Thursday, November 13, 2014

Hooked on Classics

The gnomes of Zürich are well-known, but are you aware there are some of these mythical creatures right here in Halifax? Over the last few weeks, we library gnomes have been working tirelessly by candlelight, in our expansive network of underground vaults and caverns, unearthing a vast richness of newly acquired treasures for our new Central Library’s grand opening. And as I found through opening hundreds of boxes, never has there been a better time to read a classic. Reprints of classic titles have always filtered into the Library’s branches, but we have been opening boxes to find many bright new editions from the likes of Hemingway and Robertson Davies, to extensive back-catalogues of mystery authors like P.D. James and Agatha Christie.

Yesterday I came across two lesser-known classic authors writing about life in L.A. in the 1930s.

Charles Bukowski’s Ham on Rye (1982) is his semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel, or bildungsroman. Bukowski writes from the gut about his social and economic struggles growing up in the depression to the eve of the Second World War, through the youthful eyes of Henry Chinaski. I was introduced to Bukowski by my neighbourhood letter carrier, who found a working-class hero in the pages of Post Office (1971). His gritty writing style carries an element of dark humour and here he chronicles the working life of Chinaski, a disgruntled postal employee, set in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Bukowski acknowledges the influence of John Fante, whose Ask the Dust (1939) brings the Los Angeles of the Thirties alive amid his tragic hero, Arturo Bandini’s atmospheric journey of love and self-discovery. All three books are quick and entertaining reads from authors who have lived the life they are writing about on the seedy side of town. Classics such as these can also be a great starting point for adult readers who are newer to fiction.

‘Twill be a fine season to discover or revisit a classic novel at the library, and unlike our Swiss counterparts, our treasures are there to borrow and use at your leisure.


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