~post by Andrew H.
If you’re a Bukowski fan like me, you’ve read everything by him. Whether you started with Post Office or Ham on Rye or his volumes of poetry, you know that once you’ve got the Bukowski bug it’s hard to know that there isn’t anything left.
Bukowski has certainly left his mark on the literary world with his trademark working class scumbaggery, but he didn’t come out of nowhere. Bukowski was a self-educated writer who spent his days in the library trudging through a whole lot of literature. The writers who were most influential to his work bear a strong resemblance to his output.
If you’re aching for more Bukowski and know that there simply isn’t much left to consume, I highly suggest these three novels to feed the beast.
Journey to the End of Night by Celine was one of Bukowski’s favorite novels. Celine basically invented literary black humor. Journey to the End of Night is a hilarious and very depressing novel. Journey follows the protagonist Bardamu as he travels from one instance of human depravity to the next. It is a very pessimistic novel and the humor largely comes from Celine’s cynicism. Journey is largely based on Celine’s own experiences during World War I. Fans of Bukowski will surely recognize the cynicism in Celine’s work as very close to that of Bukowski’s. It’s a beautiful book if you’re into exploring the dark side of humanity.
Hunger by Knut Hamsun is a very short novel, but readers of Post Office or Factotum will recognize a very similar story structure. The narrator is unnamed and is a traveling vagrant. He considers himself an intellectual and is in search of the most basic human needs: food and shelter. He is so poor that he can hardly afford both and, although he is a writer in search of writing something he will actually get paid for, has to resort to eating what he hopes will free him from poverty; his own pencil.
Finally, to truly get a deeper understanding of Bukowski’s literary influences, one has to understand his geography. Ask the Dust is a Los Angeles classic. The strongest connection to Bukowski’s writing style and themes is the writing of John Fante. Arturo Bandini is to John Fante as Henry Chinaski is to Charles Bukowski. The protagonist, Bandini, is a writer struggling to make ends meet in Depression Era Los Angeles. Like many of Bukowski’s novels, Ask the Dust is semi-autobiographical. Bukowski’s writing style is heavily influenced by Fante’s and fans of Bukowski would delight in reading through any of Fante’s work. Ask the Dust, though, is a masterpiece and should be the starting point of anyone looking to explore Fante’s work.
So there you have it, folks. You want more Bukowski, you can’t have more Bukowski, so you might as well read through his greatest influences. Good news! All of these books are on BookPeople’s shelves in the Classic Fiction section!
5 thoughts on “The Bukowski Reader”
Very interesting! Even though I haven’t had the pleasure of reading any Bukowski, it’s definitely moved up on my to-read list. Any recommendations as to which of his books (or books on this list, for that matter) that I should start with?
HUNGER by Hamsun – one of a kind -then Celine
ALL 3 EXCELLENT RECOMMENDATIONS !
Great article. Love to see a good Buk piece. Good recommendations– Bukowski has admitted to gleaning his simple yet untouchable writing style off of John Fante and his wonderful Los Angeles fiction writing style. Hunger is another classic, showing the not-so-glorious side to being a committed writer. Journey is probably the hardest to get through of the three, but well worth it.