Jay's pick this week is Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski and Phil is introduced to the sordid world of Henry Chinaski.
Will Phil gain an appreciation for school yard beatings, boils and heavy drinking? Does Jay provide any illumination on whether Charles Bukowski was an insightful genius, an emotionless sociopath or one of the best writers of his generation?
Listen in and find out. Enjoying the show? Have some feedback on one of our shows? Visit us at https://www.facebook.com/Dog-eared-and-Cracked-112028897241197 or at www.dogearedandcracked.ca and leave some feedback. We'll read it on the show.
[00:00:00] There is no way to avoid the explicit language checkbox for this one. The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another. And no matter what you chose, they sliced off a little more of you until there was nothing left at the age of 25. Most people were finished, a whole goddamn nation of assholes, driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible. Like voting for the presidential candidate who reminded them most of themselves.
[00:00:39] Welcome to Dog-eared and Crack the podcast, where we each recommend a book for the other and engage in a conversation about the book. With different tastes and books and writing style, we never really know which way the podcasts will go. Does the book have a power to sever a decades long friendship? Join us to find out and maybe pick up some great reading suggestions at the same time. Fortunately for you, the podcast listener no reading is required. I'm Jay and I'm Phil. And this week we're discussing Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski, published in 1982.
[00:01:16] And Jay, as you suggested, I do have a glass of beer beside me.
[00:01:20] Before we get into the book, if you like the podcast, please rate and review us an Apple podcast or wherever you listen. Ratings and reviews are important because they make the podcast easier to find and that allows us to reach more people. And you can also leave us feedback at dogearedandcracked.ca. And we do have some feedback to share at the end of the show before we get to the book.
[00:01:41] Tell us a bit about the author.
[00:01:43] So Charles Bukowski. He was born in Germany soon after the First World War, and he moved to L.A. with his family when he was just a toddler, when he was a young man. He moved around the country a little bit, but he went back to L.A. after the end of World War Two, and he spent the rest of his life there. So his you know, his work is really associated with Los Angeles. Bukowski started off writing short stories. He got into poetry. And in 1954, he had a near-death experience from an internal hemorrhage. Around that time, he started to write more poetry, and he also started writing fast, like really fast. Maybe because of that experience, he always felt that death was around the corner. I don't know. But there is a Web site at Bukowski.net run by a writer called Michael Jerome Phillips. And he says that Bukowski wrote at least 5,300 poems and short stories and that there are probably hundreds more because he didn't always keep them when he was younger. I did look through the list of books on the Web site. I started to get kind of dizzy, but I think they came to about one hundred and thirty. A lot of those are reissues, compilations and so on. And Wikipedia credits him with six novels and over 60 books. And I find it interesting that he didn't actually publish his first novel until 1971 when he was when he was over 50.
[00:03:03] I was amazed that he actually, he died in the 70s. Yeah. And as you realize, about Charles Bukowski, he put a little lot of pressure on his body, a lot of stress on his body drinking.
[00:03:14] Yeah. He's a bit like a bit like Ozzy Osborne being like, why am I still alive? Right. So just a couple more things on. He spent a few years working at the post office. He was a letter carrier and a filing, a filing clerk, and he has a novel called Post Office. He was married in the 50s for three years. He was married again in eighty five. And he was very devoted to drinking alcohol, I guess in part to deal with depression. And but it was leukemia that he died of at the age of 73. Also want to point out, as the author of a book on fermentation, that he worked in a pickle factory for a while. Well, you said I'd never read any Bukowski till now. You came along and ruined my streak.
[00:03:55] And everyone I mentioned this episode to was like, oh, Bukowski. And, you know, my impression of him was that he wrote books about, like, hard drinking characters that young guys kind of love him because they see him as kind of being edgy and dark and dangerous. And I suspected maybe, you know, they justify their own horrible behaviour and I probably would have loved him when I was younger. That's kind of the attitude I had. And I just kind of passed me by for whatever reason. I never I never read his books. But despite a lot, I was determined to keep an open mind.
[00:04:26] I don't think that's not how I would have described him, having read him. What's generally this book about?
