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Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life Paperback – May 2, 2000

4.1 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Exhilarating, hilarious and often emotionally draining, this superb biography of the maverick, hard-bitten bard of the Los Angeles demimonde uncorks a potent brew of wild, antiheroic anecdotes. Sounes (Fred & Rose) often corrects Bukowskis version of events, without deflating the writer or losing sympathy for his often depressing life, from his sad, twisted childhood (complete with regular beatings) in Los Angeles to his discovery of both alcohol and literature as a teen. Dropping out of L.A. City College in 1940, Bukowski was classified 4-F, went on the road and worked odd jobs, all the while mailing poems and stories to little magazines. At age 27, Bukowski (1920-1994) had his first relationship with a woman, the alcoholic and routinely unfaithful Jane Cooney Baker, who became a prototype for his female characters. He wrote his first novel, Post Office (1971), in only three weeks, and his autobiographical screenplay for Barbet Schroeders film Barfly (1987) brought him, improbably, into the Hollywood circle. Sounes spent two years interviewing more than 100 people, including women in Bukowskis tangled love life, who provide intimate details. Peering nonjudgmentally down every avenue of grief and despair, Sounes improves on previous books on Bukowski by Neeli Cherkovski, Steve Richmond and Russell Harrison. After reading Souness account, it is difficult to agree with his subjects self-assessment that, despite a prolific output of over a thousand poems, six novels and several collections of stories, I wont be leaving much. Something to read, maybe. A wild onion in the gutted road. Paris in the dark. More than 70 illustrations, including R. Crumb art and several previously unpublished photos of key people in the poets life.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Bukowski has always had a cult following, but he is probably best known from Mickey Rourke's portrayal of him in the Hollywood movie Barfly. Sounes, a British journalist, relies on interviews and correspondence with friends and lovers as well as material from Bukowski's highly autobiographical works to create a lively portrait of American literature's "Dirty Old Man." Sounes documents Bukowski's joyless childhood (the result of an abusive father and a severe case of acne), his struggle to support himself at low-paying jobs (including a stultifying stretch at the Post Office), his lifelong battle with alcoholism, and his belated rise to celebrity. Much of the book reads like a history of sexual conquests as Bukowski makes a startling transformation from Quasimoto to Casanova along the road to fame and prosperity. Fans who enjoyed Neeli Cherkovski's Hank (LJ 1/91) will welcome this fresh look at Bukowski's life. Recommended for larger literature collections.AWilliam Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1st Paperback Edition edition (May 2, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802136974
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802136978
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,003,614 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Here's a story kiddies, please bear with me:
Years ago I was a struggling, naive graduate student in English at a major southern university. Like a fool, I decided to write a master's thesis on Charles Bukowski. The department chair stuck me with a professor who was supposedly the resident expert on contemporary American literature. From our first conversation it was clear that the man not only had no respect for Buk, but hated his work and hated the very notion that anyone would want to do graduate level work on him. He dismissed the idea with a sniff, saying, "He's marginal and unworthy. No one has written a book on him." I am sad to report that I let the bastard get the better of me. The thesis went unwritten.
Well, that was a decade ago and since then there have been several very fine books written about Bukowski. Three excellent volumes come readily to mind: Neeli Cherkovski's seminal biography, "Bukowski: A Life"; Gay Brewer's Twayne volume, "Charles Bukowski"; and Russell Harrison's "Against the American Grain." All are top notch in their own way.
Now we have Howard Sounes' worthy addition to this list, "Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life." This new biography works well as a compliment to Cherkovski's more intimate work (Neeli and Hank were good friends and the closeness of their relationship informs every page of the text). Sounes' book is more flamboyant, to be sure, and paints Bukowski in darker colors than does Cherkovski's. Both portraits are quite valuable and, even more important, both are very good reads.
I'm still waiting, though, for the definitive Bukowski biography to emerge, a book that combines a true scholar's rigor with a novelist's eye for detail.
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Format: Hardcover
Thi extensively researched book reads like a novel of Bukowski's life . I was swept up in the gripping narrative. I knew Bukowski and we were close friends for 20 years, so it was like reading an account of my own life. There were fotos I'd never seen before, of Hank and his family, of his girlfriends in later years, and a lot of information about Bukowski that Sounes discovered during his research. I was very impressed with the book and recommend it to anyone intersted in Bukowski's extraordinary life. Sounes did not spare him, but he was fair and objective. I came away with the feeling that I had gone back in time and relived those days of poetry and booze and women, the race track, the hard years at the post office. It's all there, brilliantly recreated by Howard Sounes.
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Format: Paperback
Howard Sounes Buk bio is not nearly as detailed or as informative as his Bob Dylan bio, but it is far and away the best work on Bukowski I have thus far encountered. The reason for the lack of access is simple enough. A writer, by sheer necessity, is a solitary figure. He must spend the majority of his time alone. Most writers are also paid liars. Also, given that most of Bukowski's early loves & friends are dead, as is Bukowski himself, it would be difficult to come by much in the way of useful firsthand information. That being said, I feel that Sounes did the best he could with what was available. The Dylan bio would have more info just because a musician generally has to work closely with many other people. Bukowski had only to work closely with his publisher, John Martin.
I've suspected for years that Bukowski was about half the man he claimed to be. Sounes has confirmed my suspicions. He was a jealous, sometimes violent lover. He was guilty of more than his fair share of back-biting & backstabbing. He wasn't even the constant drunk he portrayed himself to be(trust me on that one...there's no strike against him for that). What he was was an occasionally great and always prolific writer of verse and prose. Sounes exposes many an untruth in Bukowski's account of his own life. He also makes available one of the best and most comprehensive collections of photographs ever presented of Bukowski, including photos of his chief muse, Jane.
I advise reading this book if you want the truth about Bukowski, not the myth. This won't help feed any hero-worship. It is well-researched and beautifully written in an easy, flowing narrative, not unlike Bukowski's sparse style of storytelling.
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Format: Hardcover
Howard Sounes' new Bukowski biography is much better than Cherkovski's BUKOWSKI: A LIFE, or Steve Richmond's self-serving SPINNING OFF BUKOWSKI; but it's still not great. He does dispel some of the Bukowski mythology (which Bukowski himself was the main promoter of) that has grown over the years. Unfortunately, he dwells too much on Bukowski's sex life, which can be read about in two fat Bukowski books (in every Bukowski book really) WOMEN and LOVE IS A DOG FROM HELL. This would be a good introduction for the uninitiated, but for Buk fanatics it's nothing new. Try Gay Brewer's wonderful CHARLES BUKOWSKI, for a more in depth (though somewhat academic) look at what Bukowski is important for: HIS WRITING! And for Bukowski's publishing history the forthcoming DESCRIPTIVE BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE PRIMARY WORKS OF CHARLES BUKOWSKI by Aaron Krumhansl, will be indispensible.
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