With over 4,500 poems and stories written under his name Charles Bukowski is probably one of the most influential voices of the 21st century. Born in Germany in 1920, Charles Bukowski started writing at the age of 24: his parents moved the whole family to the States when he was only 10. As an ‘immigrant’ teenager, Bukowski was shy and as he narrates in the autobiographical book Ham on Rye, he was often victim of a violent father.
During his life he had several epiphanies, the biggest one was probably the discovery of alcohol, one his favourite topics as well as women, and talking about the lives of poor Americans in general. His life, in fact, has never been particularly glamorous; first he spent some time in prison on suspicion of draft evasion. Then in 1954, he the suffered an internal haemorrhage and spent several days in hospital between life and death.
Amongst his books, six in total, and the many short stories and poems he wrote, we have selected and charted the best Charles Bukowski books as well as his best poetry every Millennial should read today.
The best Charles Bukowski’s Books
Factotum is the second novel written by Bukowski and it follows his alter ego Henry Chinaski up and down the States in finding a sense to his life after he is rejected by compulsory military services and falls in an unstoppable circle of bars, women and unemployment. Amongst Charles Bukowski’s books, Factotum is slightly darker than his other works.
In Charles Bukowski’s books Henry Chinaski is most likely depicted as a low-life character, the epitome of underachievement, but in Women Bukowski gives his alter ego the life of an acclaimed poet and focuses on his love encounters. You should try and read Women and re-interpret it under a #metoo perspective, as Bukowski was criticized as being a misogynist back then.
If today people often get into arguments over ‘the book is better than the movie’ kind of type, in the 5th out of Charles Bukowski’s books the writer combines the two perfectly: he depicts in fact his experience of working next to a director in the making of the movie Barfly, using as per his other novels his alter ego Henry. It is one of the most entertaining Charles Bukowski’s books.
Ham on Rye (1982)
Considered one of the best Charles Bukowski’s books, Ham on Rye sees his character Henry Chinaski growing up in the harsh and unforgiving society that had developed under the Great Depression. Surely depicting some of the most intimate and tragic moments of his own life through this book, Bukowski manages to give it incredible irony and wit, two of the most predominant characteristics in his writing style.
Post Office (1971)
This is the first out of Charles Bukowski’s books and it is considered his best novel. It starts with the line ‘It began as a mistake’ and this time is his life working at the Los Angeles Post Office being ‘documented’ by his alter ego. Told in first person, it is a work of genius humour against the cynical life Chinaski is panning out for himself.
Best Charles Bukowski Poetry Books
Burning in Water Drowning in Flame: Selected Poems 1955-1973 (1974)
This is Bukowski’s first great anthology collection of poems, an ensemble of some of his most famous ‘free verses’. His messages might be abstract but never obscure:
there won’t be any more, abstract or otherwise;
there’ll always be money and whores and drunkards
down to the last bomb.
The Last Night of the Earth Poems (1992)
The final collection of poems written by Bukowski while still alive – there’s plenty of posthumously poems that have been published after his death in 1994. The Last Night of the Earth Poems is where to find Bukowski’s most vulnerable side.
waiting for death
like a cat
that will jump on the
You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense (1986)
In this Charles Bukowski’s poetry book it is the writer’s childhood and cats you will be taken to by an unexpectedly less cynical and tough side to him.
it seemed to me that I had never met
another person on earth
as discouraging to my happiness
as my father.
and it appeared that I had
the same effect upon
― Charles Bukowski, You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense
Love Is a Dog from Hell (1977)
What is love and how to deal with it? Bukowski’s answers are to be found in Love Is a Dog from Hell, a collection of his poetry from the mid-seventies.
I loved you like a man loves a woman he never touches, only writes to, keeps little photographs of.
― Charles Bukowski, Love Is a Dog from Hell
The People Look Like Flowers At Last (2007)
Published long after his death, this Charles Bukowski’s book is probably one of the best to read: a reflection on death from one of the most significant writers of all time, one, that, even if not alive, can still influence the way we might see our own life, love, addictions and death.
a good human being may save the world
so the bastards can keep creating art
if you read this after I am long dead
it means I made it