Charles Bukowski, The Captain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship (Black Sparrow, 1998)
A year in the life of Charles Bukowski, 1991-92, as he neared death. He knew he was nearing death; he writes about it as often as he wrote about the deaths of other things in his poetry. Of course, his is not the only death to mention in these pages; car accidents, a falling neighbor, etc.
Other than death, Buk's diary talks a lot about horseplaying. Great for me. Perhaps not so great for others.
Bukowski was always a better poet than he was a prose stylist, but The Captain Is Out to Lunch... is likely the most readable piece of Buk's prose I have ever come across. Probably because there was nothing to writing it; instead of coming up with characters, plot, theme, etc., they're sitting there at the track or in the neighborhood waiting for you.
Worthwhile. One of the better posthumously published works. *** ½
on March 17, 2000
I say that facetiously, of course, because I am a long time Bukhead. This journal is a great opportunity to get a glimpse inside Bukowskis mind in his later years. He may have mellowed but it is still vintage Buk. The wine continued to flow and the typewriter continued to produce. It does not equal his poetry or novels but it is still beneficial reading for any fan of Buk. And the illustrations by R. Crumb are almost worth the price of admission on their own. R. Crumb is still as demented and crazed as ever. A worthwhile addition to any personal library.
on July 18, 2014
I first discovered Bukowski while I was in college, struggling to find poetry I liked enough to read for a writing class. The drunken sage rescued me from a banal semester reciting and dissecting the works of TS Elliot and, for that at least, I am grateful. I was SO grateful, as a matter of fact, that I picked up his prose work, starting with the incredibly funny "Pulp" and moving backwards.
This book is a selection of journal entries Bukowski made in 1992-1993 where he ruminates on death, celebrity (not the ham), writing, his past and of course the racetrack. It's a slim read (144 pages) and is written in Buk's usual no frills style. It's not my favorite, but it provides insight into the author's life and trials as he knowingly ventures along the edge of oblivion.
This book is billed as a cooperative effort between Bukowski and R Crumb; however, I didn't feel Cumb's contribution was anything special. His illustrations are great, but they don't add information or meaning to the writing they accompany. Still, for getting two demented geniuses' work together in any form is something worth looking into and, although the sum doesn't feel equal to the parts that went into it, this remains a delightful read for Buk's fans.
on March 9, 2014
I went through amazon and bought a couple of books really quickly, so I missed the fact that this book is more of a journal. I thought I had a purchased a novel! That being said, I wasn't disappointed. Bukowski is a unique, opinionated and completely genuine person. When I say genuine, I don't mean to insinuate that he's always right I mean that it always feels he's being honest in a very internal and personal way, not even necessarily honest about the specifics of events he describes but honest about his feelings and straight forward emotionally. The book is a quick read and made me laugh out loud at times. R Crumb's artwork is pretty much always a pleasure, though there are only a few pictures-somewhat less than what I was expecting. At the end of the book I felt pretty sad to think that Bukowski had died, throughout the quick entries I felt like he was talking to me and it was sad that he wasn't around anymore. If you are a Bukowski fan, I'd certainly suggest reading this!
on September 1, 2013
A bit of the bite is out of Hank in this one, but there's definitely enough substance in this collection of journal entries to get you through. Some of the pages are just observations and musing of what's happening in his day, while other times, there's some serious poignant reflection. It ends with a biting commentary on the human experience - a fitting end for a collection of some of his final work.
As for the illustrations, they're top notch, of course. R. Crumb never disappoints.
on March 4, 2003
I had an indirect contact with Bukowski in the 1970s when I was working at a Long Beach college newspaper and our Arts editor had just gotten back from seeing him at one of his poetry readings. I was asked to write the headline for the rave review on it we were publishing, and as a young poet I was more than happy to do so.
In the headline I called him "Buk the bard" and they gave it the go ahead for printing. But the editor had met his friends and they'd mentioned that Buk no longer lived in Hollywood and had moved to the notorious San Pedro area.
We all got very concerned for him and told Buk's friends that he shouldn't live there, and that L.A., Belmont Shore, Long Beach - almost anywhere else, in fact - would be preferable. As I recall, at that time there was a stabbing in Pedro almost every weekend.
Soonafter we got word in the newsroom of what Buk thought of the suggestion by us little upscale college smartasses - he said it was a rather dumb one, and that he actually regarded it as an insult, as if we'd just ridiculed his new jacket.
Since his writing didn't float much on the waters of pretense, he enjoyed being where the action was, even if it was now within a very dangerous environment for a guy getting on in years. He planned to stay put anyway and he indeed did exactly that.
