For readers who have gone through the majority of Charles Bukowski's works, the autobiographical nature of his middle age may have become worn out. Ham on Rye is a distinct book in the ouevre of Bukowski's works in that it sheds light on the author's early years which does a great deal toward explaining the later behavior exhibited throughout his career.
Like most of his books, Ham on Rye centers on the alter-ego of Henry Chinaski and this book explores his youth where he lived as an only child with his desperately poor mother and abusive father. His love for liquor and fighting becomes evident in this book as well as the self-repulsion that characterizes almost everything Bukowski writes. He is ashamed of his face and his self-disgust becomes tied to a sexual frustration that readers will see vented throughout the author's later works.
For any fan of Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye is important reading. Without understanding the circumstances that lead to the adult Chinaski much of the observations that can be gained from his behaviour are lost.