5 Best Charles Bukowski Books

5 Best Charles Bukowski Books

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Are you in the mood for novels and short stories? Are you seeking an escape from reality to the world of fiction and imagination? Let these best Charles Bukowski books be your ride to escapism. Charles Bukowski was a great German-American author who published over 60 books and influenced the literature starting from the early 1940s to the early 1990s. He wrote both poems and prose about moral corruption and the oppressed in American society. Bukowski’s writings depicted the mundane lowlife using sexual imagery and graphic language. His hometown, Los Angeles, had been his favorite subject in his novels, poems, and short stories. Reimagine the angst of the 20th century through the words of Bukowski.

1. Pulp (By Charles Bukowski)

Bukowski’s Pulp is an absurdist pulp fiction novel and a commentary on the stereotypes of the genre using Los Angeles as its background. It is the author’s last completed book; thus, it also embraces mortality. The mystery novel follows the main character, Nicky Belane, a detective who is seeking out Céline and the Red Sparrow. The book reflects the author’s cynicism, humor, and realism.

  • Review: The novel is often appreciated by fans of literature and considered as a loose ride due to the fluidity of its tone. Its ambiance is noted as if talking to an old man honed by experiences as it reflects the final days of Bukowski himself. It is an enjoyable and funny Bukowski brand filled with philosophies about alcohol and the streets. However, it has fast-paced dialogue and gaps which test the reader since it is posed as a poorly written detective novel. The book’s theme also falls under dirty realism; thus, it might not be recommended for literature purists.
  • Author: Charles Bukowski was a poet and novelist who wrote about his hometown, Los Angeles, under the literary movements: dirty realism and transgressive fiction. He wrote about ordinary American life in his poems, novels, short stories, and even columns. He is considered a legendary influence due to his contribution to American literature.
  • Pages: 202
  • Publisher: Black Sparrow Press (1994)

2. Post Office (By Charles Bukowski)

Post Office was published when Bukowski was already 50 years old. It is an autobiographical novel about the years of the author as a mail carrier and sorter for the United States Postal Service from 1952 to 1955 and from 1958 to 1969. Its dedication says that it is dedicated to nobody.

The book introduces Bukowski’s fictional alter ego and anti-hero, Henry Chinaski, working for the post office. He is a cynical man, supporting himself through his winnings from horse track gamblings during his hiatus from working at the post office and surviving through alcoholic drinks and women. Bukowski’s romantic love, Jane Cooney Baker, is depicted as Betty in the novel while his first wife, Barbara Frye, is a wealthy sex-crazed woman named Joyce.

  • Review: The novel focuses on Chinaski’s adventures with a simple and straightforward tone. It allows the readers to see the unsentimental and depersonalization of a blue collar worker who is simply surviving rather than living. It also reflects the bureaucracy of the post office through dialogue exchanges between the workers and the warning letters addressed to Chinaski. However, the book evokes raw emotions due to its heavy content which may leave the readers with a heavy heart. Furthermore, it can also be difficult to know the main character since his life in the book opened during his middle age.
  • Author: Charles Bukowski was a poet and novelist who wrote about his hometown, Los Angeles, under the literary movements: dirty realism and transgressive fiction. He wrote about ordinary American life in his poems, novels, short stories, and even columns. He is considered a legendary influence due to his contribution to American literature.
  • Pages: 208
  • Publisher: Black Sparrow Press (1971)

3. Factotum (By Charles Bukowski)

Factotum is Bukowski’s second novel, following the Post Office. It is also an autobiographical account of the wandering of the author’s alter ego, Henry Chinaski, set in the 1940s. Chinaski, having been rejected from the World War II conscription, drifts from one job to another in the lower-class streets of Los Angeles. The novel has a film adaptation directed by Bent Hamer in 2005.