I was surprised to hear years later that he'd lasted until 1994, because I'd always bet that, even escaping any physical injury, and with his seeming million gallon booze capacity, he still wouldn't last past 1980.
But don't worry, the old warhorse will still be running new words at the literary track for quite some time. The godsend that was John Martin's Black Sparrow press still has more of Hank's unpublished stuff in their files, so the Captain journal won't be the last you hear of our favorite pulp fiction barfly.
Hopefully lots of them will also have more of those groovy drawings by underground komix king Robert Crumb, too. Now that would be a good day at the races.
on June 1, 1998
I await new Bukowski books--and there seems to be no end of material from the John Martin vaults--with a special fervor, probably because he's just about ruined all other writers for me (only a few by Celine stand up). This one did not disappoint my high expectations, and is a special treat for its format: the only diary-style work Buk wrote. Humorous moments abound, but it does lack some of the edge of his best writing. At its worst, it almost goes into a kind of cranky Andy Rooney thing, but he rights the ship every time. Like his treatment of his later material success & international fame, Buk toys with the irony that he's doing something so precious & self-important as writing diary entries & is quick with the "they made me do it" excuse. Clearly, though, he has fun with the style &, really, it's quite suited to his work, which focuses on the mundane so much anyway (Buk never fails to mention whenever he takes a doo or pukes throughout his writing). The Crumb illustrations are perfect. What a match between writer & illustrator. Overall, it's not my first recommendation for a Bukowski neophyte (I'd choose "Factotum," "Ham on Rye," or "Play the Piano Drunk..."), but then again I recommend his entire output much more so than any one book.
on September 26, 2015
Published posthumously in 1998, four years after his death, this book is typical Bukowski. He doesn't use his alter-ego as the protagonist in this one, instead it's as autobiographical as he gets. And to prove it, the book is illustrated by that wonderful contemporary artist Robert Crumb, and the caricature he has created is definitely Bukowski. At this point in his life - 71 years of age, , he is a successful writer - although detesting fandom, living with his wife, and spending most of his free time at the track playing the ponies, usually successfully, as he watches others make fools of themselves with weird schemes for winning. He is feeling his advanced years, but enjoying his life, and who wouldn't. Plenty of money, a fine woman at home, the excitement of gambling, the joy of drinking, the love of classical music and books. This book is a series of chapters like pages out of his diary. All the chapters are dated and timed , beginning with 8/28/91 and ending with 2/27/93. The time represents the hour he wrote them, mostly around midnight. What a life he lead. How jealous I am.
on July 8, 1998
This collection of journal entries could appear to be getting at the heart of this author's eminently true-to-life writing, seeing as how his works are so autobiographical. But as he says in the book, "Pain doesn't make writing, a writer does." That is, Bukowski's arduous work as a writer created the dozens of titles under his name, not some unfiltered suffering and inspiration we may hope to find by digging through his sock drawer to find his diary. Judging from the tendancies of 20th century fame, I suppose the issuing of his journals should come as no surprise; it's only a matter of time until we want to know everything about our heroes. But when fame's momentum starts flying off the handle, when the surname of the artist can weigh enough to publish just about anything he or she has done, it is high time to assess where on the shelf Bukowski's books are placed. Are they alongside volumes of criticism/laudation and reprints with academic forewords and afterwords? Or will we grant his wish stated in his journal entry: "I'm just a block unto myself. I want to stay within that block, unmolested." It seems our inclination is to include him in the literary canon, but it is evident that Bukowski wishes otherwise, ironically so in these posthumously published journals. Consider: "When [the writer] is swayed by the critics, the editors, the publishers, the readers, then he's finished. And, of course, when he's swayed with his fame and his fortune, you can float him down the river with the turds." Where in this turd metaphor is us, his audience, who appears to be swayed by all of the above?
on September 16, 2013
This is Bukowski at the end of his life sounding the notes that have become all too familiar: he is a hero for living on his own terms and everyone else is a soulless moron. This theme is continued with a few variations page after page until the very end. As Bukowski himself acknowledges, many great writers go into a decline and lose their touch, and in this rather unimaginative and monotone work he seems to confirm that. Bukowski is pretty good even when he is bad, but in this book he is merely repeating the same things he has always said, only now he sounds more tired and less original. At his best he can be brilliant, but even then his range is extremely narrow: drinking, whoring, writing, and betting at the track, and not much else. As for this unfortunate effort, it probably would have been better if he had died before he wrote it.