The Bibliophile's Guide to Bukowski

Charles Bukowski was a shameless drinker, womanizer, and all-around f*ck up. He would get drunk on stage at his poetry readings and verbally abuse his audience. He gambled a lot of his money away and had an unfortunate habit of exposing himself in public.

But underneath Bukowski’s disgusting exterior was a deep and introspective man with more character than most. Bukowski spent most of his life broke, drunk, and getting fired from various jobs. Eventually, he ended up working in a post office filing letters. All his life he wrote fruitlessly, a total unknown and a loser.

He wrote for almost 30 years before finally getting his first book deal. It was a meager deal. When accepting it, he wrote, “I have one of two choices – stay in the post office and go crazy … or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.”

In my opinion, the honesty in his writing — his fears, failures, regrets, self-destruction, emotional dysfunction — it is unparalleled.” ~ Mark Manson


DON'T TRY!” ~ Charles Bukowski

While he may or may not have helped me give lesser (/better) f*cks, Mark did introduce me to Charles Bukowski. And I owe him big time for that.

It was the summer of 2017. I was still trying to muster the confidence to take a break from it all. Right around then, Bukowski's departing message to the world, etched upon his gravestone, leapt out from the first page of Manson's orange book and engraved itself upon my conscience for good.

I interpreted "Don't Try" as "Do! Not Try!!", and thus did what I'd been trying to do unsuccessfully till then - escape the circumstances which had led to dissatisfaction with life, the universe and everything else.

Coupled with Douglas Adams's "Don't Panic", it turned out to be the best advice ever, one to which I paid heed as much as I could over the next three years and counting...

And now, on the occasion of Hundred Years of Bukowski, I present to you my attempt at showcasing one of the more honest, if not the most, writers to walk on the surface of Earth.

For not only are we six months into a seemingly never-ending pandemic, but also facing epic levels of dishonesty and misinformation never seen before. F*ck the Avengers, we need Bukowski to save us.

This compilation collects the best of Buk the internet has to offer - in one place for easy access to be consumed at will.

May this Guide inspire you to stay sane by not trying!

"The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubt while the stupid people are full of confidence," wrote Charles Bukowski.

Have you ever heard a better summary of the mess we’re in today?

In his poems and stories, Bukowski described the futility of modern life better than anyone alive, and 16 August 2020 would have been his 100th birthday.” ~William Cook

50 years ago, John Martin of Black Sparrow Press offered the then-unknown 50 year-old Bukowski $100 per month for life if he quit his tedious job in the post office and wrote full time.

Within weeks, the manuscript for his debut novel 'Post Office' was on Martin's desk, followed by 5 more novels, thousands of poems and a few short stories spread over 60 published works written until his demise in 1994.

(Read below his letter of gratitude to John Martin in 1986)

And with each passing year since, his audience has expanded exponentially...

Fittingly, for a poet whose reputation was made in ephemeral underground journals, it is on the Internet that the Bukowski cult finds its most florid expression.

There are hundreds of Web sites devoted to him, not just in America but in Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic, and Sweden, where one fan writes that, after reading him for the first time, “I felt there was a soul-mate in Mr. Bukowski.”

Such claims to intimacy are standard among Bukowski’s admirers.” ~ Adam Kirsch, The New Yorker (2005)

To update Mr Kirsch's must-read seminal piece fifteen years later, a Google search today displays 21 million results for Charles Bukowski. (For reference purposes, that is six times the number for Ogden Nash - the other American poet I truly admire)

Apart from poetry, his brilliant semi-autobiographical Henry Chinaski set of 5 novels is a masterclass in writing of the 'no f*cks given' kind, offering a peek at a lifestyle often swept under the carpet and spoken about only in hushed, almost forgotten whispers.

(Scroll towards the bottom of this guide for sneak peeks and Kindle preview links to his novels)

For a comprehensive study of Buk's bibliography, check out the one-stop haven that is, complete with fan forums, rare interviews and the occasional fact-check.

My dear,
Find what you love and let it kill you. Let it drain from you your all. Let it cling onto your back and weigh you down into eventual nothingness. Let it kill you, and let it devour your remains.

For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it's much better to be killed by a lover.

Falsely yours,
Henry Charles Bukowski”

One of the most popular quotes to go viral on the internet, and one never spoken, written or mentioned by Bukowski.

The first ever published interview in the Chicago Literary Times in 1963...

It doesn't matter where you write so long as you have the walls, typewriter, paper, beer. You can write out of a volcano pit. Say, do you think I could get 20 poets to chip in a buck a week to keep me out of jail?” ~ Charles Bukowski

Don't miss - an exhaustive spreadsheet tracking the timeline of his life (along with the history of Los Angeles).