[00:04:32] Well, it reads like a memoir. It's fiction, but it reads like a memoir. And it's told from the point of view of Henry Chinaski, who appears in other Bukowski novels, too, and I guess is somewhat of an an alter ego of Bukowski’s. We start with Chinaski’s earliest childhood. He’s a toddler in L.A. He's being raised by his sadistic father. They go visit an alcoholic grandfather and he's just generally trying to understand the world the way little kids do. It's mostly set during the Great Depression and then it follows Chinaski like all the way through elementary school, middle school, high school, chronicles all his mistreatment by teachers, neighbors. He kind of sees everyone around him as an as an idiot. He resorts to violence very quickly as a way of making a name for himself, because it's a tough business growing up. And along the way, he discovers writing, girls, women and books. So I had two questions, actually, was one was why you wanted me to read it? And you also mentioned a couple of times that you thought I would like it. So I'm curious about both of those covers.
[00:05:33] Ok, I never said you would like it. I literally never said you would like it.
[00:05:37] You're on tape saying, I think you'll like it.
[00:05:40] OK, I already know what your opinion of the book is. sign spoiler alert. Those Phil is not a fan. That's fine, because here's the thing.
[00:05:48] The reason I want you to read it is because I wanted a second opinion. I'll tell you the story. A good friend of mine, Eitan, has been a big fan of Bukowski for a while.
[00:05:59] He suggested I read his books. So I started with Pulp and which was his last book written before his death. And I guess I figured by then it would have got his groove after 50 years of experience writing books. But apparently he only wrote it, started writing books in the 70s. I didn't realize that. Pulp was a one off. But I was interested enough to continue reading what is considered, I guess, is a trilogy of sorts.
[00:06:21] So it starts with Ham on Rye and then its Post Office.
[00:06:25] And then, of course, Women is the third in that trilogy and post office as his middle aged attempt at working in the real world as an adult and then women is the end of his career, so to speak. Bukowski, whose writing has never really captured my attention, and yet somehow I kept reading his books. I can understand that. And I'm hoping during the course of this podcast that we can get to the heart of why is Bukowski so popular? For example, on the back of my book, there's a blurb which describes his poetry and says that it's comparable to William Wordsworth and Walt Whitman and which is a huge, which is a strong endorsement of the manslaughter skills. So, I thought this would be an interesting podcast because I thought the debate and the discourse that you and I could have about this author would be actually really interesting. Before we get into specifics, what did you think of Bukowski’s writing style?
[00:07:22] Let me back up, because there was one thing that kept running through my mind as I was reading this, and that was that you disliked the transmigration of Timothy Archer so much that you were willing to give it a rating below zero.
[00:07:37] And one of the key, one of the key reasons for that was that Angel Archer, the narrator, is so dislikeable. In Ham on Rye, we have a narrator who goes to an air show and can't decide if the most exciting part was looking up a woman's skirt or seeing a skydiver die because his parachute didn't open. And who beats the crap out of anyone who pisses him off?
[00:08:00] And then if that's not enough, he tells us near the end that he's a Nazi, although he doesn't really have anything against blacks and Jews and he might not really be a Nazi, but just pretending to be one. Goes back to why is he so popular?
[00:08:15] The character of Angel that we talked about in the transmigration of Timothy Archer by Philip K. Dick. I felt was a one off and I thought, well, it's one character I would debate that they're necessarily comparable. Bukowski has somehow made a career of this character. This character shows up in four different books. There's another one called Factotum. Is there any reason he should be popular? And I agree that he's a despicable character. I have no disagreement with that.
[00:08:43] He's a low life. He's the lowest of the low and he embraces it.
[00:08:48] Well, that's probably why he's popular. Right. And I have to say, I didn't hate the whole book. You know, your question about the writing style is it's interesting because it's very detached. It's kind of odd, right? It's a little off putting because he's very flat, like it was troubling. I couldn't tell if it was incredibly effective or if it bothered me or, you know, it's the story of someone who's pretty troubled. So, it's a very troubling style of writing. And it is effective. It does it does capture that character. But that kind of disconnect. It is a dark kind of humour, but there are spots that are very funny here. Can I point to one more? Yes. When he's in college and trying to decide what to take it, community college and he asks his friend, what's the easiest fucking thing I can take? And his friend says, journalism. They don't do anything.
