Needed: damn good bar reading
September 27, 2006 11:16 AM   Subscribe

I like to go to dark, smoky, dive bars and sit there with a drink and a book for hours. Unfortunately, I'm running out of good bar reading. Can you help me find more? Examples inside.

Good bar reading needs to be somewhat, but not extremely, challenging, forcing me to concentrate, but not so much that I can't "get it" once I'm on drink #2 or 3. It needs to be fiction. I don't know why, but it does. Although it helps if it's thematically related to bars and / or drinking and / or other vices, excesses, or dissolution in general, it's not necessary

Some examples of what I'm looking for:

Denis Johnson
John Fante
Richard Price
some Thomas Pynchon ("Vineland" good, "V." too willfully obscure)
Bukowksi (When I read him at home or on the bus he just pisses me off, but in bars he seems in better-- go figure...)
Harry Crews

Please help me-- I've only got a couple of good ones left on the shelf, and I have a Powell's gift card to take advantage of!
posted by dersins to Writing & Language (48 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

I'd reckon from your list that you've already exhausted the Hemingway?
posted by DenOfSizer at 11:25 AM on September 27, 2006

George Pelecanos, James Crumley, Donald Westlake, etc.
posted by box at 11:28 AM on September 27, 2006

Having once followed the Bukowski -> Fante link myself, I was next led to a book which very much inspired Fante: Knut Hamsun's Hunger

Recommended highly for your smoky dive reading.
posted by poppo at 11:34 AM on September 27, 2006

Celine: Journey to the End of the Night, Death on the Installment Plan

Frederick Exley: A Fan's Notes, Pages From a Cold Island, Last Notes From Home

Nelson Algren: The Man With the Golden Arm

John Dos Passos: U.S.A.

Wyndham Lewis: Tarr

Raymond Chandler
posted by clockwork at 11:36 AM on September 27, 2006

I never understood Faulkner until I started carrying it to the bar. That stream of consciousness bit really requires you to turn off your brain a bit to get it. William Burrough's cut-up writing works much the same way.

Cranky always works well in bars for me, Abbey, Vonnegut and Grass fill this bill.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 11:39 AM on September 27, 2006

Raymond Carver
Venedikt Erofeev ('Moscow Circles')
Jack Kerouac (although it helps if you're about 18)
Graham Greene
posted by miniape at 11:40 AM on September 27, 2006

Second Raymond Chandler.
posted by Hildago at 11:40 AM on September 27, 2006

Have you tried DeLillo? Maybe Vonnegut?
posted by occhiblu at 11:40 AM on September 27, 2006

Oh, and Hunter S. Thompson always seems to work better in bars.
posted by occhiblu at 11:41 AM on September 27, 2006

Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:43 AM on September 27, 2006

Ken Bruen: The White Trilogy. You can finish each one in about 3 or 4 good beers. Very brutal London police/derelict yarns.
posted by sixpack at 11:45 AM on September 27, 2006

Larry Brown
Russell Banks
Ernest Herbert
Annie Proulx

Sigh....I miss smoking in bars.
posted by suki at 11:45 AM on September 27, 2006

Iain Banks always works in bars, until beer #4.
posted by sebas at 11:54 AM on September 27, 2006

Paul Bowles
Alexander Theroux
Ian Fleming

This is kind of a weird one, but Frank Baldwin's "Balling the Jack."
posted by mattbucher at 11:58 AM on September 27, 2006

Larry Brown - On preview, Argh!
James Ellroy
Mordecai Richler
Derek Raymond
Brendan Behan
Jim Thompson
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:00 PM on September 27, 2006

kafka. kafka. kafka.
posted by krautland at 12:02 PM on September 27, 2006

These are some GREAT suggestions. I'd forgotten about Frederick Exley and Knut Hamsun, especially, but so many of the others seem perfect as well. Keep 'em coming, and thanks so much to all of you
posted by dersins at 12:39 PM on September 27, 2006

I'll second the recommendation for Graham Greene. I also think Camus would make for great bar reading - actually, I was in a book club once where we discussed The Fall over bottles of cheap wine in a dark and dreary bar.
posted by echo0720 at 12:46 PM on September 27, 2006

I don't see it listed yet, but I'd give Mary Gaitskill a try. If you dig short stories go with Bad Behavior (which features the short story the movie "Secretary" was based on) or Because They Wanted to, and her lastest novel, Veronica is amazing.
posted by jodic at 12:54 PM on September 27, 2006

Second Exley's A Fan's Notes, which I'm currently reading, though on a train, alas, not in a bar.
posted by shallowcenter at 2:20 PM on September 27, 2006

I want to second Malcolm Lowry, and even though it's not what you might call "challenging," the fiction of Jim Thompson. I've read most of his books, and nearly all of them in bars.

J.P. Donleavy's The Gingerman is great bar reading, unless you're a bad drunk and very open to suggestions, in which case you'll end up injured, in jail, or maybe just 86ed from your favorite watering hole. His The Saddest Summer of Samuel S. is a good bar read, too.

