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Martin Amis
  • Time's Arrow
    I don't like to use terms like tour de force, but really there is no other description which comes to mind when considering Martin Amis's astounding book Time's Arrow. A story told in reverse, where effect is cause and cause effect. The simple premise of telling a story faithfully in reverse, starting with death and ending with birth, yields achingly poetic descriptions and opens a whole can of metaphysical worms. What's most amazing is the degree of suspense in wanting to know where the protagonist (a tragic figure) was before he got to where he ended up. This book will fascinate anyone who's ever run films in reverse for the pleasure of watching water run uphill and bullets being sucked into guns.

Charles Bukowski
  • Ham on Rye
    There is not a single mention of ham, rye, or ham on rye in this book, so if that's what you want, go to a deli. What you will find are autobiographical reminiscences dating from Bukowski's first memories when he was two or so in 1922 Germany to December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy due to Buk's stunning defeat at the hands of an 8-year-old Mexican boy. Is this fiction? It hardly seems so, but Bukowski himself reveals how he learned the secret after being praised for a 4th grade essay in which he imagined having gone to see President Hoover speak: "So, that'swhat they wanted: lies. Beautiful lies. That's what they needed. People were fools. It was going to be easy for me." Lies these may be, but it didn't seem easy for Bukowski. Growing up was a relentless sequence of beatings, humiliations, and hospitalization. His only solace: books and alcohol. Many of these episodes are related in his poetry (particularly in the posthumous collections) and it's interesting to note the factual consistency. The key difference is that the prose renditions are often laugh out loud funny. Grim situations are made humorous through understatement and blithe observation of human nature. It is art without artifice. Bukowski is just a guy who had the guts to be honest with himself and used words to understand and share his experience. Beautiful.
  • Post Office
    An autobiographical novel by America's most direct writer detailing the 15 years or so he spent working for the US Postal Service. Drinking, screwing, and mail-sorting abound, described in an off-hand yet precise and hilarious style that makes most other writers read like puke. The description of the hospital birth of his illegitimate child is tragic in its simple adherence to the facts of bureaucratized miracles. Goes down quicker than a chiliburger and stays with you a lot longer. Also contains one of the best last lines of any novel ever.
  • Women
    There's Lydia, Lilly, April, Dee Dee, Nicole, Mindy, and Laura. Joannna, Tammie, Mercedes, Liza, and the two German girls who drop in unannounced: Hilda and Gertrude. There's Cassie, Debra, Jessie, Iris, Valerie, Valencia, Sara, and Tonya. They are students, pick-ups, groupies, trueloves, and casual encounters--the women of the title....
    [ read full review ]

[ reviews of poetry by Bukowski ]

Bohumil Hrabal
  • Too Loud a Solitude
    A lyrical first-person account of a bibliophile who spends his days compacting books in a dank basement of Soviet-era Czechoslovakia. Deftly translated by Michael Henry Heim (who translated The Unbearable Lightness of Being into English), this book is touching in its simplicity and grand in its implications. The oppression and censorship which keep our hero behind in his labors takes a back seat to the joy he derives from the select books he is able to salvage from the press and the colorful cast of characters who come to call on him in his sweaty cellar.

Alan Lightman
  • Einstein's Dreams
    I used to assign this book to my English students because its easily digestible standalone chapters made for easy and entertaining reading. It's also a tiny book, perfect for carrying in one's pocket for quick little impromptu reads at bus stops and bank lines. Framed as the dreams Einstein might have had while formulating his theory of relativity, the vignettes are as poetic and humane as they are philosophically intriguing. Lightman, a professor of physics at MIT, rifs on different possibilities of the structure of time by couching the mindbending postulations in mundane contexts, deftly balancing theoretical physics with human interest. More than an intellectual exercise, it is a strangely consoling book which calls into question our preconceptions of the inflexibility, linearity, and irreversibility of time. So much so that it's the one book I gave my mother when she was diagnosed with cancer.

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© 1999 robert zverina