  • Review: This novel is an interesting and well-written addition to Chinaski’s story. It reflects the author’s style of gritty realism, considered by people as a great page-turner with its comedic honesty and simple tone. It details a part of Chinaski’s life, evoking intense emotions and inner reflections. It is recommended for readers looking for a great read but with limited time. However, Factotum only advances Chinaski’s story a little; thus, the book is likely to get overlooked. Reading about the characters’ tragedies might also be unbearable due to the less use of dark humor.
  • Author: Charles Bukowski was a poet and novelist who wrote about his hometown, Los Angeles, under the literary movements: dirty realism and transgressive fiction. He wrote about ordinary American life in his poems, novels, short stories, and even columns. He is considered a legendary influence due to his contribution to American literature.
  • Pages: 208
  • Publisher: Black Sparrow Press (1975)

4. Women (By Charles Bukowski)

Women stars Henry Chinaski, Bukowski’s fictional alter ego, focusing on his rise to stardom as a poet and writer. Bukowski drew the cover art for the book himself and said that John Fante, also an American novelist, had a great influence on his writings. The novel was planned to be adapted into a film in 1996 with Polly Platt as its screenplay writer and in the 2010s written by Ethan Furman. However, it was not pushed through.

The novel centers on Chinaski’s love affairs which only serve as temporary fulfillment and his dissatisfaction with his trysts. One of the central female characters of the book is Bukowski’s girlfriend for several years, the sculptress Linda King as Lydia Vance. It also features a character named “Tanya,” which is Chinaski’s pen-pal.

  • Review: The book is recommended for fans of contemporary fiction. It is a gritty account of manhood and his sexual escapades. It gives insight into the life of Bukowski and his interactions during the 1970s and his rise to fame and its consequences. It is bold prose with a great and interesting plot and humorous dialogues. However, it is not for the faint-hearted due to its raw and graphic content. Furthermore, some readers might find it repetitive due to it being part of an autobiographical series and being a record of Chinaski’s brittle relationships.
  • Author: Charles Bukowski was a poet and novelist who wrote about his hometown, Los Angeles, under the literary movements: dirty realism and transgressive fiction. He wrote about ordinary American life in his poems, novels, short stories, and even columns. He is considered a legendary influence due to his contribution to American literature.
  • Pages: 291
  • Publisher: Black Sparrow Press (1978)

5. Ham on Rye (By Charles Bukowski)

Ham on Rye is a coming-of-age first-person narrative starring Henry Chinaski, the author’s fictional counterpart. It details the early days of Bukowski set in Los Angeles during the Great Depression. Its title is alleged to be a play on JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, which is also a coming-of-age novel about American boyhood. Although, there have been different interpretations regarding Bukowski’s title.

The book centers on the misanthropic protagonist, shown growing up in poverty, a frequent victim of abuse, and a school outcast. It is a prequel to his other Chinaski books such as Post Office, Factotum, Women, and Hollywood. It has the recurring major themes of family relationships, the illusion of the American Dream, and a commentary on social realities. The Chinaski family is also a representation of Bukowski’s real family.

  • Review: The novel is a sincere account of adolescence, echoing the ordeals brought by poverty, dysfunctional families, and economic uncertainty. It mirrors the realities faced unfortunately by plenty of people, leading to readers identifying with the main character. Thus, the book is emotional and powerful literature, highlighting Chinaski’s other characteristics, his upbringing, and personal victory. Ham on Rye is not riddled with symbolism, rather it is written in Bukowski’s unique style. Due to its themes, it can be a disturbing read for people with similar experiences and the story’s resolution might be unclear. It also contains graphic language which is often featured in Bukowski’s books.
  • Author: Charles Bukowski was a poet and novelist who wrote about his hometown, Los Angeles, under the literary movements: dirty realism and transgressive fiction. He wrote about ordinary American life in his poems, novels, short stories, and even columns. He is considered a legendary influence due to his contribution to American literature.
  • Pages: 288
  • Publisher: Black Sparrow Press (September 1, 1982)

Charles Bukowski’s literature can be a great addition to your library. His books often feature the realities in fictional settings. Contemplate on the lives of Nicky Belane and Henry Chinaski as they reflect Los Angeles in the 1970s through Bukowski’s best books namely Pulp, Post Office, Factotum, Women, and Ham on Rye.

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