The first time I wanted to read Bukowski was when I discovered a bar named Bukowski Tavern in Boston during college. I never went there–I think because (aside from the fact that I wasn’t legally able to until my last year in the city) I hadn’t read anything by its namesake and thought I should at least know something about his writing before frequenting the bar, a notion that seems silly now and probably seemed silly back then as well–but I always wanted to.
The second time I wanted to read Bukowski was when I discovered the Modest Mouse song, “Bukowski,” also in Boston during college. It wasn’t so much that I loved the song–there were a few from that band I liked better–but it was somehow all caught up with the bar and the mysterious author I hadn’t read, and so it fueled my desire to read his stuff even more.
The third time I wanted to read Bukowski was ever since, whenever I would nostalgically think of that bar, and that song, and wonder why I never got around to reading anything by that guy. I knew the reason though: I had researched some of his stuff and for some reason chose a certain book to read, a novel rather than short stories, and it was the only one that would do for my first-time Bukowski experience.
It was Women.
I checked the Strand for 2 years, waiting for it to go on sale at a cheap enough price to merit its purchase, and it never did. I checked the Queens library–nonexistent. I didn’t check Amazon; I don’t know why. Then finally, a few weeks ago, while searching that same library for my office book club book the catalog said was available but wasn’t, I found a copy of Women on the shelf.
I should have left it there, because I think I’d prefer the ignorance that came with more than 10 years of meaning to read Bukowski. Instead, what I have now is less a feeling of satisfaction at finally reaching one of my literary goals and more a feeling of a tiny chunk of my heart withering and breaking off.
Maybe it wasn’t smart to assume I would appreciate an author said, by Modest Mouse, “to be such an asshole.” Maybe I shouldn’t have expected to like the writing of a guy who, according to a yelp reviewer, “were he still alive to visit his namesake bar, would both hate the people that frequent this bar as well as the bar itself.”
But we don’t choose what our hearts decide to long for. It’s possible we control how we react to that longing, and so yeah, perhaps I shouldn’t have looked forward so much to something that was probably always going to disappoint me. It’s probable I’m a person who tends to place a lot of weight on vague emotional reactions to things that, if I just let my brain in on the secret, might show themselves to be not worth my time before I invest it.
It’s also possible I had to try reading this book at some point so I could give that part of my heart, the same part that broke off after I realized I not only hated Bukowski but couldn’t even begin to finish his book, some sort of closure. Because otherwise, it would just be there, for the rest of my life, hanging on by a thread (or whatever fiber metaphorical heart-pieces adhere with), and perhaps the kinder thing was to give it a reason to finally let go.
Would Bukowski like that I have now spent 600 words describing how much of a let-down he was to me when, based on reviews and his general reputation, it may be true that I just don’t “get it”? Having only read a few pages of his terrible book, I can’t be certain, but I have a feeling he might have liked that a lot.