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In what is widely hailed as the best of his many novels, Charles Bukowski details the long, lonely years of his own hardscrabble youth in the raw voice of alter ego Henry Chinaski. From a harrowingly cheerless childhood in Germany through acne-riddled high school years and his adolescent discoveries of alcohol, women, and the Los Angeles Public Library's collection of D. H. Lawrence, Ham on Rye offers a crude, brutal, and savagely funny portrait of an outcast's coming-of-age during the desperate days of the Great Depression.

Topics: Alcoholism, Writers, Sex, Antihero, Beat Generation, Working Class, Writing, Great Depression, Fathers, Counterculture, Love, Poverty, Drugs, Coming of Age, Los Angeles, Germany, Poetic, Black Humor, Dark, Realism, First Person Narration, Semi-Autobiographical, Episodic, and Bildungsroman

Published: HarperCollins on Oct 13, 2009
ISBN: 9780061851919
List price: $8.99
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I think I’m beginning to see that one either likes Bukowski or hates him, and so with his work. Depending on your view, he’s either a dirty old man, extremely male-chauvenistic, outrageously misogynistic, or a straight-forward chronicler as life as it is lived, warts and all, with little (or no) time for pretensions and hypocrasies. The truth, I suppose it will be said by fence-sitters, ‘lies somewhere in between’, but I reject that sort of old anodyne hogwash (I’ve been reading a lot of Bukowski) and plump for the latter description.This book would make ag reat catalyst for another 6th form weary debate on ‘What is Pornography?’ If the graphic depiction of the sexual act, enacted in a wide selection of its possible scenarios, is pornography, then some parts of this work might be classedas pornography. But why always the hang up about sex? Personally I find much of what passes for ‘video games’ (so popular with 6 year-olds upwards) to be extrememly pornographic in that they enact violent, mind-warping scenes in which the consideration for humanlife is non-existent.OK. Enough soap-boxing already. This book is by turns very funny, very moving and (for me) enlightening on just how it is that Hank Chinasky (aka Charles), despite all the things he does wrong as regards ‘his’ women still emerges as human, and even ‘humane’. As a novel (and it is very episodic but just about qualifies for the genre) it is rather repetitive and a bit sermonising here and there. But it is really enjoyable to read and… Is that not enough?This is the Virgin Books edition of 2006.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Bukowski comes clean on some things in this book, compared to the others I've read. In this one we actually learn about some of his influences (other than John Fante), and some of the writers he recoiled from. Perhaps he tells the reader less later on (this book has the feel of being written earlier) because his detachment by then had become a style, a manifestation of the pretension that gives his Chinaski alter ego life: a style that pushes aside some of the vulnerable details that peek out in Ham and Rye. Bukowski hates pretense. It's what makes him fascinating, and laudable. He hates it with such passion it brings to mind Celine, another misanthrope who knew how to write, and perhaps the greatest hater to be taken seriously by a literate audience. (I think he's the best.) And, like Celine, there are signs that because of it, Bukowski can be a nasty MF. His takedown of Henry Miller in another book, for instance--a transparent aka living in Pacific Palisades, an old man at the time, trying to cadge money from his young visitor. But back to Ham on Rye: Somewhere along the way I realized I was taking it all in as if reading a noir mystery--a Jim Thompson--which is a genre I like, but whose limitations I understand. And I realized too, a moment later, that I'd lowered my expectations, to better accept Bukowsky for what he is: a very good but not a mind-blowing writer. Hence the four stars.read more
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Liked it. One of Bukowski's better novels.read more
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I think I’m beginning to see that one either likes Bukowski or hates him, and so with his work. Depending on your view, he’s either a dirty old man, extremely male-chauvenistic, outrageously misogynistic, or a straight-forward chronicler as life as it is lived, warts and all, with little (or no) time for pretensions and hypocrasies. The truth, I suppose it will be said by fence-sitters, ‘lies somewhere in between’, but I reject that sort of old anodyne hogwash (I’ve been reading a lot of Bukowski) and plump for the latter description.This book would make ag reat catalyst for another 6th form weary debate on ‘What is Pornography?’ If the graphic depiction of the sexual act, enacted in a wide selection of its possible scenarios, is pornography, then some parts of this work might be classedas pornography. But why always the hang up about sex? Personally I find much of what passes for ‘video games’ (so popular with 6 year-olds upwards) to be extrememly pornographic in that they enact violent, mind-warping scenes in which the consideration for humanlife is non-existent.OK. Enough soap-boxing already. This book is by turns very funny, very moving and (for me) enlightening on just how it is that Hank Chinasky (aka Charles), despite all the things he does wrong as regards ‘his’ women still emerges as human, and even ‘humane’. As a novel (and it is very episodic but just about qualifies for the genre) it is rather repetitive and a bit sermonising here and there. But it is really enjoyable to read and… Is that not enough?This is the Virgin Books edition of 2006.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Bukowski comes clean on some things in this book, compared to the others I've read. In this one we actually learn about some of his influences (other than John Fante), and some of the writers he recoiled from. Perhaps he tells the reader less later on (this book has the feel of being written earlier) because his detachment by then had become a style, a manifestation of the pretension that gives his Chinaski alter ego life: a style that pushes aside some of the vulnerable details that peek out in Ham and Rye. Bukowski hates pretense. It's what makes him fascinating, and laudable. He hates it with such passion it brings to mind Celine, another misanthrope who knew how to write, and perhaps the greatest hater to be taken seriously by a literate audience. (I think he's the best.) And, like Celine, there are signs that because of it, Bukowski can be a nasty MF. His takedown of Henry Miller in another book, for instance--a transparent aka living in Pacific Palisades, an old man at the time, trying to cadge money from his young visitor. But back to Ham on Rye: Somewhere along the way I realized I was taking it all in as if reading a noir mystery--a Jim Thompson--which is a genre I like, but whose limitations I understand. And I realized too, a moment later, that I'd lowered my expectations, to better accept Bukowsky for what he is: a very good but not a mind-blowing writer. Hence the four stars.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Liked it. One of Bukowski's better novels.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
In a way, it is one of the most compassionate books I have ever read. There is so much lack of emotion, aggression and attempts to present an uncaring protagonist, that the few moments where emotion and fear shine through have all the more impact. Such as the passage where some young boys have set a pitbull on a cat in a back-alley, with the cat backed against the wall and helpless, and all Chinaski wants to do is help the poor cat. The anguish and helplessness displayed in this scene is almost too touching to keep on reading. His relationship with the nurse who helps to get rid of his boils, and who causes him so much pain through this medical act, but is the only person to show him any empathy, is another example of the way the book teases emotion from the reader . . . well, perhaps tease is the wrong word for the impact that these passages have. Perhaps tearing would be more truthful, the way it tears the emotions of the reader apart. It is moments such as this that make 'Ham on Rye' Bukowski's greatest work, and most empathetic portrayal of the life of someone who is seemingly uncared for and alone. The ending, as with his other novels, is uneventful and sudden, leaving the reader with lingering thoughts for days afterwards. In its simplistic and direct style of language, this novel is close to perfect. A strange childhood renderred so effortlessly, with little grace, so that the subject is reflected in the style.
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Bukowski's inimitable style gets altered in his fourth novel to mirror the thoughts of a younger person and it works brilliantly. Even better is how he slides from that style into the more familiar style of Post Office and Factotum by the end of the novel to give it continuity with those other books. It definitely has humor enough to spare, but the style makes it a higher achievement than his other novels.
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Definitely a depressing book, but gives an essential background to Chinansky that will help you understand the rest of Bukowski's work.
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