Book Review: Education of a Felon
Posted by Dianna Gunn
Education of a Felon by Edward Bunker is a book I picked up randomly at the library. I was looking for an autobiography and this one was the first to catch my eye. I started reading it right after I finished Woman on the Edge of Time. You can buy it here.
On to the important part of this post:
From the Back Cover:
“Edward Bunker’s experiences in California’s toughest prisons, on the mean streets of Los Angeles, and in Hollywood’s seamy underworld have enabled him to write some of the grittiest and affecting prision novels of our time.
Quentin Tarantino called Bunker’s Little Boy Blue “the best first person crime novel I’ve ever read” while The New York Times said of his novel Dog Eat Dog “Mr. Bunker has written a raw, unromantic, naturalistic crime drama more lurid than anything the noiresque Chandlers or Hammetts ever dreamed up.”
Now, for the first time, Bunker, who was sent to San Quentin (for the first time) at the age of seventeen, tells the real stories of his life-there’s no fiction here. Whether smoking a joint in a gas chamber chair, leaving fingerprints on a knife connected with a serial killer, or swimming in the Neptune Pool at San Simeon, Bunker delivers the goods. He spent half his life living the harsh life, and the other half writing about it. Finally his readers have been let into the raw and unexpurgated world of Edward Bunker. It doesn’t get any realer than this.”
On to Business: As a Reader
As a reader I greatly enjoyed this book. The idea of a convict becoming a writer fascinated me, and I was not disappointed. Bunker has a very frank style which I quite enjoyed, as well as brutal honesty with himself and his readers.
I was drawn very quickly into his world. I understood most of his actions-running away from military and reform schools at a young age, giving authority lip-and I found a lot of similarities between my personality and his. (Only I’m a fair bit more moderate; I haven’t gotten myself in jail.)
Most interesting was his connection to the high life of Hollywood. He is taken in by Louise Wallis, and through her he sees a completely different side of life. He gains dreams he never could have had in his other life. Not only that, but I learned a whole lot about famous people in his day that I’d never know otherwise-both famous criminals and famous actors and actresses.
Watching the transformation of Bunker is fascinating and watching the transformation of the prisons-he is in prison during the first race wars in San Quentin-is even more so.
I feel that I’ve learned a lot about this book-about prisons, about the underworld in America, about the more dignified underworld of the past, and about many other things. I’ve learned with Edward Bunker. Most of all I’ve learned a lot about human psychology. Bunker has a love of the subject and some of what he knows is passed on to his reader.
Excellent book, all in all.
As a Writer
My calling as a writer is what originally drew me to this book-I wanted to see how somebody else changed their life with writing. I quite enjoyed Bunker’s frank writing voice and his many stories. Though every once in a while I bumped into a typo or a sentence I would’ve changed, overall I loved Bunker’s style and agreed with his stylistic choices.
History is important for every writer. Knowing what has really happened in our society allows us to more easily write believable stories. By reading about some of the most insane people on earth, and/or the most cruel, we learn about the extent of human insanity and human cruelty. Reading about conditions in America’s underworld and especially its prisons has taught me a few things about human psychology that I think will be very useful to me as a writer. My favourite type of history is the autobiography-it’s a story told by the person at its center, what could be better?
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in human psychology, especially the psychology of criminals.
You can buy the book here.