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You Can't Win Paperback – April 1, 2001
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Top Customer Reviews
When you read Burroughs' foreword to this edition of `You Can't Win', it hits you that he didn't (as you might assume with a favourite book) reread the book regularly. Rather, he memorised the book as a boy, and then throughout his life `read' the version memorised in his own mind. Even the passages that Burroughs quotes in the foreword aren't word-for-word precise (I compared them with the text of the book proper), because they've been committed to myth and memory, and are recited in ritualistic fashion.
All of which aside, `You Can't Win' deserves to be known as more than just `the book that inspired Burroughs'. It's written in a plain, unsentimental style which has as much in common with the writing of Charles Bukowski as it does with the Beats - a style of writing which reached its apotheosis with `The Grass Arena', the harrowing autobiography of the British alcoholic vagrant John Healy. (Now, someone should teach a literature class comparing `You Can't Win' and `The Grass Arena' - THAT would be an inspiration.) What these writers have in common is that when you read them, you instantly think: `Now this is good, compelling, uncluttered prose.'
Many of those who have posted reviews below rightly praise Jack Black's memorable language and characterisation, which make `You Can't Win' into a kind of turn-of-the-century lexicon and encyclopaedia of the life of American thieves and hobos.Read more ›
In the end, Black urges us to stick to the straight and narrow, rues the path that brought him to morphine and state penitentiaries. Indeed, throughout the narrative, Black sprinkles cautionary paragraphs intended to discourage would-be imitators. But there's such a streak of enthusiasm and nostalgia running through Black's book that it's hard to believe that he regrets most of what he did. The stuff that he REALLY regrets seems to be what's left out - and there's a lot left out. That period he "terrorized" San Francisco - according to the afterword - his shooting of an unarmed man, the drug business he subsequently set up in prison.
Black's world is extremely moral, if not above the law. There's a strong sense of loyalty running through the book, and an ethical hierarchy, at the bottom of which lie "stool pigeons" and "double crossers," and at the top are the reliable men who keep their word and pay their debts. Those who make the cut, who play by the unwritten rules of lawbreaking and loyalty are the "Johnsons," the family of thieves.
No wonder those literary poseurs, the Beats, glommed onto this book as an instructional how-to, not as a cautionary tale of morality.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I didn't care for this as much as many of the other books on the Great Depression.Published 4 months ago by Connie Lounsbury, Author, Thrift Store Shoes, and Kathleen Creek
This is a forgotten masterpiece of american literature. Jack Black's voice is unique.Published 10 months ago by map_NYC_1970
Great piece of history. Considering what the man was he is amazingly insightful and well spoken. Condition of book is what I expected.Published 10 months ago by rob
The most honest portrait of the American Justice system I've ever read.Published 11 months ago by T. Tucker