Category Archives: Books I Haven’t Read

Books I Haven’t Read: ‘NOADOM’ and ‘Hollywood’ by Charles Bukowski

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Books I Haven’t Read: ‘Notes of a Dirty Old Man’ and ‘Hollywood’ by Charles Bukowski

Note: This was going to be an article about ‘Lord of the Rings’, but I worried that it would just begin to look like the books I didn’t read were books that were too long. ‘NOADOM’ and ‘Hollywood’ are both relatively small – no complaints to be had!

Reading my first Bukowski novel was a revelation. This may sound like hyperbole, but having reflected on my formative reading experiences recently, it is the only way I see fit to describe it. This is not to say I read badly before Bukowski per se, just that I’d never read an author with such a distinctive voice. A gritty, unapologetic voice.

Whilst it would be unwise to suggest that all my reading before Bukowski had been sunshine, lollipops and unicorns, I honestly believed I hadn’t encountered someone so willing to lay bare the seedier aspects of life. The work by Bukowski was recommended to me by a friend I knew from secondary school, at a time I was working in a betting shop to help fund my way through university. He used words to the effect of ‘maybe you should become like Bukowski’, which seems to suggest a desire for me to sleep and drink my way through a completely unfulfilled and unstable adult life.

Still, these words made me choose to seek out one of Bukowski’s books – I chose ‘Factotum’ – and see what the fuss was all about. The book was short, the narrative simple, it was all over in a matter of days…yet it was hard to shake what I had read from my mind. Bukowski was able to allow me, for 200 pages, to inhabit life in the US from the view of someone on the bottom rung of society. A life that saw more value in the next glass of wine or the next bunk up over and above the staples of employment, relationships and family. It was unflinching in its crassness, and I was completely enthralled.

Looking back at a synopsis (I read this over ten years ago), I even begin to question now how much of Bukowski I embody. Sure, I’ve got a fiance and a daughter and the staples of what would be considered a ‘good life’, but doesn’t a certain unsatisfactory edge lie, bubbling, below the surface? How much solace and enjoyment do I get out of the next drink, and how much does the next drink help mask my own flawed creativity? Maybe there were elements of the writer that my friend perceptively teased out within my own personality.

I digress.

A few years later, I walked into HMV and saw the two aforementioned books on sale for £2 each. I remembered the exhilaration of reading ‘Factotum’, and decided that I couldn’t really pass up the offer. I bought both books, and looked forward to delving back into Bukowski’s world, with all that entailed. I opened up ‘Hollywood’ and read the first fifty pages or so.

I never picked it up again.

‘Notes from a Dirty Old Man’ didn’t even get the proverbial literary test drive. Whilst I appreciate that ‘Hollywood’ is in no way a spiritual link to the Henry Chinaski stories told in books like ‘Factotum’, I felt like I had grown up in the years the followed my initial reading. What was once shocking or engaging just ceased to grab me in the same way. There is no doubt in my mind about my own perceived quality of Bukowski’s writing, and how important the one book I did read came to be to my reading odyssey, but I couldn’t recreate that moment or that feeling. I had moved on and left Bukowski behind.

Will I ever look to read him again? I truly doubt it. I would argue that I have since read books by novelists that take his self-destructive narratives and applied them in more interesting and exciting ways. Does this devalue my original experience with Bukowski? Not at all.

If I hadn’t have read Bukowski, would I have moved towards the books of Michel Houellebecq, J.M. Coetzee or even Patrick Hamilton? Though not all of these novelists are obvious successors to Bukowski, they all have elements that I may not have enjoyed had I not previous read ‘Factotum’; the crass discussions of violence and sex in Houellebecq; the simmering tension of Coetzee; the explorations of social obscurity within Hamilton’s work. In some ways, Bukowski was the gateway, and even if I never read a book by him again, I will have no difficulty trumpeting the value of my limited time spent reading his work.

Books I Haven’t Read: ‘1Q84’ by Haruki Marukami

iq84-book-series-1‘1Q84’ by Haruki Murakami

For some, I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted when I say that Haruki Murakami is a brilliant writer. In terms of style, there are very few authors that match him, and his style is authentically his own, making him a unique talent. You know a Murakami book within the first few pages; his elegant style covering the meanderings of life, the supernatural and jazz music (amongst other things) with ease.

