12 April 2007


I have been reading a lot of non-fiction over the last few years. The problem has been that until recently, I'd completely excluded any fiction, even coming to the conclusion that there was no good fiction out there.
I had heard this interview with Matt Dillon on NPRs Fresh Air when it first aired and was intrigued. I was in my car and probably got pissed-off at another driver and subsequently forgot about it. Well, when the movie he was plugging was released on DVD they replayed the interview.
I've always liked Dillon and wanted to see the movie, but I first wanted to read the book because the author, Charles Bukowski, sounded interesting.
I loved the book (Factotum). Bukowski is a fantastic writer: gritty, simple, elegant, earthy and completely American. His writing was very reminiscent of Hemingway. The story is of Henry Chinaski and his movement through several cities, several women and several jobs. He can't keep a job for long due to: his drinking, his incompetence, his employer's incompetence or his lack of desire to work. Mostly its the drinking and the desire. The writing throughout is excellent with never a dull moment or a wasted sentence or sentiment. He reminded me of Hemingway with lines like, "My footsteps echoed in the empty street and it sounded like somebody was following me. I looked around. I was mistaken. I was quite alone." His sentences are very much like Papa's, very concise with none but necessary and functional modifiers.
Another great example of Bukowski's insight into human nature is within the dialogue Chinaski has with a colleague, Manny, in an auto parts warehouse. They've been ducking out of work early to rush to the race track to bet on the last race of the day, and they've been hitting the winning horse. Their co-workers want them to place bets on their behalf:
"Hank, we take their bets."
"Those guys don't have any money--all they have is the coffee and chewing gum money their wives give them and we don't have time to mess around with two dollar windows."
"We don't bet their money, we keep their money."
"Suppose they win?"
"They won't win. They always pick the wrong horse. They have a way of always picking the wrong horse."
"Suppose they bet our horse?"
"Then we know we've got the wrong horse."
"Manny, what are you doing working in auto parts?"
"Resting. My ambition is handicapped by my laziness."
We had another beer and went back to the warehouse.

Just fantastic prose like this fills the whole book.
This was the perfect break for me and my being mired in non-fiction. I had picked up Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom, which is great, but it is more of a long essay than a book, yet it was taking me forever to get through it--two weeks to get just over sixty pages in. I zipped through Factotum in a few days and got turned on to a few of Bukowski's other works. He was also proficient in the short story and has penned some excellent poems. Post Office is another one of his novels that I enjoyed. I am also looking forward to Ham on Rye.
Having read his works, and upon hearing of the death yesterday (11 April 2007) of Kurt Vonnegut reminded me that there is still good fiction out there. Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates by Tom Robbins is also very good, though Still Life with Woodpecker is still is finest work in my humble opinion (Thank you, Claudio).
Coming to the end of this much enjoyed relapse into fiction I am looking forward to clearing out my backlog of non-fiction, including Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, recommended highly by Jay, then Duel, American Sphinx, Infamous Scribblers, Andrew Jackson, Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and then Theodore Rex. I also have to get through The Road to Serfdom and the Constitution of Liberty to get them off the "To Do" Shelf.
If I'm able to pull this off, hopefully by the end of the year if I don't get distracted, I might need some more fiction. I'm open to suggestions.