I also recommend Nothing Like The Sun by Anthony Burgess.
posted by mds35 at 2:27 PM on September 27, 2006

Philip K. Dick?
posted by goethean at 2:28 PM on September 27, 2006

Ernesto Quinonez's Bodega Dreams and Chango's Fire are great bar reads, too.
posted by mds35 at 2:38 PM on September 27, 2006

Haruki Murakami
posted by ijoshua at 2:42 PM on September 27, 2006

For blackly comic farce (and a fair helping of debauchery), try Tristan Egolf. For darkly poetic excess, you might also like some of Cormac McCarthy (e.g. Blood Meridian).
posted by Urban Hermit at 3:13 PM on September 27, 2006

Second Raymond Carver and Erofeev.
Robert Scheckley wrote an awesome detective series, (Soma Blues was one of the books, can't remember the others).
John Cheever (but his early stories are somewhat pedestrian).
Julio Cortazar.
Elmore Leonard, obviously.
posted by nasreddin at 3:14 PM on September 27, 2006

Outside of some good old noir, I don't have many suggestions. But I will say that my wife and I, who do the same reading-in-bars thing, are thrilled to not be alone in this.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:15 PM on September 27, 2006

hey dersins, why not poetry? I read my way through most of Czesław Miłosz and into Robert Haas and W.S. Merwin while nursing my whiskey at the bar.

Also highly recommended bar poetry: James Wright, Theodore Roethke and John Ashbery.
posted by felix betachat at 4:07 PM on September 27, 2006

Will Self
posted by I Foody at 4:16 PM on September 27, 2006

Bill Drummond.
posted by gergtreble at 4:21 PM on September 27, 2006

Hangover Square by Peter Hamilton
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 4:38 PM on September 27, 2006

You could do worse than reading "Journey by Moonlight" by Antal Szerb, if you can snag a copy.
posted by wandering steve at 5:29 PM on September 27, 2006

Murakami. The surreal adventures he takes you through, which might very well be in a bar, will make for quite the experience.
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 5:32 PM on September 27, 2006

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
posted by skwm at 6:22 PM on September 27, 2006

J.R. Moehringer - The Tender Bar
posted by govtrust at 6:43 PM on September 27, 2006

Anything by Ross Macdonald. It's a cut above most detective fiction, and is concerned with vice, excess, and dissolution.
posted by black bile at 6:48 PM on September 27, 2006

There's a school of thought that says Gunter Grass should only be read in smoky bars. I dunno about that, but his 1986 collection of stories, The Rat, might qualify as bar literature. I liked it.
First Sentence:
CHAPTER ONE, in which a wish comes true, there is no room for rats in Noah's ark, nothing is left of man but garbage, a ship changes its name frequently, the saurians die out, an old friend turns up, a postcard brings an invitation to Poland, the upright posture is practiced, and knitting needles click vigorously.
posted by paulsc at 6:58 PM on September 27, 2006

A Confederacy of Dunces.
posted by radioamy at 8:30 PM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Moby Dick.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:46 PM on September 27, 2006

oh, good call. I second moby dick.

as far as günther grass is concerned - he has his place but I think a wide field of corn is much more appropriate.
posted by krautland at 8:48 PM on September 27, 2006

Thank you all for these awesome suggestions. Because I can't possibly choose a single "best answer," I have marked them all "best," because they really are all good suggestions. I hope that doesn't defeat the purpose of the best answer. I just figure that future perusers of this thread should know that ALL of these are good answers.

Tomorrow, I've got a Powell's gift card to max the fuck out of...

Special shout-out to Urban Hermit, however, who is apparently the only person on the planet other than myself who has heard of "Lord of the Barnyard," one of my all-time favorites.
posted by dersins at 9:00 PM on September 27, 2006

This isn't a recommendation, because I'm not particularly into her stuff, but Poppy Z. Brite has a series out called Liquor that meets at least two of your three criteria, and I always like to pimp out new orleans authors.

I quite like Andrei Codrescu, too, and he's fairly challenging yet engaging.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 9:37 PM on September 27, 2006

Just in case I catch you before you head off to Powell's: Geek Love.
posted by flabdablet at 11:32 PM on September 27, 2006

tucker max. tucker fucking max.

go get 'i hope they serve beer in heaven' and see if you dont snarf your beer while reading it.

its inspiring.
posted by kneelconqueso at 8:24 AM on September 28, 2006

go get 'i hope they serve beer in heaven' and see if you dont snarf your beer while reading it.

really? I felt somewhat cheated when I read that book. it struck me as relatively pedestrian.
posted by krautland at 3:57 PM on September 28, 2006

R.A. Lafferty, who said something like "One of the great stories begins with a man and a woman in a garden. But an equally important story begins: 'These two guys go into a bar...' "
posted by zadcat at 6:40 AM on October 4, 2006

What, no Henry Miller? Orwell's Down and Out In Paris and London is good bar reading too
posted by Happy Dave at 9:30 AM on October 14, 2006

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