I was in Finland last week, in the western city of Turku, facing down five days of clear blue skies and 30 degree sunshine, weather Londoners can only dream about. Turku is a friendly, gentle-paced city.
I found a bookshop not far from the hotel.
What caught my eye right away was a small John Fante hardcover in Finnish lying on an outside table, selling for 3 euros.
No dumping books in remainder shops, not in this corner of the bookworld anyway. There it was at a price anyone can afford – with the added value of being in translation. Sammakon is not an average bookshop, even if it could be mistaken for one at first glance.
There are two sammakko.com shops, the other in Helsinki. Sammakon’s owner publishes, sells and translates from English himself, especially his favorites – Bukowski, Fante, the beat poets and novelists. His first book was a translation of Charles Bukowski’s The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills. And don’t they just. After coming across this minor miracle for the world of books in English, one that so intimately caught my eyes, all both of them, it was on the bus for the drive back to Helsinki, for a day and a half of restaurants and walks, before flying back to rainy, chilly London.
It was Bukowski’s birthday (16th August) – the LA Times alerted me.
“I was drawn to all the wrong things: I liked to drink, I was lazy. I didn’t have a god, politics, ideas, ideals. I was settled into nothingness; a kind of non-being, and I accepted it. It didn’t make for an interesting person, I didn’t want to be interesting, it was too hard.” Women
More than any writer of recent times he made himself and East Hollywood a person and place you wanted to know. In an uncanny way, he made himself the writer you knew without meeting. The story of publication with John Martin and Black Sparrow is a hell of a ride – one that given the state of the publishing industry today makes you shake your head and wonder what went so horribly wrong. How and why did the spivs take control? Moneybags spivs walked in one day and a good part (the best part) of writing and publishing gave up the ghost and died. What happened to that generous reader, writer publisher spirit that John Martin recounts, those early days – he wasn’t imagining or romanticizing it. It was there. (It’s still there in pockets and angles and bolt-holes all over – the connectiveness reliant on the Web – the spivs are desperate to colonise and control the Web now as well.)
Back then when publishing was open for any and all business John Martin said to Bukowski – I’ll give you a hundred dollars a month (we’re talking late 1960s) and you just write for me. I’ll publish you. Just go and do it. Bukowski went off and wrote Post Office in a whirlwind.
John Martin is still a beacon in a wilderness we really should call – information control – or entertainment froth – or laugh your way to the little bank blues – not book publishing, not anymore.
Bukowski made you laugh out loud about things that were no laughing matter. He just made his humanness (really, Chinaski’s) matter to you. No one has captured him yet on film. Mickey Rourke and Matt Dillon – put them together, maybe (Jeff Bridges could do Bukowski really well). Or as a friend said – Mickey Rourke now – yes, Rourke or Bridges could do Bukowski now.
Any film takers out there? Any producers with the heart to try again?