Ham On Rye by Charles Bukowski

410MZ2FASWLHam On Rye is a semi-autobiographical novel that chronicles Charles Bukowski’s early childhood leading all the way through to his mid-twenties.

The story is told in first-person through the fictional lens of Henry Chinaski. Starting from a young age, each section is written in the voice of that time period, which makes the book almost feel like a diary. The reader soon becomes caught up in Chinaski’s life as we witness the change in his maturity, the progression of his thoughts, and his gradual switch in perception of the events and people around him. And yet seven-year-old Chinaski still sounds similar to twenty-five year old Chinaski, which is where the genius in this book lies — Bukowski manages to write in a singular and unique voice and yet stretch it over a period of years, moving seamlessly between time periods without sacrificing the authentic voice of his central character and narrator.

And Bukowski doesn’t hold back or try to sugar coat anything. Bad or good, it’s all here for everyone to read in graphic detail. He takes us step by step through his tough upbringing with an abusive father, his sexual awakening in his early teens (with Henry suffering a ridiculous level of horniness which every male should be able to relate to), his torturous confidence-crippling skin condition, his propensity towards random acts of violence, and his eventual decline into a directionless, misogynistic, womanising, borderline alcoholic with nothing to live for, no one to die for, and nothing to look forward to. Bukowski portrays Chinaski as lost and confused — maybe even hurt and insecure — but most importantly, he comes across as real.

Ham On Rye may not appeal to those who prefer heavily structured and manipulative genre books. There’s no plot as such, no deliberate structure, no twists, and no real direction, other than forward, from one moment in his life to the next. The focus is as sporadic as the main character’s is, and that’s the point. His whole world is just one day at a time, one event at a time: the next fight, the next lay, the next drink. And we’re given a roadside view of it all, as depressing as it can sometimes be. There’s no happy ending, no life lesson learned or big character change at the end. Bukowksi just gives his readers the truth and feeds them wisdom through his own pitfalls. 

Above all, the book is hilariously sarcastic. It’s the equivalent of having a politically incorrect, foul-mouthed, sexist granddad tell you a lifetime of anecdotes. But don’t be blinded by the filth. The book is packed with insight. Bukowski offers a lot more depth below the surface. It’s merely hidden by his brashness and ego.

In short, if you’re not easily offended and have a good sense of humour, check out Ham on Rye. It might just be one of the funniest books you’ll ever read.


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Will Grayson Will Grayson By John Green/David Levithan

imgres“Tiny Cooper is not the world’s gayest person, and he is not the world’s largest person, but I believe he may be the world’s largest person who is really, really gay, and also the world’s gayest person who is really, really large . . .”

When I first started reading this I wasn’t aware of the central concept: there are two different characters, both called Will Grayson, both similar in age and personality, and both are written in first person by different authors (John Green and David Levithan) in alternating chapters.

Once I realised the book was split into two separate worlds (which eventually collide), the distinction between the Will Graysons became clear; it’s hard to see how I didn’t notice earlier. One chapter is written normally and grammatically, the other chapter is written with a lack of punctuation and proper grammar. I read the book on my Kindle and for some reason just assumed the bad grammar/punctuation was a glitch with my file, not a stylistic decision.

My stupidity aside, Will Grayson Will Grayson is a delight: a comedic novel filled with funny scenes, witty dialogue, engaging prose, a fast-moving plot, and an array of bright interesting characters, especially Tiny and the two Will Graysons. And although it’s tagged in various places as a Young Adult novel, it doesn’t read like a typical teen novel; a lot of the content, themes, and language are of an adult nature.

In short: if you like quick and quirky books, check it out. It’s overflowing with charm and wonder. 


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Death By Hollywood by Steven Bocho

th-1“The story I want to tell you involves, among other things, a screenwriter whose career is fading out more than it’s fading in, a billionaire’s wife, and a murder . . .”

Death by Hollywood is a shallow attempt to expose and lampoon all the shady, unscrupulous, ego-driven sociopaths who run the American film industry. 

In PopcornBen Elton approached a similar subject (albeit from a different angle), but whereas he ripped into his subject with cutting insights and still maintained a moral epicentre to the book — a depth of character and plot — this book fails to reach the intelligence or enjoyment of that satire. In contrast, Death by Hollywood is all style with zero substance, no different from the bimbo dilettantes it tries to send up: alluring on the surface, but not much going on upstairs. 

The plot concerns a borderline alcoholic writer who chances upon seeing a murder, and then manipulates the proceeding events so he can write the truth from the inside out, even going so far as to hang out with the lead detective in the homicide. It’s a straightforward story with a few obvious twists, and reads like a guy at a bar telling a humorous and extended story to his friends about a couple murders; something they won’t remember the next morning, but which is nonetheless hilarious and engrossing on the night. Also, at times, the story is a little too clever for its own good: with all the inside jokes and secondhand industry stories, etc.

However, in spite of the flaws, it’s still a fairly entertaining read with a humorous, engaging voice. It won’t be one you recommend to all your friends, but it’s worth reading over the space of a Sunday afternoon when you’re bored and have nothing better to do. 


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