[00:09:39] I feel like they one hurt you. I never actually took journalism. But you're a journalist, now. My assessment of Bukowski’s writing style is I actually don't enjoy it at all.
[00:09:51] There's a section in the book because his alter ego, Henry, is expressing admiration for Ernest Hemingway. That's exactly the style I don't like as a reader, as Hemingway. I lament the loss of descriptive paragraphs. The beginning of the book suffers from the short factual phrases with a sparse sense of language that really makes the book drag.
[00:10:11] There's no speed to it and it begins to read like a grocery list eggs, milk, coffee, ham…rye. Did you find any of his humour funny or was it really too dark?
[00:10:22] I found the humour fine, but I think in true dogeared and cracked style, I liked the first 150 or so pages of the book. And then I found that it was a real slog after that, which is probably around when you thought it hit its stride.
[00:10:38] Here's how I found Charles Bukowski’s sense of humour. It's subtle and it's buried. Occasionally pops his head up just at the right time. It's not in the theme. It's not in sarcasm. It's just in one liners. Here's a quote. Henry is talking about his friend, Jimmy Hatcher, who you've talked about previously.
[00:10:58] The quote goes, he even got up once in English class and read an essay called The Value of Friendship. And while he was reading it, he kept glancing at me. It was a stupid essay, soft and standard. But the class applauded when he finished. And I thought, well, that's what people think. And what can you do about it?
[00:11:17] I wrote a counter essay called The Value of No Friendship at All. The teacher didn't let me read the third class. She gave me a D.
[00:11:26] Yeah, that was good. You know, I thought that maybe when you recommended this, that it was something you'd read when we were in high school or something and that now you were gonna reread it. And so I was curious to know what you what you thought about it. Looking at it now. But it's interesting because your story with the book is very different from what I expected. It's kind of like the appeal of Catcher in the Rye, which I haven't read in many decades. But that feeling of like, I'm kind of superior to everyone around me, even though outwardly I don't seem to be. And they're all kind of phoneys and it's an appealing kind of way to think, especially if you're a teenager. Right.
[00:12:05] That was not it for me at all. This is where the podcast might get interesting, because that's not at all why I found the novel interesting. Like, I feel I've beyond kind of that my life right now.
[00:12:18] Oh, yeah. no, I didn't mean that's why you would find it interesting. I just thought more generally about like, why do you know what you're saying. Like why is he popular. Yeah, that makes sense. I figured you were beyond that.
[00:12:29] Can we talk a little bit about the character Henry and his father? Yeah. So was his father real or an embellished caricature like this gritty, bitter, hard old man.
[00:12:42] Hard to know, right? I mean, I really like the first hundred and fifty pages or so of the book because I thought it really captured that kind of confusion of childhood. Like what's happening? Kids, they go to visit the grandfather who the father and mother have been talking about how much a terrible alcoholic.
[00:13:00] And but for Henry, it's like a sweet old man. Right. And then the father's violence and anger just seems to be out of nowhere. And I think he does capture that sense of you try to please the dad. You don't understand why he's treating you this badly. And then at the same time, as he gets older, this kind of growing realization of, you know, he starts to dismiss him and eventually kind of stand up to him. I don't know if you had a chance to look, but I had suggested you take a look at a scene in Mon Oncle Antoine, which is this classic Canadian movie. And there's a scene where it's kind of told from the perspective of this young boy. And at one point he's at a meal and everyone's eating and he's just watching, watching the adults and particularly I think it's his dad eating. And there's a scene a bit like that in this book, and he's just disgusted by it. You can tell like it's like this awareness of all the kind of grossness of adulthood. So I thought the book did that really well. But then after a certain point, it did seem like it veered into caricature.
