and reading a bio of the Buk seemed just as worthwhile as anything else would be. So…

I’m not sure the appeal of Charles Bukowski to me. The bio I found (and forgot the title of — though I wrote it in my PowerBook) paints him in a much more realistic way than any of his books do and I wonder how much of his books are fantasy and how much reality… There’s a Buk quote from a Hustler article that 95% of his writing is real, the rest “improved upon.” I don’t know. I remember a crazy scene where Chinaski hooks it up with three girls in one night while staying on some guy’s boat while in his mid-twenties, and his bio claims he didn’t have “real” love-sex with a woman until he was 27. (He’d been with a prostitute earlier.) Maybe that 5% included the naughty bits.

I definitely got the image of Buk as a guy not above lying to make himself seem more impressive in front of company. The book tells an anecdote of Buk having drinks with some people at his apartment and as he gets more and more drunk his “I’ve killed five men” bit gets worn down to “four,” “three,” and then none. If he was posturing when writing the books, who knows what’s really been “improved upon” and what hasn’t. This sort of denegrates the work of a man heralded for the gritty reality of his works.

And, actually, I enjoy reading his books but while reading the bio and coming across direct comparisons between scenes from his books and scenes from his life, I realized that I have a difficult time remembering the content of the books after they’re through. I think the upside of Buk’s prose style would be the speed and easy excitement that comes from its spare style. The downside would be that he doesn’t organize his novels into stories as much as they are just the recounting of a series of events with little external commentary. I wonder if this makes them more forgettable than some other novels I’ve read that have stuck with me for years.

Charles Bukowski had a slow start, it sounds like, and didn’t have much early support and it’s good testimony about persistence and not being distracted by bullshit to hear about his rise to mega-superlicious-stardom.

Oh, and I wrote down the names of some of the places from his life — the bars, places he’s worked (the post office), and where he’s lived. If I really need something to do in LA for the last few days of my trip, I might track a couple down for no good reason.

Blah blah blah.