I liken my first time reading Murakami to the first time I read Bukowski, Barnes or, more recently, Houellebecq and Coetzee. Each page was a veritable feast, and I was carried along by the mixture of the prose style and the narrative that followed. Some of these authors have had more staying power within my personal collection; Barnes taking up reasonable space on my bookshelf with Bukowski conspicious by his (relative) absence. Each writer became notable above and beyond the novel that they had created. I was left thinking ‘…..people write like this?’, before reaching for their next book.

The first Murakami book I read was ‘Norwegian Wood’. It was bought based primarily due to a Waterstones ‘Buy 2, Get 1 Free’ offer and the tag ‘Soon to be made into a major film’, rather than any real knowledge. Considering the main themes of ‘Norwegian Wood’ are arguably sex and suicide, I left the book feeling uplifted by my uncovering of a new literary interest. I even gave the book to a friend of mine who lived in Denmark upon visiting, which I’ve very rarely felt the need to do to a book.

I soon read ‘The Elephant Vanishes’ and ‘The Wind-up Bird Chronicle’. I’d been warned that ‘Norwegian Wood’ didn’t necessarily explore the more surreal side of Murakami’s work, but my eyes were wide open to this by the time I’d finished the two. In some ways, I thought that Murakami can work better in the short story form, as distilled nuggets of life or surrealism, just long enough create an image before moving on to the next, equally engaging, sequence.

For some reason, I didn’t seek out anymore of his work – maybe issues of cost as much as anything else. However, I read that he was due to release a new book, and I couldn’t have been more excited. This would be the first time I’d be in ‘on the ground floor’ so to speak, enjoying a new Murakami release in the moment. ‘1Q84’ was released, it sold millions within days and people delved into a new Murakami masterpiece.

But I didn’t.

For some reason, I felt a reticence to buy it – maybe due to my general lack of buying hardbacks. I chose to wait, wait for the paperback to satiate my desire for new Murakami. Eventually, it was released in paperback and bought it – and then never read it.

What had changed in those six months or so? I’d read reviews.

At least I say I’d read reviews. I saw star ratings. I read the odd comment from people on forums I frequented. The reviews weren’t bad, per se. It was eminently readable, it just wasn’t the mind-blowing literary event that many people had expected.

Yet, I’m sure if I dug deeper into the realms of the internet, there were people who thought it was the best thing that had ever been produced. I was just unfortunate enough to be in close proximity to people who were fairly vocal on its…’meh’-ness, or at least that was how they perceived it. I didn’t want to sink my time into a book of that side and come out of the other end unhappy. I wanted my time with Murakami to remain unsullied by anything that could be considered mediocre. I will read it one day, I’ll just wait until I care a little less about what people who’ve read it before me think.

As ad addendum, I did read ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage’ when it was released a couple of years back. I read it and enjoyed it. More importantly, I didn’t read anything about it before hand.

Books I Haven’t Read: ‘ISOLT’ by Marcel Proust; ‘ROTTK’ by Luo Ghanzong

51sCIJ7uTlL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Re: Proust's In Search of Lost Time On 2013-11-06, at 2:06 PM, Rinehart, Dianne wrote:     DIANNE RINEHART BOOKS EDITOR AND WRITER TORONTO STAR, ONE YONGE ST. TORONTO, ON., M5E 1E6 416-945-8694 From: Klein, Evan [mailto:eklein@randomhouse.com]  Sent: Wednesday, November 06, 2013 2:06 PM To: Rinehart, Dianne Subject: RE: Proust's In Search of Lost Time   Hi Dianne - Here it is. If you need anything else please don't hesitate to ask. Thanks, Evan   Evan Klein  Publicity Support | Random House of Canada  One Toronto Street, Suite 300 | Toronto, ON | M5C 2V6  eklein@randomhouse.com                                                                                                           From: Rinehart, Dianne [mailto:drinehart@thestar.ca]  Sent: Wednesday, November 06, 2013 2:00 PM To: Klein, Evan Subject: FW: Proust's In Search of Lost Time   Evan, possible to get this? thanks! D.   DIANNE RINEHART BOOKS EDITOR AND WRITER TORONTO STAR, ONE YONGE ST. TORONTO, ON., M5E 1E6 416-945-8694 From: Rinehart, Dianne  Sent: Wednesday, November 06, 2013 1:59 PM To: 'Sharpe, Dan' Subject: Proust's In Search of Lost Time   Hi Dan, is it possible to get a jpeg of this cover? Best, D.   DIANNE RINEHART BOOKS EDITOR AND WRITER TORONTO STAR, ONE YONGE ST. TORONTO, ON., M5E 1E6 416-945-8694   Books I Haven’t Read