[00:14:00] What I think I did feel that exactly like that. It just it was the same characterization we see so often in films, TV, it's this angry father, his unhappiness in life, taking note on his children. I mean, remember, the man was driving himself to work every day when he's unemployed. That I could believe.
[00:14:19] OK, well, that's interesting because that takes a lot of perseverance to get up every morning and drive yourself to no job.
[00:14:25] I've heard about it. But I mean, it's this idea of the hard drinker feeling that he has no future in life. It sets the tone. There's two aspects to this. One is that we are getting a glimpse into Henry Chinaski as he almost becomes his father in so many. And I'm not trying to give a lot of credit to Bukowski here. And maybe he is a genius. I don't know. So we're comfortable. I think we've agreed, Phil, that for the most part, we're comfortable with this idea that the overbearing father makes sense. Yeah. And yet when we start to see a character evolve into that, there's discomfort. It actually, the novel became interesting to me. It became interesting when Henry Chinaski starts to embrace this downtrodden perspective, a world into which he is fated to descend. We get this glimpse into a birth and cringing development of a low life and low life as a key word. He says in the book “I made practice runs down to Skid Row to get ready for my future. I didn't like what I saw down there. “
[00:15:29] Yeah, that's right near the end. Yeah, it's a theme. Like one theme in this book is coming of age. Would you agree with that? Yeah, sure. Right.
[00:15:37] The problem is, is that it's a coming of age novel without the typical overcoming of the challenges that you normally find here. The character Henry, instead of overcoming these challenges and becoming what we would describe as an adult. He embraces these demons and just feeds them. And I think that's where the novel becomes really uncomfortable for people.
[00:16:02] Huh? I think that that's really astute, actually. I had I had not thought about that. I mean, I found it becoming a slog just because it seemed like an endless, endless catalogue of women he was simultaneously attracted to and disgusted by and beating everyone up. I have to say, I really liked that final scene. I don't know if you remember, but where he's playing an arcade game, when he goes down to Skid Row, where he's playing an arcade game, it sounds a lot like Rock'em Sock'Em Robots, which was around when we were kids. Right. He invites this kid off the street to play with him and the kid chooses the boxer, the metal boxer has a defective arm and he still beats Chinaski like twice in a row. And there was something I thought that was one of the best scenes in the book, actually, that he's just is just beaten down and he can't even beat this kid off the street at an arcade game.
[00:16:59] I think what you're pointing out is this idea that normally all novels or most novels and stories follow the same structure. It's rare where you find a novel where the character starts at a level and just declines. And then declines and declines, and there's no surmounting of challenges.
[00:17:24] There's no resolution of conflict. There's no reversal of fortune. He just declines to the point where the end of the book is exactly what you just described. We'll read books about the rise of someone. We'll read books about the rise and fall of someone. But has anyone really written books about the fall of someone?
[00:17:45] The fall and fall and fall? And he embraces it, too.
[00:17:49] Yeah. He embraces it and he supports it and encourages it. And he's literally a loser, the character. I mean, I don't necessarily think Charles Bukowski was a loser, but the character is a loser. And so it begs the question, is that the problem with the book?
[00:18:08] Now, I don't know. Now it's back to that, is it? Is it brilliant or not? He complains about finding himself surrounded. How all the losers are attracted to him. Right. He's never going to be popular because all the kind of misfits and losers see something in him that they're drawn to. He does capture that hierarchy of school. Right.
[00:18:29] There's a section in there where Henry Chinaski is writing about listening to President Herbert Hoover's speech. You remember that?
[00:18:36] Yes. So, yeah, I mean, I like this because partly it's about his recognition of what he can do as a writer, I think, even though he doesn't say that. So Hoover is coming to town. The teacher tells everyone to go see him speak and then write right about it. Chinaski can't go because he has to mow the lawn. And if he doesn't, you know, do everything absolutely perfectly. His father's going to beat him. So he just decides to make the whole thing up. This is in his essay about the speech that he did not go see. But he's pretending he did.
