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Reading for the new adult: Life lessons from Bukowski

Reading for the new adult: Life lessons from Bukowski

The following review is by Sarah Cassidy - a young woman who has worked at Parry Sound Books since she was a high school student. Now finished her first university degree, she is working while thinking about post-graduate education, and we are very pleased that she is still giving us a few hours a week at Parry Sound Books. Sarah has been reviewing books for young readers, but after reading Charles Bukowski for her own enjoyment she wrote this review. My generation read Bukowski when his writing was new - just another reminder that what goes around comes around, and sometimes what is old is new again for a new generation.



I am taking a brief sabbatical from my reviews of young readers’ literature, and as a parting thought I wanted to write something for different set of “young” readers: the twenty-something.

Literature that adequately conveys the tribulations of burgeoning adulthood is a treasure. Ironically, Bukowkski’s works into his 50s and on are what resonate most with me in my mid-twenties. To see someone whose life is less put together and successes still immense gives me hope despite my next-to-useless bachelor’s degree and mountains of student debt. I think other university graduates, whose next steps in life are uncertain, will feel the same.

Bukowski’s poetry reads like prose—stream-of-consciousness, fast-paced, and so beautiful it’s a wonder he’s writing of skid row LA. My favourite collection by far is You Get So Alone at Times that it Just Makes Sense. This collection reminds me to be brave in my new station as an adult. It tells me that I have more let-downs ahead, but that is ultimately okay. Those who have any money in the bank, a person to love, or even a home will find new appreciation for these blessings next to Bukowksi’s contented rock bottom existence.

Another favourite from Bukowski is Ham on Rye. Anyone who enjoyed Bret Easton Ellis, Catcher in the Rye, or Lullabies for Little Criminals is sure to revel in Ham on Rye. It is the story of scrappy, antisocial Henry Chinaski as he transitions from young boy to young man. How such an ugly story, ugly protagonist, and ugly setting can comprise such a stunning novel is beyond me—only in such gifted hands as Bukowski’s could this be achieved. Henry is certainly an anti-hero who at no point manages a victory. Once again, such demoralizing plotlines become uplifting to the young adult reader: we are not alone in stumbling to get off the ground. I won’t say more on what Ham on Rye is about; myself, I like to start my own reading journeys rather than having them started for me, and plotlines are yours to discover.

Taking on Bukowski is taking a leap of faith that you will find beauty in the beast. I wouldn’t recommend it as literature or to anyone settled in to a comfortable life. Bukowski is for my young compatriots who don’t know where life is headed or, frankly, if it will get better. But because my life is already better than Henry Chinaski’s, I found a warm solace in Bukowski’s work. I think you will too.





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