‘In Search of Lost Time’ by Marcel Proust

‘Romance of The Three Kingdoms’ by Luo Ghanzong

Not content with merely reading books that can be perceived as challenging (see http://thatdifficultfirstnovel.co.uk/books-i-havent-read/books-i-havent-read-infinite-jest-by-david-foster-wallace/ for my initial forays into the world of challenging literature), I began to desire another way to challenge myself. I was already trying to cram in a number of books within the year, as per my Goodreads challenge, but this didn’t seem enough. Suddenly, it hit me. What if I not only decided to read a certain amount of books within a year, but I included some of the biggest books ever published?

As with anything related to reading and reviewing media of any kind, it can be difficult to not cross over into pretentiousness. There can arguably be no more pretentious a statement than ‘I shall read the biggest books known to man’, because the task is designed to allow you to tell people that you are reading these books, and in the end, that you have finished these books. There is obvious literary merit to these novels, don’t get me wrong, but there is also that self-satisfied smugness that comes with mentioning ‘War and Peace’ when comparing the novels you are currently reading with a group of readers. It is the literary version of waving your hands in the air and shouting ‘look at me’.

I bought ‘War and Peace’ first, before deciding that this wasn’t enough – I even typed into Wikipedia ‘the world’s longest books’ to give myself some other alternative options. Finally, I settled on ‘In Seach of Lost Time’ and ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’. The lure of three of the longest books recorded for the sum total of around five pounds felt like the most amazing bargain ever: so many hours of entertainment for so few pence. I felt a richer man as these books found their way onto my Kindle.

What has stopped me from reading these two books, when ‘War and Peace’ is halfway finished? Would it be too obvious to suggest the length? Anytime I tried to pick the books up, the metaphorical weight of trying to tackle two novels of such length crushed me – I didn’t have time to commit my precious reading time to books that would, according to my Kindle, take me over a day to read…each. What about all the other novels I can’t read as I traipse for the next few months through worlds created by Tolstoy, as well as Proust and Ghanzong?

The only things that ‘War and Peace’ has over these two monolithic masterpieces are that I bought it first, and I started it first. This choice came from a pre-conditioned understanding of ‘War and Peace’ as this monster of literature, a view solidified over the years by cultural and social references towards the book. ‘War and Peace’ became the buzz phrase for a long book, and the punchline to any joke about the length of a piece of writing. Even though the complete volumes of ‘In Search of Lost Time’ dwarf Tolstoy’s novel, the layman or woman KNOWS how big ‘War and Peace’ is.

This brings me back to the discussion on pretentiousness. Maybe the main reason I chose to commit to ‘War and Peace’ first, considering there was nothing stopping me from making the leap directly to Proust or Ghanzong, was for the response I would receive when I told people I was reading it. Just like a joke whose punchline needs to be explained isn’t funny, the impressive nature of reading a large book is somewhat negated if you have to explain to people that that is what you are doing. Since I was guaranteed a bigger reaction to one of the three books, did I subconsciously choose it?

Of the two books, I’m more likely to read Proust than Ghanzong – once again, arguably due to the associations attached to the concept of ‘reading Proust’. Ghanzong loses out just because he had the temerity to be born other the other side of the world. Poor sod.

In the end, my desire to impress people has been my own reading albatross. Not only do I have two weighty tomes sitting there ominously, waiting to be tackled, but I also have to try and commit a chunk of my life every day to the reading a book where no end is in sight. The challenge becomes the chore. Sure, it is enjoyable – but I can only vaguely remember what happened at the start of the story and how the various characters are interlinked. It has become the reading equivalent of walking the wrong way up and escalator. You’ll get where you want to go eventually; you’ll just get there very slowly.

Serves me right for trying to show off.