cover image On Writing

On Writing

Charles Bukowski, edited by Abel Debritto. Ecco, $25.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-06-239600-6

Almost 50 years’ worth of the letters of poet, novelist, and screenwriter Bukowski (1920–1994) capture much about him: his compulsive writing, brilliant phrase-making, unapologetic drinking, and problematic relationships with women. The letters, written between 1945 and 1993 to correspondents including friends, editors, critics, and academics, are routinely obscenity-laden, often funny, always opinionated, and very occasionally tender. Just as Bukowski could be offensive when alive, many will find his letters equally offensive (as when he reacts unapologetically to feminist critics). Nonetheless, it is hard not to respect his unflagging devotion to his art and unflinching application of his hypercritical mind to whoever fell under his gaze. Many of the letters are occasions for passionate, searing opinions on subjects that include young writers, critics, and famous authors. Hemingway, Bukowski opines, “makes you feel cheated,” while Henry Miller is difficult to read when he gets “into his Star-Trek babbling.” And Bukowski’s opinions about writers are not confined to their literary merits: “I rather guess [D.H.] Lawrence was a breast-man rather than a leg-man.” The letters are a wild ride informed in equal parts by ego, alcoholism, misanthropy, erudition, and the genius, as Bukowski puts it, of one “touched by the grace of the word.” [em](July) [/em]