From The Telegraph:
Charles Bukowski is ideal for the latest in Reaktion's clever series of short critical appraisals of famous literary figures (called 'Critical Lives'), because the American's poetry and prose is combative and unsettling, and he was as eccentric as a box of frogs. David Stephen Calonne is a Bukowski scholar and this highly readable accounts informs and entertains without ever condescending. Bukowski's life was fascinatingly grisly. He was born in Germany on 16 August 1920 and referred to an upbringing in a “house of horrors” in Los Angeles where his apathetic mother did nothing in the face of the “imbecile savagery” of his warped father. Bukowski also remembered his father intentionally dressing him in Native American costumes so the street boys, who played cowboys, would beat him up. Violence and chaos surrounded, and sprung from, Bukowski for the rest of his life. There were volatile love affairs, a suicide attempt, depression, a spell in jail (he often carried a knife) and a host of physical ailments including his teeth falling out, dizzy spells, blackouts, alcoholism and the pain of repeated problems with haemorrhoids. It's little surprise to learn that he loved the BBC adaptation of Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective.
Oh, and Bukowski was investigated by The FBI.
Books such as Ham On Rye and screenplays such as Bar Fly made him beloved of millions and admired by people such as Tom Waits, Sean Penn, Bono, Bob Dylan and Matt Groening. Calonne spends much of the book looking at his novels and poems. He brings to life the American's ritual of writing, smoking and listening to classical music as he clanked away at the typewriter. Bukowski was clear that writing was a job and said that being a poet was employment, “like mopping a bar floor”. It's why he was dismissive of hippies, saying: “I had a job in the Post Office – 11½ hour nights with only 2 or 3 days off a month,. I was hardly a Flower Child”.
There have been biographies before – one of which provides the tale of Bukowksi stunning Arnold Schwarzenegger into silence by yelling at him “you make these sh-tty little movies, you're nothing special you megalomaniac piece of sh-t” – but this is a very readable summary of his career and Calonne does not shy away from discussing Bukowski's “self-mythologising”.
In one of his poems, Bukowski, who died of myelogenous leukaemia on 9 March 1994, wrote:
It's the order of things.
Each one gets a taste of honey,
then the knife