For many he was the “laureate of American low life” known for his writing on poverty, alcohol, terrible jobs and even worse relationships.
Yet three new books of unpublished work by Charles Bukowski will show another side to the late writer, including a surprising love of cats, which he described as “my teachers”.
The author of novels such as Factotum and Women wrote about his love of all things feline in various poems, including “My Cats” and “The History of One Tough Motherfucker”. Later this year, previously unseen material will be collected in a volume called On Cats.
“If you’re feeling bad, you just look at the cats; you’ll feel better, because they know everything is, just as it is,” he once said, adding: “The more cats you have, the longer you live. If you have a hundred cats, you’ll live 10 times longer than if you have 10. Someday this will be discovered, and people will have a thousand cats and live forever.”
Howard Sounes, author of Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life, explained: “He became sentimental about cats in his old age. When he made a bit of money, he lived the suburban life with his wife Linda Lee and they had a lot of cats. He got a bit soppy about them.” In “The History of One Tough Motherfucker”, Bukowski describes showing journalists a cat who defied veterinary predictions and recovered after being run over; he cited the creature’s defiance as his inspiration.
Books highlights of 2015
Books highlights of 2015
1/6 God Help the Child by Toni Morrison - 23 April
A new book by this American Nobel Laureate is always going to be an event, and this one has excitement building around it already: it is the story of the way in which the legacy of childhood trauma can shape, and damage, adult life.
2/6 The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro - 3 March
Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade is being billed by his publishers as urgent, relevant, troubling and mysterious, and its central characters are called Axl and Beatrice. We’ll have to wait to find out more
Matt Carr/Getty Images
3/6 So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson - 12 March
The idea for Jon Ronson’s latest offering was sparked by his online identity theft in 2012. Ronson confronted the imposters and began a probing inquiry into public shaming on social media. It looks funny and seriously hard-hitting.
Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images
4/6 Mr & Mrs Disraeli: A Strange Romance by Daisy Hay - 8 January
A biography of a fascinating couple, gleaned from letters found in the Bodleian Library archives. He was one of the foremost politicians of the Victorian age, she the daughter of a sailor on her second marriage. Their passionate letters through courtship and marriage will surely make fascinating reading.
5/6 The Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, edited by Larry Siems - 20 January
A diary written by a Guantanamo detainee, this book promises to be a powerful and unsettling read. Mauritian-born Slahi has been imprisoned for 12 years and has yet to be charged for any crimes.
6/6 Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig - 5 March
A rumination on depression, Matt Haig’s book takes the novelist into personal territory while keeping an eye on the bigger picture: “In the Western world suicide is the leading cause of death among men under the age of 35.” Joanna Lumley calls it a “small masterpiece”.
Journalists “want to hear about life and literature and I get drunk and hold up my cross-eyed, shot, runover, de-tailed cat and I say: ‘Look, look at this!’ ” he wrote. Bukowski is in good literary company in his feline devotion. William Burroughs, the author of Junky and Naked Lunch, wrote The Cat Inside in 1986, in which he reminisced about the cats in his life. Jack Kerouac wrote tenderly of the death of his pet Tyke in Big Sur.
Publishers Canongate will first release a collection of previously unpublished letters by Bukowski, on the art of writing, in July. On Cats will follow three months later, and On Love will be released in February 2016.
When he died, Bukowski left a vast amount of unpublished material with his editor John Martin, in California. “John had a filing cabinet full of poems, a few stories and he was a prolific letter writer,” Mr Sounes said. “There are thousands and thousands of letters.”
Bukowski published his first story in 1944 at the age of 24 and began writing poetry a decade later. He gave up his job in a post office to write full time, focusing on the lives of working-class Americans, producing thousands of poems and hundreds of short stories as well as six novels, before his death in 1994.
“He was very prolific and left a lot of stuff behind,” Mr Sounes said. “He’s still popular – he’s funny and easy to read. He also writes about things we can all empathise with: jobs we hate and love-life problems.”
When news of the collections emerged in the US, it was met with delight. On one forum a fan wrote: “I’m sure some cat-lovers will be buying the cat book.
“It’s also the perfect gift for a cat-lover who can then be turned into a Bukowksi-lover too.”Reuse content