[00:19:11] I couldn't quite hear the speech because I was sitting too near the popcorn machine, which made a lot of noise popping the kernels, but I think I heard him say that the problems in Manchuria were not serious and that at home everything was going to be all right. We shouldn't worry. All we had to do was believe in America. There would be enough jobs for everybody. There would be enough dentists with enough teeth to pull enough fires and firemen to put them out. Mills and factories would open again. Our friends in South America would pay their debts. Soon we would all sleep peacefully, our stomachs and our hearts full. God and our great country would surround us with love and protect us from evil. From socialists, awaken us from our national nightmare forever. So I love this. It's really good. It's like a parody of a political speech. But you could also actually still imagine someone making a speech pretty close to that today. And the teacher also recognizes that he's lying, but gives him a good grade because it's so well-written. So I think, you know, I think it's kind of a key moment in the book. This was a really good part of the book.
[00:20:17] I thought it was a nice alignment of Henry's life with what we already knew about him. And this this is his tendency to live inside of his own head. So some things I struggled with, something I struggle with about this novel was it's about imagination and then not the creation of fantastical worlds, but embellishment of a trivial and sad life. It's just the imaginative creativity he brings to every event. And this was a point in his life where he started to. Come out as a writer. So, Phil, should we be reading this book, knowing that this Henry Chinaski is Bukowski’s alter ego, or should we just take it as a novel on its own?
[00:21:09] Yeah. That's one of the things I struggled with reading it, because, you know, everyone describes Chinaski as Bukowski’s alter ego. So you always have that question running through your head about like. Is this stuff. Did this stuff really happen to him or not? And ultimately, I'm not sure that really matters. Right. I mean, the book is a novel. I mean, sometimes, you know, the line between novel and memoir is not as clear cut as it should be. Right. There have been books, memoirs that have been published that it turns out a lot of stuff was exaggerated or altered. And really, if you think about it, they were maybe not that different from novels that were based on real stories. You know, maybe they were slugged his memoirs because they'd sell more.
[00:21:48] So, you know, some of the interactions with kids at school are just horrible. Right? Like, there's I mean, it's still horrible. But I don't have a hard time believing this stuff is realistic. Some of it I did. Like I said later on as he got older and violence seems to be his only way to, like, relate to people. It gets back to the whole teenage boy thing, like I think. OK. So, you know, when we were in high school. I got into a couple of fights, and when I was in elementary school, sometimes there were like fights on the playground. You know, I don't know if this if you remember this, but like everyone standing around yelling, fight, fight, fight, while two little kids are, like, wailing at each other. And once in elementary school, I was one of those kids and I felt kind of. I remember I felt kind of like proud of myself, like, oh, I got to be the kid he was fighting. So. So but those things like really stand out. I have a hard time. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but I have a hard time imagining what it would be like where that's your daily reality at school.
[00:22:53] Yeah, I think there's a bit of distorted focus later on the book when he's 13 years old around that age. So a little older he and his friends seem really preoccupied with sex and bullying other kids. I was a little uncertain and I wanted to ask you about this. Is this realistic or is it inflated ego or is Chinaski just obsessed with sex and having fights? Because it's not a true depiction.
[00:23:20] It's a slice of being a 13 year old, but because he devotes almost the entirety of the book to it. Is that realistic? I think what I'm hearing is that it's really not. I think what you're saying is that it's not something that's realistic. I remember bullying when we went to high school and the swagger of the existentialists, the tough kids and perhaps the odd copy of Playboy passed around out of curiosity, but I don't recall any obsession with sexual conquests.
[00:23:55] Well, we also went to an all-boys school. true. OK.
[00:24:02] Well, you would think that would be worse, though.
[00:24:06] I mean. Yeah, I mean, I. Part of me got really tired of this. A part of me was thinking like, OK, like Philip Roth did this and Portnoise Complaint, like, decades earlier. And he probably did it better.
[00:24:20] And it's also to me, it wasn't just the obsession with sex, but it's so I mean, like with it you remember, you know, when he is determined to seduce Jimmy's mom. That's right. Like she's a widow, you know. Henry goes over there with Jimmy. He gets drunk and she's working in a bar. She's a widow because her husband killed himself. And then he's trying to kind of seduce her and she sort of plays along in it. And then at that point, he's disgusted and he leaves and he says he can't believe someone suicided over that. So it's like that's what I found really hard. It's not just the obsession with sex, but he's obsessed with girls, but he kind of hates them at the same time.
