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Ham on Rye: A Novel by Charles Bukowski

Ham on Rye: A Novel (original 1982; edition 2007)

by Charles Bukowski

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3,761612,017 (4.1)57
Title:Ham on Rye: A Novel
Authors:Charles Bukowski
Info:Ecco (2007), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library

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Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski (1982)


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English (55)  French (2)  Portuguese (1)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (60)
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)

I was sixteen, tan, blonde and good looking, catching waves on my yellow surfboard along with all the other surfers, handsome guys and beautiful gals, each and every day that summer. Little did I know this mini-heaven would quickly end and hell would begin in September. Why? My smooth-skinned tan face turned into an acne-filled mess. I suffered pimple by pimple for three years straight; many fat red pimples popping up every day. Oh, yeah, on my forehead, temples, cheeks, jaw, chin and nose. Unlike Charles Bukowski, my father never beat me as a kid but this was one thing I did have in common with Bukowski – being a teenager with a wicked case of acne. You can read all about his in this novel, Ham and Rye. Bukowski said, “The gods have really put a good shield over me man. I’ve been toughened up at the right time and the right place." Maybe this was part of my own toughening up, those three teenage years of enduring the red face fire of acne.

Anyway, this is one of my connections with Bukowski, the king of the hill when it comes to American raw-boned, hard-boiled, tough-guy writers. And this novel of his years as a kid and teenager growing up in a house where he was continually beaten with a leather strap and receiving a torrent of emotional abuses, particularly at the hands of his callous, obsessive father, sets the stage for his alcoholic, hardscrabble adulthood, an adulthood where, other than drinking, his sole refuge from childhood memories of cruelty and his ongoing life on the down-and-out edge was sitting at his typewriter composing poetry and fiction.

Ham on Rye. Every single sentence of this book is clear, vivid, sharp and direct, as if the words were bullets shot from a 22 caliber rifle. Here are just a few rounds: ““Words weren’t dull, words were things that could make your mind hum. If you read them and let yourself feel the magic, you could live without pain, with hope, no matter what happened to you.” Again, “I didn't like anybody in that school. I think they knew that. I think that's why they disliked me. I didn't like the way they walked or looked or talked, but I didn't like my mother or father either. I still had the feeling of being surrounded by white empty space. There was always a slight nausea in my stomach.” And, again. “The best thing about the bedroom was the bed. I liked to stay in bed for hours, even during the day with covers pulled up to my chin. It was good in there, nothing ever occurred in there, no people, nothing.”

Ham on Rye. There are funny, belly-laughing scenes and scenes that will make you shudder, scenes that are tender and scenes filled with pain, but through it all, you will stick with Hank Chinaski aka Charles Bukowski, the ultimate tough-guy with the heart of a poet.

( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
Darker, more violent and more vulgar than his poetry for sure. ( )
  nheredia05 | Jun 12, 2018 |
Semi-autobiography of Bukowski's childhood and early years. ( )
  margaretfield | Jun 3, 2018 |
This story is so ugly. But it resonates, uncomfortably. I get why Bukowski has groupies. Intrigued by his poetry...
They were soft, they had never faced any fire. They were beautiful nothings. They made me sick. I hated them. They were part of the nightmare that always haunted me in one form or another ( )
  dandelionroots | Jan 17, 2018 |
*1st reading. Take with a grain of salt.

This is a nihilistic story about the inevitability of life and the control one's environment has on their outcome.

Henry Chinaski is surrounded by shitty people with bad habits. Despite his best efforts to rebel against them, he turns out basically no different. The only differences are minor details. When he started drinking, his father was abstaining, but he ended up just as angry as his father, drunk or sober. He didn't marry or have children in the course of the book, so he couldn't abuse his kid, but he abused anyone close to him just the same, for no more reason than his father had (often less). And he doesn't hold down a job, perhaps because of the futility of it, seeing that it will lead him nowhere, and yet he is just as stagnant as any lifetime dishwasher. He says at one point that "The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they sliced a little more off you, until there was nothing left." This would be a good summation of his life - that he was doing the best he could with a shitty situation - except that it's total bullshit. Some things he has no control over, sure, but other things he does, and he forces himself into shitty situations. Like picking fights with random people/friends. You can hardly complain about things you've put yourself into. Seeing this, the book comes off as whiny, the story of a man who blames the world for his problems.

