Tuesday, September 25, 2007

a book report: Post Office by Charles Bukowski

Since my time at university, I have become less able to simply enjoy a book. It may have something to do with no longer having parents restricting my television and movie consumption. My habit, probably due to reading text books, is to put a bookmark where my goal for the day would lie. It is a horrible habit and creates the illusion of work. Thus I read far less fiction than I did before the demands and requirements of so called higher learning.

However, Bukowski’s novels have always captivated me from the first page. I never look ahead to see how much more of the book is left to get through because I never want it to end, despite the seemingly complete lack of plot. This is what Jack Kerouac tried to do, but for me, never succeeded.

Bukowski hardly ever uses big words. He is quite unpretentious. He is almost painfully honest. These are rare qualities in anybody, but most especially writers. Honest unfiltered observations don’t get printed often enough. We all seem scared of offending an invisible reader or being too bleak or even boring. Mr. Bukowski was seemingly immune to such worries and refreshingly unconcerned about the audience.

POST OFFICE, more than anything it is about the soul crushing reality of a job.

I think most of us lurch through our working life doing work that does nothing more than pay the bills. Not everyone can be astronauts, and if everyone did exactly what they wanted to when they were 6 years old, we’d have a world full of firemen, nurses, pilots, doctors, lawyers (though I never understood the kids that wanted to be lawyers so young) and police officers. No one would be around to fill out forms, scrub public toilets, and lie to the electorate.

Charles Bukowski fell into a job at the US Postal Service. A steady paycheck became an addiction in itself, and he copes in a way I’m sure many of us do; by occasionally altering his reality. The women come and go in his life. Despite his calloused view of love, he writes about them with sympathy. One has to admire his ability to wade through multiple failed relationships without pausing for self pity.

Mostly the adventures revolve around his impressive and fearless fashion of facing off with the famously overbearing management. It is no mistake that folks that go nuts in the workplace are said to have gone postal.

The US Postal Service had known management problems during the timeframe of this book. I’m quite sure such issues have been resolved to some degree, or, more frighteningly, our society has merely accepted the nature of the work world. The book does a fine job of describing an atmosphere where humans are reduced to the role of robots, while the engineers work to create actual robots to replace the humans. Sound familiar?

Poor management and how to deal with it is well outlined in the Post Office. It should perhaps become a cautionary tale for all of us, especially to those of us who do find themselves accidentally in a manager’s shoes. (It has even happened to me on occasion.) There are some fine lessons about how to face off with bureaucracy. Simply bury them with more paperwork than they give you.

I won’t give away the ending. Though it is predictable, it does not involve a gun and isn’t even dramatic. Despite the bleakness of the story, I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it. Perhaps it is the realistic view of work I enjoyed, or just knowing that I’m not alone.

Reading this book is like listening to a good friend tell you about the harshness of their job over coffee, which leads to beer, which eventually, if you let it, leads to drunken laughter and strength to at least consider dreaming of becoming an astronaut again.

1 comment:

french panic said...

I believe that Post Office was the first novel by Bukowski that I read. It blew me away that he could write novels AND poetry so well.

You have inspired me to read it again.