[00:25:00] The theme of sabotage. You know, I've read one opinion. It's about Henry's conflict that he's struggling to fit in, but I don't agree with that at all. He has a sociopathic desire to push away those close to him. He sabotages anything that might possibly make him happy.
[00:25:16] Well, near the end of the book, he says directly to the reader, I am not a misanthrope or a misogynist. No, I know. But I like if you've got to tell us, that’s not a good sign.
[00:25:30] There's a great one liner. He's on his way to work, his first day at work and Henry has a takes a sandwich out of his lunch because a dog that has obviously seen better days is following him. He pulls out his lunch and hands the dog a little bit of a sandwich and it goes “the dog walked up to the bit of sandwich, put his nose to it, sniffed, then turned and walked off.
[00:25:56] This time he didn't look back. He accelerated down the street. No wonder I've been depressed all my life. I wasn't getting proper nourishment. “
[00:26:03] We talked a little bit about the high school and you'd mentioned Curly Wagner. And this is Coach Curly Wagner, who heads the high school hall sports coach. And at one section he engages in and initiates a fist fight with a student.
[00:26:21] So let me be clear here. Initiated a fist fight with his student. So I would like to ask this is 1933.
[00:26:32] Could this have really happened?
[00:26:34] What do you think, Phil? I was confused by Curley Wagner because he called him the gym coach, not the gym teacher. And so then I started to wonder if he was actually a student until it became clear that he was a teacher. Now, look, my dad was almost the same age as Bukowski. My dad was born in 1921. So, you know, and he grew up in like inner city Montreal, son of an immigrant father, Jewish, very poor, went to a high school with a lot of immigrant kids, didn't finish high school because he couldn't afford to. And it was fairly rough, you know, in some ways. And he would tell stories, but there was never anything like this. Right. So whether it's realistic or not, I don't know. But I was thinking back, you know, about my dad, and I thought, okay, my dad is the same age like he. Now, of course, I'm sure there would have been stories my dad didn't tell me, but it did seem kind of weird, even in the context of this book, which is not to say, again, that it couldn't happen. But yeah, and I wasn't really even sure what purpose it served other than everybody is an asshole, I guess.
[00:27:39] So there's a focus on the violence, which is which is an issue, and maybe it makes a book interesting at the same time. That's all he talks about, students beating each other up, teachers beating on students, and then even Henry allowing himself to be being beaten up himself time and time again, really for the only reason and compensation is that he held his ground if only for a few minutes. And I don't know if it’s Bukowski or Chinaski that we speak to. But is he a sociopath because there's so much lack of emotion in the way in their writing. Did you find the book a little too emotionless?
[00:28:18] It's one of the big questions of the book for me. it is emotionless. And is that, like, brilliant because he's showing the detached nature of this character. You know, I really don't know. I can't say. I found it tiring and tiresome, but I don't. Yeah, it's it's Off-putting for sure. And it did make it hard to read. But yeah, I do think it's the key question of the book.
[00:28:46] I did a little bit of math myself and I don't want to age either, so we won't. But when we went to high school, I think we're at the tail end of the paddle.
[00:28:55] You remember the paddle?
[00:28:56] Yes, because there were stories of I think in in our case, like the strap from slightly older kids.
[00:29:04] Well, no. One of them had the paddle. OK. Early. And who wasn't? I was not a proud recipient just for the audience. However, our peers were.
[00:29:16] Do you remember who it was?
[00:29:20] Well, that will not bias podcast listeners at all.
[00:29:25] Maybe a harsh review. The idea, though, is what we don’t know is perhaps Coach Curly Wagner was suspended the day after. And that could have happened as well.
[00:29:36] So we don't know if there is some very funny stuff with a teacher who, like the guy who teaches shop and keeps trying to get them to take the car engines apart.