Author Charles Bukowski’s work invites us to imagine him as a man alone (or in messy company), sharing a small apartment with a stray cat near L.A.’s Thai Town ‑ drinking and typing his life away.

However, in tracing his steps as a literary tourist, it soon proves that the cantankerous scribe left his mark all over L.A.'s magnificent sprawl.” ~ Gustavo Turner

Early on, he learned that controversy would help boost sales; using a close-up of his ravaged face on the front cover of his then-shockingly titled Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions and General Tales of Ordinary Madness proved his point: he loved reactions as much as sales.

For a controversial writer who always seemed to be on a binge, he was prolific beyond words. Writing some 5,000 poems should be proof enough. But how—and when—did he manage to pump out so many poems?” ~ Abel Debritto

It's the magic of the Internet and its long tail that anyone, anywhere anytime, with a working Spotify account can listen to full-length recordings of Bukowski reciting his poetry drunk.

For your aural pleasure...

#1 -

#2 -

and #3 -

And for your audio-visual pleasure...

Shut up, you're making me dull. I don't wanna be dull, you know, 'cuz you paid $6. You don't wanna see a jerk up here, do you?

Or maybe you do. Steve Martin, THE JERK. Made $18 million and I went to sleep in the middle of it.” ~ Charles Bukowski, The Last Straw (1980)

One hour, fourteen minutes of Bukowski drinking red wine, smoking beedis, reading aloud his poetry and gloriously taking the crowd's case. Non-stop. The last time it ever happened. Watch it. NOW!!! (NSFW)

[edit - now unavailable :(]

[Juice!!!]” ~ Charles Bukowski, On Dying and How to Write

I used to hang around this park a little and... over there is a hotel... where the guy dropped out of the window while I was sitting, y'know... That's it...” ~ Charles Bukowski, The Worst Hangover Ever

Its not the large things that send a man to a madhouse...its the continuing series of small tragedies” ~ Charles Bukowski, September 1972, KCET San Franscisco

Do also check out the Hindi translation penned by Varun Grover and recited by Saurabh Dwivedi.

*German-American, not Russian

The brilliant Brain Pickings by the Bulgarian writer Maria Popova has featured Bukowski several times.

The top three...

I didn’t pay a hell of a lot of attention to grammar, and when I write it is for the love of the word, the color, like tossing paint on a canvas, and using a lot of ear and having read a bit here and there, I generally come out ok, but technically I don’t know what’s happening, nor do I care.” ~ Charles Bukowski, On Writing

When we were kids
there was a strange house
all the shades were
and we never heard voices
in there
and the yard was full of
and we liked to play in
the bamboo
pretend we were
(although there was no
Jane)” ~ Charles Bukowski

The crowd is the gathering place of the weakest; true creation is a solitary act.” ~ Charles Bukowski

It’s hard to overthink what one feels about Charles Bukowski, because the moment you are on the verge of doing so, his grizzled, pock-marked ghost-face rebukes you: If it doesn’t come bursting out of you / in spite of everything / don’t do it.

This is exactly the kind of urgent, irrepressible emotion that Bukowski provokes in his readers.” ~ Aditya Mani Jha, Scroll

In “On Drinking,” his escapades are entirely typical and roughly as follows: He goes to, copes with or barely avoids jail. He mouths off to cops. He gets into unprovoked fistfights that take three pages to describe and that involve dozens of barehanded punches to the head.

He offers to clean a bar’s dirty blinds for money and whiskey, and then, Tom Sawyer-style, persuades the other patrons to do the job for him.” ~ David Orr, The New York Times Book Review - "On Drinking"

From the Bibliotherapy archives dated March 2020...

[Add to library --> Ham on Rye - Charles Bukowski || Preview Available]
[Add to library --> factotum - Charles Bukowski || Preview Available]
[Add to library --> post office - Charles Bukowski || Preview Available]
[Add to library --> women - Charles Bukowski || Preview Available]

And the latest addition this September, courtesy @huemn...

Bukowski's presence was also felt at the 2020 London edition of the world's largest literature festival...

A few Buk-centred accounts of interest on Instagram worth adding to the feed...

The Bukowski Filmography (sadly not streaming anywhere in India, yet)...

Matt Dillion...
...Mickey Rourke

Charles Bukowski, the prolific writer and poet laureate of Los Angeles low-life whose rough-hewn autobiographical poems, short stories, novels and 1987 film “Barfly” chronicled his hard-bitten alcoholic youth, died Wednesday.” ~ Myrna Oliver, L.A. Times Obituary, 1994

A recap...

“You don’t try. That’s very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more.” ~ Charles Bukowski


Roll the Dice...

Thank you for scrolling all the way to the bottom :) ~ Nitin

For more Bukowski on Instagram...

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