Top Ten Essential Bukowski Books

(Drawing by Jana Michel)

(Drawing by Jana Michel)

The Outsiders and Misfits Blog Top Ten Essential Bukowski Books:

1.     Post Office (Black Sparrow Press, 1971)

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Post Office was Bukowski’s very first novel. It was published in 1971 when Bukowski was fifty years old and it's probably his best novel. It tells the tale of Bukowski’s alter ego Henry Chinaski finding a job at the Los Angeles Post Office. The writing is gritty, funny, unpretentious and gripping. It features one of the all time classic opening lines: ‘It began as a mistake.’ In my opinion Post Office is up there with the modern classics Bukowski himself admired: Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, Louis Ferdinand Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night and John Fante’s Ask The Dust. If you haven’t already read Post Office, do yourself a favor and go down to your local library or bookshop and get it. It’s a classic.


2.     The Last Night of the Earth Poems (Black sparrow Press, 1992)

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These poems were written when Bukowski was in his seventies. Old man Bukowski reflects on his life in his typical raw style. It features classic Bukowski poems like the beautiful ‘The Bluebird’ and the epic apocalyptic horror that is ‘Dinosauria, we’. The book is about 400 pages long. There are a lot of poems in there and not all of them are brilliant, but a lot of them are great and some of them are fantastic. It's one of my personal favorites. 


3.     Ham on Rye (Black sparrow Press, 1982)

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Ham on Rye was Bukowski’s fourth novel, published in 1982. This one focuses on Henry Chinaski’s early years. It’s a coming-of-age novel in the same vein as J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. We follow Henry Chinaski from his early childhood to high school and early adulthood. It tells the story of Henry’s abusive father, his terrible acne condition, his inability and refusal to conform to society, and his first experiences with alcohol. Chinaski is the ultimate loner. If you’re an outsider or a misfit, you’ll love this novel.


4.     The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over The Hills (Black Sparrow Press, 1969)

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One of Bukowski’s first and best books of poetry. It features many poems about Jane Cooney Baker, Bukowski's first girlfriend who sadly drank herself to death. It really is a beautiful collection of poetry. It shows Bukowski's softer side.


5.     Love Is a Dog From Hell: Poems 1974-1977 (Black Sparrow Press, 1977)

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This is the classic Bukowski book of poetry. This collection contains not only some of Bukowski’s very best poems, it contains some of the best poems ever written. A must read.


6.     Pulp (Black Sparrow Press, 1994)


Pulp was Bukowski’s last novel and it’s very different from everything else he wrote. Published shortly before his death in 1994, it took Bukowski almost three years to complete this novel. It’s a kind of parody of the pulp fiction genre of writing, dedicated to ‘bad writing’.  It tells the story of a private detective named Nicky Bellane who gets hired by Lady Death to find the legendary French writer Céline. In the end, Nicky Bellane gets swallowed by the Red Sparrow.  Pulp is surrealistic and hilariously funny. It’s one of my all-time favorite novels.


7.     Women (Black Sparrow Press, 1978)


Bukowski’s third novel focuses on the women in Henry Chinaski’s life. Chinaski is now a successful writer. This is classic Bukowski. 


8.     Notes of a Dirty Old Man (Essex House, 1969)

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In the late 1960’s Bukowski wrote a weekly column called Notes of a Dirty Old Man for the underground newspaper Open City. This is a collection of those columns and it features Bukowski writing about his life in the late 1960’s. These columns offer great insights in how Bukowski viewed the world. Great stuff.


9.     Septuagenarian Stew: Stories and Poems (Black Sparrow Press, 1990)


A collection of poems and short stories published in 1990, the year of Bukowski’s seventieth birthday. This is old man Bukowski looking back on his life. It features some of his best short stories.


10.     Hot Water Music (Black Sparrow Press, 1983)

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A great collection of short stories. Bukowski describes the underbelly of society in his typical raw and unpretentious style.



Additional reading:

Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life. The biography by Howard Sounes. (Canongate Books Ltd, 1998)

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This is the definitive Bukowski biography. It’s well written, thoroughly documented and features some very rare pictures. A must read for the Bukowski fan.


What are your personal favorite books by Bukowski? Please leave a comment below!

Wesley Stuer
july 28, 2018