[00:29:44] And the other student tells them dirty jokes until they finally realise this is OK. You can watch the movie. Yeah.
[00:29:51] There's this is the problem with the novel is that we're both laughing about it. And it's I think in some ways because he's a genius, because on the surface, you want to be able to say to others that this is a despicable book. On the other hand, we're we've got life sort of. It was actually amusing.
[00:30:08] And I don't know if that was just sheer contrast to the rest of it or not. All right. Now we're at the part of the podcast where we give some thought to the novel as a Netflix series and Bukowski, whose works have seen their fair share of movie adaptations. I don't know if you've seen Barfly Phil, but it was a released in 1987 as a film.
[00:30:29] And the story goes that Sean Penn offered to play Henry Chinaski for one dollar as long as his friend Dennis Hopper would direct. Bukowski felt that the European director he'd worked with, Schroeder deserved to make it as Schroder had invested many years and thousands of dollars in the project. So Mickey Rourke actually ultimately played the role of Henry Chinaski and Bukowski apparently appears as a bar patron and a brief cameo. I have not seen the film yet, have you?
[00:30:57] I did not think I had seen the film, but Sarah reminded me that we saw it together in France in 1987 and she remembered that she hated it and that Faye Dunaway was in it. And I remember absolutely nothing.
[00:31:11] Wow France. That's very bourgeois.
[00:31:17] Normally, we would ask if this could have been done as a Netflix series, but I thought we would challenge ourselves this time. Phil. So could this book be adopted for a children's movie?
[00:31:28] I can't tell if it's a ridiculous question or not, but I. I actually think you probably could. But you'd have to tone it down a lot. It wouldn't be a Disney movie. I do think you could do it like a kind of dark sort of coming of age. I guess It would take a lot of talent to pull it off.
[00:31:46] It would have to be I, in my opinion, to have to be rewritten as a script for a children's movie. It would have to be a cautionary tale, which is a dubious proposition. Yeah. As even as a story for adults is hugely unapologetic. Just so there's no lesson really to be learnt here for adults, much less for children.
[00:32:03] It's so internal also. So much of it is about how he feels.
[00:32:06] It is. But I've watched movies before where it's from the child's perspective. But it would definitely have to be animated and the characters exaggerated.
[00:32:15] So he starts to gain some ground.
[00:32:18] Midway through the book and there's a particular section where he finds a library and starts reading books alphabetically. And I want to ask you Phil, do you think there's truth to adage that to be a good writer, you need to read a lot?
[00:32:32] Yeah, I think so. I think a lot of people would like to not have that be true. One of the things I've enjoyed, doing this podcast with you and also just in general is since I finished doing my MFA degree last year, I hardly read anything for a couple of years because almost everything I read was related to school. And so it's been really interesting, like I'm reading right now. The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. I don't know if you know that book or not, but I keep kind of stopping and thinking like, well, how did she do that? Like, she's so good. And at the same time, I've been tearing through the Robert B. Parker Spencer novels, which are these like fast paced kind of crime novels. And you can just see him plotting those and hammering his way through writing them. They're totally, totally different. But I think, you know, King says something in on writing about how when you read, you're constantly looking for what you can steal and he doesn't mean steal in the sense of plagiarize. But just like I think people are doing interesting things. And how can you you know, I'm sure there is the odd genius who never reads anything. It's like with od genius musicians and comes up with something brilliant. But yeah, I do think it's pretty fundamental.
[00:33:41] I always heard that and I always felt like I'm a constant reader as well.
[00:33:45] And I do write and I always felt that every type from reading is an excuse not to write.
[00:33:50] How did you feel about the book changing? I felt that changed it midway through. So I described the book as being very factual, very matter of fact, Hemingway esque, Bukowski really hits his stride when the story shifts to his first job after high school, the one at the department store.
[00:34:07] And I loved how he described the people he worked with, the lowest of the low.
[00:34:13] They want people who will like who are so low that they won't leave the job.
[00:34:16] That's right.
