Category Archives: Book Shelf

Book reviews. Rants about literature. And others that makes me you think book the moment you read it.

A Piece of Charles Bukowski’s Ham on Rye

I don’t have a storied past with Charles Bukowski. I got acquainted with him through Brandon Boyd of Incubus. He was a guest at an MTV show and he was asked who his favorite writer is, and he answered Charles Bukowski. I was probably 15 and could not afford books yet, so I read what I could about him and his works online.

The other week, I was looking to add another book to my Haruki Murakami collection, and there it was peaking through “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World”, “HAM ON RYE”. It was the only copy on the shelf. Iloilo city is not entirely a city where you can find every literature you want and ordering things online would just double the item’s price. It was a little bit serendipitous. It was a little bit serendipitious.

Ham on Rye is known as an autobiographical novel where Charles Bukowski retells his childhood, adolescence and how he found his way to writing. It also has the most intriguing first line in a novel, “The first thing I remember is being under something.” which could probably symbolize how he started at the bottom. It was fun to read. I ate every word like they are my favorite sandwich. When you think your life sucks, think about how the children of the 1940’s struggle with war and famine which to an outsider’s point view is basically an impending apocalypse. The world outside is struggling, your home is a wreck and you don’t even know what to make of yourself.

Although the novel is set in pre-World War II, everything is strangely identifiable. The protagonist, Henry Chinaski, is like you. He is the self you don’t want to end up with. He is Charles Bukowski before he became the writer everyone wanted to be like. His honesty is scary. His courage is praiseworthy. You want to be like him because he was able to escape all of the horse shit he was forced to take while growing up.

Probably the best lesson of Ham on Rye is choice. Henry choose to stand up from his bullies. He choose to take his father’s beating until he could not feel the pain anymore. He choose not to go the war because he has reasons. And most of all Henry Chinaski choose his path, the one that lead him to becoming Charles Bukowski.

I had to put it down every other chapter to prolong that indescribable feeling you get when you read a great book. He is funny. He is sad. He is all what he has become. You read a Charles Bukowski poem and you realize that there is a well that flows with creativity and wisdom resulting from years of struggle both external and internal. It is a well where you could look at, and find yourself behind its ripples.

The title Ham on Rye is an undisclosed riddle. Is it a nod to Catcher in the Rye? The tone is similar but Charles Bukowski is larger, whereas J.D. Salinger is all narcissism. Is it a reference to alcohol? The book sounds like an alcohol driven prose on its surface. But many say that it is pertaining to Bukowski’s favorite sandwich which is very fitting because the book seems like a good piece of his life.

A Spoiler- Filled Review of The Not So Great, Great Gatsby Film

I’m just going to be really personal on this review because I have never loved any book as much as I love The Great Gatsby. The book is a symbol of the American Dream, although I am not American. Jay Gatsby is a constant reminder to be aware and not let that dream go out of my grasp. Nick Carraway has been vital to my personal emotional development. Needless to say, since the first time I heard about another Gatsby movie, I have been having withdrawal syndrome.
It has been a known disappointment preemption to not expect too much from a movie based on the classic novel, especially a novel that is considered by many one of the most beautifully written books of all time. F. Scott Fitzgerald writes the grandest sequences of words that eloquently elaborate emotions and desires. And to be fair to Baz Lurhmann, he seemed to have been aiming to be the F. Scott Fitzgerald of films. It is the only good excuse I can find for this somewhat unsatisfactory film.
Let’s discuss the positive points of this movie first. Nick Carraway narrates the story and writes the book, giving Fitzgerald’s own voice to be heard, or in Nick’s word’s, “he is within but he is without”. Unlike previous adaptations, that relied on the script being entirely taken from the book, Luhrmann’s version bridges Nick Carraway and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s almost similar persona. Surprisingly, Tobey Maguire proves to be a better actor than Leonardo Di Caprio, or the role fits him better. Carey Mulligan is also stunning and frustrating as Daisy Buchanan. And probably the whole redeeming factor of the film is the ending, where Nick walks on the dock, imagining seeing Gatsby by its end trying to grasp the symbolic green light while the mist tries to hide it from him, and the last lines from the book literally floats on, it is perfectly what I have imagined the last part of the book would be.
The Great Gatsby Trailer Leonardo Di Caprio-1498428
One of the low points of the film is probably the whole exaggeration of the imagery that book subtlety conveys. Luhrmann tries hard to emphasize elements thus making the whole thing saturated and scattered with representations of what Gatsby has stood for and his underlying search for Daisy’s love. He told so little by telling too much. Di Caprio’s interpretation of Gatsby is less mysterious than what he seemed to be. The movie does not give the audience a peek at the other side of Gatsby, they focus too much on him being a grand gentleman, and almost no dubious activities are hinted. At some scenes where he’s being charming, he transforms into Leonardo di Caprio circa 1997, my childhood crush. The ending where Gatsby dies in the pool and he muttered Daisy’s name is probably the cheesiest scene I have seen in movies. The script does not help at all. Being a beautifully written novel, although they could not outwrite Fitzgerald, they could have at least thrown in words worthy of The Great Gatsby. The writers also overkilled the expression “old sport”. Unexpectedly, the music turns out to be less of a factor for such a story set in a period defined by music.

