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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Book Recommendation: BARRY MILES Charles BUKOWSKI. London, Virgin Books 2009. 345 pages (originally published 2005).

Finished this book a couple of days ago. This is a highly engaging and lucid account of Bukowski’s mad, full-on life. Barry Miles attempts to unravel the man from the myth, pointing out how Bukowski’s celebration of the low life was probably 50% fact 50% fantasy. He describes in detail how Bukowski uses the character Henry Chinaski as a distancing device to embellish many of his experiences. He provides an interesting and elaborate overview of the full gamut of things related to Buk: his thoughts on horse racing, work, drinking, suicide, women, writers, people, shit, the writing process, death and so on. Miles is an excellent writer and clearly evokes Bukowski, his friends and lovers and the times he lived in.
Miles does not conduct much original research but largely distils what has already been written about Bukowki. For a more substantial biography read Howard Sounces’s CHARLES BUKOWSKI: LOCKED IN THE ARMS OF A CRAZY LIFE (1998). Most compelling for me were the opening chapters 'Twisted Childhood' and 'The Barfly Years'.

This excellent New York Times article discusses the two books:

I few years ago I read Barry Miles' biography Jack Kerouac: king of the beats- a portrait (1999). Particularly fascinating is his relationship to his mother who often scrubbed him in the bathtub in NY as an adult.

I fondly remember wandering around Chelsea a few years ago checking out the old haunts of Kerouac and Ginsberg and others. I was thinking 'New York's fantastic' and far less crazy than in the 80s and then seeing this guy sleeping in a doorway with a blown up paperbag for a face.

Miles' biography on Kerouac is certainly no match for Anne Charters' epic Kerouac bio.