Hollywood – Charles Bukowski

 

Bukowski’s book, Hollywood, gives the reader a backstage pass to see how the gears move behind a Hollywood film. Many pieces fit together to line up the financial backers, the writer, the director, all the way down to the movie premiere.  From the late nights drinks to make a deal, to the ghetto BBQs, this one digs deep for the unedited glimpse behind the scenes and characters.

Henry ‘Hank’ Chinaski is an alcoholic writer, late in life.  Most of his old friends have died from their habits, but his most recent wife, Sarah, has been pushing the health foods and Hank thinks this is the reason he’s outlasting all the other alcoholic writers from his generation. He’s done several novels and poetry, but his friend, Jon Pinchot, a director, is urging him to write a screenplay.  Pinchot has some connections, money, which will help it along.  What would an alcoholic novelist write  a movie about?…  His glory days of course.  The dirty bars, the seedy motels and apartments, the women, the fist fights.  Hank barely believes his movie will amount to much of anything, but the eager support of Pinchot has him playing along.  Financial backing appears and disappears, actors want their own directors, production companies withhold payments and threaten to shut down the movie.  Pinchot takes matters into his own hands when Firepower Productions tries to back them into a corner by refusing to release the movie deal while they also refuse to make the movie.  Finally the day of the big premiere, and Hank gets to relive the good ol’ days.

What does a writer do when his first screenplay is developed into a mildly successful movie?  Write a novel about writing the screenplay, of course!

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Wake Up, Sir! – Jonathan Ames

Just after I completed college, a friend attempted to introduce me to ‘Bored to Death,’ an HBO series starring Jason Schwartzman.  I just couldn’t get into it- a whiny lead and his misfit friends, a 60-something ‘New Yorker’ editor and pot-addict, Ted Danson, and a lazy, self-depreciating cartoonist, Zach Galifaikis.  Several years later, I saw the series on Amazon Prime and revisited to give it another try.  It hit me, surprisingly, and I binged through all three seasons in about a week.  I’ve watched it all the way through again since then.

I was pleased to find a book authored by the same writer of the series at a thrift store earlier this year.  In my mind, Schwartzman played the lead again, along with all the eccentricities that were included.  Written as a first-person narrative, the book ‘Wake Up, Sir!’ is a week long adventure that explores the hero’s struggles with alcoholism.  Alan Blaine is the lead.  He’s working on a novel that explains his odd relationship with his former roommate, an older man who escorts rich old widows in NYC.  Blaine is thirty years old, orphaned, and living with his aunt and uncle and Montclaire, New Jersey.  He has an affinity for sports jackets and wine. Recently, Blaine had won a lawsuit after slipping on ice and put the money to good use, hiring a valet named Jeeves (a nice nod to the Wodenhouse character).  The novelist’s first book was met with mediocre success, and he has his sights on making a bigger splash with his second work. Tired of avoiding his NRA-card-carrying uncle, Blaine decides to bring Jeeves to upstate NY and spend time writing in a Hasidic community, Sharon Springs.  The aunt and uncle were in agreement, and casually mentioned that they had planned on asking him to leave due to his excessive drinking. On the way, he called to check in with his aunt, but his uncle told him an artist colony Blaine had applied to had accepted him.  With changing plans, Blaine made a shorter visit to Sharon Springs.  The hotel he planned to stay in had a massive fire, but Blaine charmed his way into an undamaged double room where Jeeves could join him.  A curiousity had overcome him while calling his uncle and he returned to the phone booth in a drunken state later that night to call ‘Debbie,’ the name from a hand written advertisement that stated she likes her have her ‘kitten’ kissed, along with a phone number.  Well, Debbie showed up, with her boyfriend.  The boyfriend was a giant of a man, referred to as ‘Hill’.  Hill beat up on Blaine and broke his nose, but then Blaine kicked Hill’s knee and punched him in the ear, dropping him and allowing for a brisk escape for the hero.  The next day, Blaine and Jeeves showed up to the Rose Colony with two black eyes and a broken nose.  This appearance intrigued the fellow guests and he quickly made friends, and enemies.  Though Blaine swore off alcohol after the violent episode, he continued to indulge nightly as it was practically a ritual with the artists at the Rose Colony.  Each night brought further escalating malady, until Blaine found himself in the biggest scandal of the colony’s history.

This was a fun read, the main character posed many interesting questions in his thoughts: Why are Jews always persecuted?  Why are the Hebrews in so much popular media, but in so few numbers; what if roles were reversed with the Chinese?  What do you call the erotic infatuation with another human’s nose?

I hope to someday find another book by Ames in the future, but until then, Bored To Death will be on queue.

Running With Scissors – Augusten Burroughs

Well, this was an interesting read.  I wasn’t sure what to expect with this, just that I heard Burroughs was a funny writer.  I think his writing was good and well thought out.  He had a fun way of telling stories.  This memoir focused on his life from about ages 8-15.  Through his childhood, he struggled a lot with the adults he should have trusted.  His mother had mental illness and what he considered psychotic episodes.  His father left the family and stayed out of communication with the rest of the family.  From a young age, Augusten was enthralled with doctors, acting, and hair.  He had dreams of being a doctor, playing a doctor on a soap opera, or being a hair product tycoon.  As his mother went deeper into psychotic fits, it was arranged for Augusten to move in with her psychiatrist’s family.  The family basically lived as slobs, and other mental patients of the father (Dr. Finch) would move in and out of the home as well.  Augusten missed more and more school and became more of an accepted, slobby member of the Finch family.  Early on, he realized he was gay, and another man staying in the Finch home helped him develop an adult relationship to solidify his homosexual feelings.  As a straight man, it was a little uncomfortable reading graphic details of their relationship, let alone the idea that Augusten was 13 and Neil was 34.  Apart from those details, the book had several short stories of mishaps and adventures Augusten had with the Finch family. For example, the family believed that God used many mediums to communicate, including ‘Bible dips’ and one story even had the family believing that God was talking to the family through Dr. Finch’s feces.  He had his loyal daughter, Hope, scoop them out of the toilet with a spatula and display them on the picnic table in the yard.  Augusten said the Doctor was so proud of this he wrote detailed notes of what they meant along with sketches that were included in the monthly newsletter for his patients!  Gross!

