Archive | 7:15 PM

Book Review: Post Office by Charles Bukowski

12 Sep

Time for a second book review!  I added this one to my To-Read shelf and removed it so quickly that I didn’t have time to explain why it was there in the first place!  I was visiting my friend TS and complimented him on his bookshelf.  Immediately, he handed me two books.  One of them was Post Office by Charles Bukowski.  (Does anyone else have the problem of being handed large numbers of books upon friends finding out you like to read?)

Post Office by Charles Bukowski

Henry Chinaski has only one steady thing in his life: employment with the US Postal Service.  He bounces around between woman, horse races, and alcohol but always has the Postal Service to come back to.  He starts as a substitute carrier, lugging a mailbag through hell or high water with unexpected twists and turns, never the same two days in a row.  After a brief reprise, he’s back ‘sticking’ (sorting) mail, sitting on a stool all day.

The cover quote on my copy toted it as “One of the funniest books ever written.”  Needless to say, I had high expectations.  Maybe I wouldn’t have used the word ‘funniest,’ maybe ‘satirical’ or ‘ironic’ would have fit better.  I think I may have laughed once, but it wasn’t a long and hard laugh.  It was a great satire of corporate structure and the flaws inherent in large organizations.  For skipping work, Henry was suspended for three days, a vacation really.  Out of 150 people who were hired with Henry, only 2 were left five years later.  The plight of the working man.

I have worked for large organizations before and I could see the irony in Bukowski’s writing.  There are so many people looking for a job, why does the company have to treat its people right?  In such a large company, incentives get lost and its hard to motivate employees.  One of the scenes that must struck me (and was one that made me smile if not laugh) came toward the end.  Henry is being written up for taking 28 minutes to sort a box of mail that should, according to studies, take 23 minutes.  He’s told that he cost the company five minutes.  Henry argues that the 23 minute time allotment isn’t fair because some boxes are larger than others.  The man says it doesn’t matter, he gets 23 minutes and costs the company money if he doesn’t do it in that time.  Henry asks what he can do if he gets a small box and sorts it in seven minutes.  Does he get 16 minutes that he saved the company to go home early or take a long break?  Of course not!  He should immediately grab another box, which he only gets 23 minutes to sort.

The book also explores the weird and wonderful world of love.  Henry is married twice in the book and takes on an undefined number of lovers.  One of the most touching parts of the manuscript (in my opinion) was when Henry ran into his ex-wife, Betty.  I won’t spoil the scene, but we see Henry as a man who hurts and mourns a loss.  He takes a day off for the funeral and forgets to call in.  One guess at what the Post Office does in response.

This topic seems timely to me because I’ve read another book that discusses some similar ideas.  Then We Came to the End by Joshua Farris was a book club selection earlier this year.  Set in 2000, it’s a bit of an update on Bukowski’s characters.  These characters work in an advertising agency, but the focus is on the interpersonal relationships they have and the things they do when they should be working.  Another man lost in the corporate structure.

I’m not sure what this book taught me, I’m already familiar with corporate structure and motivation having taken Organizational Behavior classes.  It was very different from what I’ve ready before but has a cult following.

Writer Takeaway: This book is considered a classic, yet I was not at all a fan.  I guess as a writer, I have to see that as long as you can connect to a group of people and connect strongly with them, you are a successful writer.  Maybe it’s best not to be totted as the ‘best’ or ‘most’ anything, because people will go in with an open mind, which I was unable to do.

As far as style, I did enjoy Bukowski’s style and quick-paced writing.  He used short chapters the encouraged me to keep read “Just one more.”  I read it much quicker than I otherwise would have.

Two out of five stars.