[00:34:18] It's funny because it's a social commentary that to this very day is probably appropriate. And Bukowski just nails it right back then. So, Phil, if an editor pay you to shorten this book by a third, let's say, to make it into one of those Reader's Digest condensed novels, what kind of changes would you make?
[00:34:39] I would refuse the assignment.
[00:34:46] I don’t need the money that badly.
[00:34:51] I feel we know we're going with the scoring like, you know.
[00:34:56] But I was I guess maybe because it's Reader's Digest. You'd have to clean it up so much, you'd be nothing left.
[00:35:02] All right. So we're at the point now where we need to offer our personal rating for the book. So we've been using a scale of one to five because this is Bukowski we're talking about. Let's say the rating of five means that you manage not to spill your drink while doing this podcast or make any friends while reading the book. And one star means that you developed boils on your back. So, Phil, where does Ham on Rye make its mark with you?
[00:35:28] I was leaning towards one and a half, but I'm gonna go with two. I always find it interesting. Like I've said before, because my view kind of changes as I talk to you. And I went from, wow, I like totally misjudged Bukowski for the first hundred pages of the book because I thought he was great at depicting that, kind of struggling to understand what's going on, nature of childhood. And then I just start to get really pissed off with it. So I'm going to settle. I think at a two. I did have someone suggest I read post office the other day, and I would not be unwilling to do it, though.
[00:36:10] Well, post office is kind of part two, right?
[00:36:12] It's the sequel and into the natural sequel. Women is not so much, although it's arguably supposed to be the third in the trilogy. So what about you? I would say I would go with three. I'm going with three out of five. Which listeners of this podcast would agree is respectable. And the reason I would go with three out of five is because I'm on the fence. I see the value in Charles Bukowski. I feel that some of the novel is cluttered with nonsense.
[00:36:45] It's cluttered with an obsession with despicable activities.
[00:36:52] And I'm not uncomfortable with that. But there's no redemption.
[00:36:55] There's no lesson. So it's an unbalanced novel that way.
[00:37:00] One thing that we may end up doing one day, if you're agreeable and this would be very interesting, is if we ever ended up doing poetry, I would actually be real interested
[00:37:11] In reading Bukowski’s poetry because I believe that's what he is really known for you know, there's no doubt the character of Henry Chinaski is he's despicable. He's a lowlife. Part of the appeal for this novel. For me was why is he a low life? And we get to learn vicariously how a little life develops. And maybe that was kind of what kept me interested. It's looking at a world from Henry's viewpoint, which is as a low life and that world.
[00:37:42] So sort of third party. Yeah, I can see that. So, Phil, we have some more listener feedback from a previous episode. Did you want to share that?
[00:37:51] Sure. So this comes from Kyle and Kyle's commenting on our episode on the utility of Boredom by Andrew Forbes, a book of essays about baseball. And one of the things, Jay, that bothered you with that book was the amount of what you called namedropping like. So just constant references to different players and statistics that you didn't get. And so, Kyle, Kyle has a little bit about that. So here's what he says. He goes re: name dropping. I was struggling how to explain this phenomenon. And I'm not sure there is any explanation outside of sports. I got together with my old high school group and we probably spent half an hour just recalling names of old CFL players from the 70s. I.e the very edge of your peripheral memory of the sport. You made a comment early on about the book being full of statistics, but that's only half the story because like namedropping statistics are used as a storytelling device.
[00:38:46] Let me just break in here and say that somebody and an administrator when I worked at the National Film Board revolutionized the way I looked at budgets because he told me that the budget was just a story told in numbers and that when you once you knew how to read it, you knew what you were going to do. So I think that's kind of what Kyle’s getting at here with statistics, he says.
[00:39:09] The best way I have to describe this is through a baseball scoresheet, what people use when they refer to keeping score. The connection between the pen, paper and mind is mysterious. In baseball, this is how it can be. Budgets are not stories at all.
[00:39:25] Well, I think that's it for this episode of Dog-eared and Cracked. Next time we're going to discuss Andre the Giant by Brian Brown, which is Phil's pick.
[00:39:36] All right. Well, we'll see you then. See you then.