Toward the end of the book Augusten wrote: “I took an inventory of my life: I was seventeen, I had no formal education, no job training, no money, no furniture, no friends. ‘It could be worse,’ I told myself. ‘I could be going to a prom.'”

I found this to be one of the funnier things he wrote, but there were a lot of funny parts in the book that kept me reading.  Ultimately, the book was like a train wreck, it was tough to read a lot of it, but it was hard to put it down.

Rating: ******6/10

A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

A Pulitzer winning novel, A Confederacy of Dunces had me locked in from the beginning.  It’s a comedic tale of Ignatious Reilly and his mishaps in New Orleans.  He is a peculiar man, set in his thoughts and ways. He wears a green hunting cap at all times to protect his ears from noise and climate with the built-in muffs.  He is overtly religious and pushes his thoughts onto others by explaining their faults and calling them ‘mongoloids’. The ease of his harsh attitude is one of the great humors in the novel. He is a graduate of higher education, nevertheless, an unemployed son living with his poor mother.

Ignatious lives with his mother in a run-down house in New Orleans, his father passed some twenty years before.  While waiting for his mother during a shopping excursion, Ignatious was stopped by a policeman who attempted to arrest him for vagrancy.  His mother was so upset, she backed her car into a building and was liable for the damages.  With no other means of income to pay for the damage, Ignatious was sent out to finally find a  job.  His previous attempts at employment had found him banned from the public library, so he was not exactly thrilled to find himself stomping the streets for a job.

Myrna Minx was a cohort of Ignatious from his college days.  She pushed political agendas and fought social injustice.  As ignatious wandered through his journey of employment, he penned and received letters from Myrna in New York, trying to out-do each other in their absurd lives.  She always pushed Ignatious to break out of his reclusive shell of his room and sexual repression.

Officer Mercuso attempted to arrest Ignatious in the beginning, he was also the first on the scene when Mrs. Reilly wrecked her car.  He developed a friendly relationship with Mrs. R and introduced her to his Aunt Santa.  Ignatious believed his mother was betraying him by spending time with the family of the ‘mongoloid Mercuso’. Eventually, Santa introduced her to a man, Mr. Robichaux, a retired man who adored Mrs. Reilly.

Jones, an African American worked in the Night of Joy for less than minimum wage to avoid vagrancy.  He was constantly at ends with Ms. Lee, the owner.  She believed she ran into some luck having a worker at a discount who was afraid of losing his job.  At the same time, she was involved with a ‘charity’ which Jones believed was a sham, and he was dedicated to taking her down.

Levy Pants was an old company from which Ignatious gained employment.  He loved the job, he was free to do as he pleased there.  This did not last long as he rallied the factory workers to stage a protest that proved calamitous.

To the embarrassment of his mother, Paradise Hot Dogs offered Ignatious a job as a hot dog vendor.  The portly Ignatiious ate as he pleased and brought home very little pay to his mother to help pay the damages.

Interestingly, all the characters and places were tied together by the end of the story.  Seemingly unrelated, the writer was developing a cast of characters who were all unique and peculiar in their own way.  The humor of each chapter kept the pages turning, a really enjoyable and exciting read!

Rating: *********9/10

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God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian – Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut is a favorite, so this may be a little biased, ha.  Though “God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian” may sound quite morbid and unappealing, the book was quite interesting.  Vonnegut compiled several short pieces from a show he did on public radio in the late 1990’s, each visiting a different character in history.  Here’s the catch: he wrote as if he went through a blue tunnel up to the pearly gates of heaven assisted by Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who made him just dead enough to get Vonnegut there and then to safely bring him back from the dead.  At under 80 pages, this was a quick but satisfying read.  He was able to quote memorable historical figures, friends, and acquaintances as he visited about 20 dead souls in heaven.

First, Vonnegut stated that this does not reflect his religious views (as the president of the American Humanist Association), but was a fun way to look at different perspectives of history.  Humorously, he interviewed Isaac Newton, who said he can’t forgive himself for overlooking the theories of evolution and relativity (even though he invented the reflecting telescope and calculus).  Hitler was interviewed, asking for forgiveness.  Yes, Hitler was in heaven, Vonnegut said there was no hell and that everyone simply went to heaven, because nobody knows, who can say he’s wrong?  Isaac Asimov was also interviewed and asked how he became such a prolific writer (over 500 novels).  He replied with one word, “escape,” followed by quoting Satre, saying “Hell is other people.” Vonnegut even wrote in his mysterious alter-ego, Kilgore Trout into an interview.

I have enjoyed all I’ve read by Vonnegut and this was no exception.  His witty and thoughtful work did a nice job of exploring the afterlife and people who have influenced himself and the world.  A quick read, not to be taken seriously, it was a nice ‘brain break’ from the world, if only for a short time.

Rating: **********10/10