Archives For Book a Month

In fiction, I like bleak. I like grim. Despair. I’d even say that I like depressing narratives. I feel that they create a negative pulse. A gulp and frown reaction at the end of nearly every chapter that makes you realize that maybe you don’t have it too bad or in some cases, that you’re not alone in whatever darkness envelops you.

I also like having physical reactions to literature.

My physical reaction to Bukowski’s semi autographical novel, HAM ON RYE – multiple showers after reading.

There’s just something about the story and the telling of it, a coming of age tale where there’s no redeeming qualities and not a single character that I felt attached to or sympathetic for, that was fascinating. I read it in two days. And I don’t normally do that. And I can’t tell if the fast pace was because I was flipping pages faster than usual because I needed to find out if the main character ended up getting laid, to me the quest at the heart of HAM ON RYE, or if he actually acquired anything resembling compassion.

If there’s bait for a reader to plow through this book, whether or not it was purposeful or not, the masterful tension created by the main character’s lust and a lasting hope for the reader that an author wouldn’t create such an ugly and revolting character that would go through even a small change for the better by the end.

HAM ON RYE closes with disappointment. It’s a firecracker that never goes off. A let down. But that doesn’t take anything away from my enjoyment. Henry Chinaski, the protagonist, winds up in the same place as he was at the start – defeated and a total prick. While the reader gains insight into why he’s a prick – the terrible acne, the uncaring parents, etc. but what really influences my final diagnosis is the fact that he makes no attempt to change his shit situation in life and his proliferation of hateful behavior (could/should) lead the reader to detest him.

And I was more than okay with that.

Some people read books as  a guide for how to live a better life and this, you would read this as a guide on how not to live your life.

All that said, I enjoyed the hell out of it. It’s honest and ugly.

I met someone that I would still refer to as a ‘kid’ the other day that made my aspiration to read a book a month a total cop out. I never told him about my plan to read 12 books + Infinite Jest in 2012. No, he just happened to mention that while he was in college, his goal was to read a non fiction book per day. Right. Ridiculous. But he taught himself to speed read and then, and then, created a system that would categorize main topics in his brain so he could retrieve the most important information about that topic if it were brought up in conversation. Kid’s a mental giant.

But I started my pitiful book a month goal with a pitiful book that is a pitiful 68 pages in length and a bit of a pitiful read altogether. “Searching For Robert Johnson,” written by Elvis Presley biographer Peter Guralnick, has been in my collection for years and I can see why I never made it all the way through it. By no fault of Guralnick, there is little documented about the great blues singer that apparently sold his soul to the devil for his amazing talent, and therefore there is little to latch on to. With little facts and dry information, “Searching For Robert Johnson” reads more like a magazine article that has had the life sucked out of it.

For most of the information the author calls upon old friends and family members but only reports brief summaries from those interviews. To supplement these short glimpses into Johnson’s story, there is also a lot of information from another writer that was planning a much larger scale biography. These factors and too little personality being injected into the text lead the book to fall flat for me.

Guralnick may have thought that more information would be brought to life by the other biographer that had spent what seemed to be an incredible amount of time actually searching for Robert Johnson, but that only lead me to question the reason of writing the short piece.

As it turns out, the full scale biography never saw the light of day and therefore I am grateful to have Guralnick’s account. While I didn’t enjoy it stylistically and was unable to squelch the tiniest bit of writerly inspiration from it, I’m glad to now be equipped with more knowledge of Robert Johnson than I had before.