Overall, The Great Gatsby is visually grand compared to previous films. It is completely different from the book yet you have to read the book to fully understand the whole lavish parties, Gatsby’s love for Daisy and Nick being a real bro thing. We remember the last Gatsby movie we saw as the version that is truest to the book; we will remember this one as the most colorful one.
6/10: For Tobey Maguire.

Bonus Anecdote:
I was running five minutes late for the screening, the cashier hurriedly gave me my pass and my receipt, I walked into the cinema, five minutes after, I saw the opening scene of Star Trek Into Darkness which I watched 24 hours ago. Imagine my frustration. Fortunately, the manager was kind enough to trust my “I watched this last night! I called you guys earlier so that I can catch this screening and now your cashier gave me the wrong ticket” alibi. I love The Great Gatsby like Gatsby loves Daisy.

Book vs Film

Hollywood continues to recycle ideas, 2012 has been a year of movies that aren’t in themselves original, most of them are based from comic books, memoirs and novels. How the movie makers lost their creative abilities to create a movie from a screenplay entirely created from scratch is inside the confines of the cage commercialism has imposed on films.

Basking on the trend is the young adult novel, Perks of Being a Wallflower. Written by Steven Chobsky, in 1994, Perks has reached an almost cult status to young adults of the nineties. It chronicles the friendship young Charlie has created with two seniors. The novel is written in a series of letters sent by Charlie about his family and his friends to an unknown friend, thus making the readers feel that they are the friend the protagonist is writing too. In a sense it is a participatory way of reading a novel. It’s like Catcher in the Rye written like the Diary of A Girl.

To the delight of young adult novel fans, the novel has made the genre a little more open to acceptance of people. Young adult novels has been viewed as insensible and nothing but glorification of teen rebellion. And much to the dismay of the fans who loved the book, Warner Bros has made it in into a film threatening the sacred story to be pushed on the brink of selling out.

The film starred Logan Lerman. It’s hard to look at the boy without remembering the toddler that once was Drew Barrymore’s baby in Riding in Cars with Boys. Logan Lerman wasnt given more acting job beyond that, being Percy Jackson means making cute faces at the camera and swaying stuff and hanging on ropes. But with Perks of Being a Wallflower he actually has to show emotions. And emotions he portrayed were almost real. His curiosity and cluelessness were genuine. Charlie in the book, is all questions, he found the answer in the end but barely the essence of those answers meanwhile the Charlie in the film, his discovery of himself has depth. In the end the audience felt infinite along with him. Still, the book is better than the movie, the honesty of the book wins over the fancy cinematography and the grand orchestration of The Smiths song on the film. All the same, you’ll thank both because it gave you the opportunity to once again peek at the beautifully tragic series of moments that was your teenage years.

Another young adult novel that has moved from the pages to the screen is Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood. Provided that it is based from Japanese literature it has volumes of sadness hundred folds of its pages. It is a story of death, love found in death, friendship broken by that love and love that ended with death. Solve the barely bearable emotional equation. Colored by Murakami’s use of music in his works, the novel is almost based from one line of a Beatles song of the same title, “I once had a girl or shall I say she once had me.” While the pages themselves bleed with loss, longing and love, the literary depiction of this young love still could be considered beautiful as the song’s first five notes.

Norwegian Wood will make seventies babies giddy, nostalgic and melancholic at the same time. The film adaptation executed the idealism on a surface where the audience can easily transcend it. Whereas Murakami’s book is covered with symbolism veiled in the protagonists interest in music, literature and the mundane. For someone who listens to The Beatles, Watanabe is Jude, Naoko is Eleonor Rigby and Midori is Penny Lane. The relation is almost a giveaway. The film stretched the story and dragged it ti an end where the emotions invested by the viewer are not wasted, as oppose to the book.

In the end every book you’ve read is better than it’s film adaptation. Firstly, after reading or while reading, you create your own little film inside your head and chances are it sticks there in your subconscious as the ideal cinematic counterpart of the book, thus making other version a lesser form. And secondly, Hollywood sucks with film adaptations. Don’t say “why read the book when I can watch it, a year or so after” because chances are you are missing one half of the whole point of the story. So if you have time, go curl up with a good book, sip a cup of coffee while doing it, you can even play a John Williams’ score to it. And yes, it will make you an authority in dissing the movies.