This could make for an interesting character study, except that I found no reason to believe that Charles Bukowski didn't wholeheartedly agree with the philosophy of the main character. Even the ending scene, where he loses a boxing game twice to a little kid, and then walks out, seems to be symbolic of the inevitability of his failure, or maybe even of him dropping out of life, losing, and then leaving, the "rat race." It makes sense that the author agrees with the sentiments of the MC, as this is supposed to be semi-autobiographical, but it leaves me with that same feeling: this is a man who blames everyone but himself for his misfortune, and the author seems to agree with him.

Still, it's an alright read, and if you read it as a comedy, it's honestly not bad. A raunchy comedy, and that's not usually my favorite, but there are some good laughs here. And, if you see it as a comedy right from the start, you'll probably enjoy it more than I did.

Besides that, the prose is nothing special. It didn't jump out at me as bad or anything, but I knew it couldn't have been all that great because, when I looked back at it, I realized I had hardly underlined anything. In general, I'm a library's worst nightmare, and I underline and make marks and comments, and dog-ear pages, both to dissect the work, and to point out some favorites bits, places where I admired the prose, or some other work of literary genius. And I'm very liberal about it: a book I enjoy a lot will sometimes have every other page dog-eared. I didn't dog-ear a single page of this book.

Is it bad? No. It's a fun read, and some people will probably enjoy the comedy of it even more than I did. And I'd recommend it, if you're just looking for some light fun, with the occasional shock and awe. But is this some kind of grand piece of literature that will stand the test of time? Doesn't seem like it to me. ( )
1 vote NotAPerson | Aug 11, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
I consider Ham on Rye by Bukowski probably the greatest American novel ever written. It's an autobiographical novel (as are all his novels except Pulp, which is so awful it's unreadable) about his childhood, being beaten by his parents, avoiding war, and beginning his life of destitution, hardship, alcoholism, and the beginnings of his education as a writer. I'm almost embarrassed to admit he's an influence. Many people hate him and I'm much more afraid of being judged than he ever was.
added by SnootyBaronet | editHuffington Post, James Altucher
Una novela autobiográfica, contundente como un preciso uppercut, que nos muestra una visión bien distinta del «Sueño Americano», una visión «desde abajo», desde los pisoteados y humillados: la infancia, adolescencia y juventud de Henry Chinaski, en Los Ángeles, durante los años de la Depresión y la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Un padre brutal que cada día finge acudir puntualmente al trabajo para que sus vecinos no sospechen que está en paro; una madre apaleada por el padre, que sin embargo está siempre de su parte; un tío a quien busca la policía; un mundo de jefes, de superiores aterrorizados por otros superiores. El joven Chinaski algo así como un hermano paria de Holden Cauldfiel, el dulce héroe de Salinger en The Catcher in the Rye (al que Bukowski parece aludir en el título original Ham on Rye) tiene que aprender las reglas implacables de una durísima supervivencia. En este libro inolvidable, escrito con una ausencia total de ilusiones, se transparenta, evitando la autocompasión, una estoica fraternidad con todos los chinaskis, todos los underdogs de la «otra América» de los patios traseros, los bares sórdidos, las oficinas de desempleo.
added by Pakoniet | editLecturalia

» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Bukowskiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Doyle, RoddyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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for all the fathers
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The first thing I remember is being under something.
It was great. My whole head was bandaged. [...] I felt very exceptional and a bit evil. Nobody had any idea of what had happened to me. A car crash. A fight to the death. A murder. Fire. Nobody knew.
Turgenev was a very serious fellow but he could make me laugh because a truth first encountered can be very funny. When someone else's truth is the same as your truth, and he seems to be saying it just for you, that's great.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 006117758X, Paperback)

In what is widely hailed as the best of his many novels, Charles Bukowski details the long, lonely years of his own hardscrabble youth in the raw voice of alter ego Henry Chinaski. From a harrowingly cheerless childhood in Germany through acne-riddled high school years and his adolescent discoveries of alcohol, women, and the Los Angeles Public Library's collection of D. H. Lawrence, Ham on Rye offers a crude, brutal, and savagely funny portrait of an outcast's coming-of-age during the desperate days of the Great Depression.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:55 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A down-and-out writer recalls his childhood, schooling, and the years leading up to World War II.

(summary from another edition)

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