Monday, October 27, 2014

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Finished Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk last night. I've never read a novel that I could not put down, until now. This is hands down the quickest I've ever read a book, which is saying something coming from an achingly slow reader like me.

Quickie Amazon Summary: Featuring soap made from human fat, waiters at high-class restaurants who do unmentionable things to soup and an underground organization dedicated to inflicting a violent anarchy upon the land, Palahniuk's apocalyptic first novel is clearly not for the faint of heart. The narrator gets into a love triangle of sorts with Tyler Durden, a mysterious and gleefully destructive young man with whom the narrator starts a fight club, a secret society that offers young professionals the chance to beat one another to a bloody pulp. Mayhem ensues, beginning with the narrator's condo exploding and culminating with a terrorist attack on the world's tallest building.

            This is, without a doubt, the most mental book I’ve ever read. It is so unlike anything I’ve ever picked up before. It is ruled almost entirely on the basis of creating anarchy in a structured, docile society. Tyler Durden constantly reminds us of his know-how on all things explosive, from making dynamite and napalm, to rigging computers to detonate when they’re turned on. He starts a fight club in a basement, which gradually gains so many members that chapters sprout up all over the country. They have rules and committees, even homework assignments that members must complete that include things like destroying a historical landmark or making a human sacrifice. All of this begs several questions, like what then, after everything is destroyed and dead? When society has completely collapsed, what is the end goal?
            Tyler Durden is irritatingly cautious about giving out too much information. He only says “5th Rule: You have to trust Tyler Durden.”
            It is only when I wondered what his end goal could possibly be that he gave it to me, which was fascinating and terrifying. As a reader, it was at this point that I began to feel as if Tyler Durden, and only Tyler Durden, was in control. Such a strange mix of emotions from that. On another note, the end goal is completely selfish. But Chuck Palahniuk doesn’t hide that fact.
            I posed another question, which in retrospect is nonsense, but I couldn’t help wonder. The narrator (whom is never given a name in the entire novel, I found out to my complete inattentive surprise ¾ way through the novel) suffers from insomnia. He struggles to cope with it at work, his home life, so on and so forth. But he says “after Fight Club, you just do not care. Nothing matters to you.” If someone bumps him on the street, he brushes it off, no problem, because he had Fight Club. He began to stand up to his boss, tell him off to his face, because he had Fight Club. The little things didn’t bother him and he didn’t take shit from anyone, which he amusingly wrapped up every time with “I used to be such a nice person.”
            My question posed afterward then was, do we as a society rely on the little irritations in life to avoid complete anarchy? The hate we feel when someone cuts us off in traffic, or the resentment we feel when someone of authority tells us what to do. Perhaps we need that, because the alternative could be some Fight Club/Project Mayhem-esque societal structure that brings humanity back to the Stone Age. Does the world need to be fixed, as Tyler Durden so convincingly professes? Is this is way to do it?
            On that note, I couldn’t help but imagine the possible repercussions after the release of a book such as this. For God’s sake, anyone who is Tyler Durden-like minded could pick up this novel and see it as more than a work of fiction. They may see it as a recipe book of sorts, an instruction manual for those seeking to bring destruction to society and what it values. Could this book promote anarchy?
            This was pleasingly addressed in the novel’s afterward by the author, and those “repercussions” were far worse than I could have dreamt as it turns out. But Palahniuk’s response to all the backlash he’s received is summed up in his own “First Rule of Fight Club” which is not, in fact, do not talk about Fight Club. He says instead that “there is nothing a blue-collar nobody in Oregon with a public school education can imagine that a million-billion people haven't already done."
            One of my favorite particular moments was from page 154, when the narrator makes what he calls a human sacrifice. He pulls a gun on a random stranger, and tell him he’ll kill him tonight. The stranger, sobbing and begging for his life, is asked if you could do anything in the world, how would you spend your life? After some prodding the stranger says he wished he had studied to become a veterinarian. The narrator takes the strangers license, and lets the stranger go, telling him that he would be checking up on him to make sure he was studying to become a vet. He knew where the stranger lived from the address on the driver’s license, and if he wasn’t actively trying to become a vet, he would come back and kill him. This was extremely powerful to me, because it was taking the concept of epiphanies after near-death experiences and forcing it on people for their own good. It’s sickening to think that maybe that’s what we need to stop lollygagging and really chase our dreams. A gun to our heads.
            The entire novel just took me by surprise. I was caught in this mental web of lunacy that Palahniuk spun. I’m left wondering how he accomplished this. How can someone so perfectly encapsulate a mental/physiological disease, someone who’s never suffered from said disease? What a completely unnerving thought.
            After reading this novel, it’s glaringly apparent that anarchy is more than just a theme. The book ITSELF is complete anarchy. The narrator, who is the predominant speaker, never once has quotation marks when he speaks. Only his alter ego, further advertising Tyler Durden’s control over him. Rather than a smooth transition between crucial events, the chapters jump from one important event to the next without hesitation. There is never any discernible point of view throughout the story, switching between first and third person without warning.
            This book feels like it was written as a movie, and is one of the most visually appealing pieces I’ve ever read. If you want to challenge and question everything you’ve ever felt about your sanity or the current structure of your society, pick up this book. Isn’t that what reading’s all about?

Rating: 10/10
Quote: “Maybe self-improvement isn't the answer, maybe self-destruction is the answer.”
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Next novel: 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

Tyler (not Durden)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Finished reading Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut this morning. I’d heard it was an anti-war novel, but my God, did I underestimate it.

Quickie Amazon Summary: Slaughterhouse-Five is one of the world's great anti-war books. Centering on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim's odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.

            While this book is fiction, it centers around Kurt Vonnegut’s personal experiences in World War II. Billy Pilgrim witnesses countless horrors and acts of violence, the likes of which were hard to stomach. He becomes “unstuck in time” and the novel bounces back and forth between different points in his life, even the future. He mentions at several points being abducted by an alien race, the Tralfamadorians, perhaps exhibiting clear signs of PTSD from guilt and fantasizing of a different past. This book hit hard, relentlessly and unflinchingly bearing the atrocities war inflicts on an individual’s psyche.
            Its primary intention, I felt, was to point out the desensitization of real world problems. Whenever death of any kind is mentioned in the book, he concludes the thought with the words “so it goes.” This is a clear attempt to come to grips with what he was dealing with. During the war, Billy Pilgrim observes many gruesome things, including piles of charred bodies, a fellow soldier dying of gangrene, and someone being shot by a firing squad for stealing a teapot. After a while, it becomes clear that saying “so it goes” is all he can really do to cope with the countless death toll he experiences.
            It is a harsh, brutal, and surprisingly funny novel at times. There is a moment in the novel in which Billy is taken up to the Tralfamadorian spacecraft, and put on display like a zoo animal for the Tralfamadorian public. He describes the experience as being quite pleasant, because as far as the Tralfamadorians knew, he was a perfect representation of the human race. He has sex with a porn star (also abducted), has a child with her, and even describes himself having a "tremendous wang." All hilarity aside, this entire experience is not so much a grisly abduction, but more of a pleasant vacation. This seems to emulate what Billy dreams his experience as a prisoner of war could have been, trying his damnedest to rewrite what reality served him in his past.
            Whether this novel has influenced me personally as to the morality or necessity of war, I’d say it has. It brought to light many things for me that I’d never considered, particularly in the way of POW’s. How they cope with tragedy, as well as good fortune, are not often dismissible. They are lasting impacts. They watch their comrades die at the hands of senseless murder, disease, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. War is unforgiving and does not discriminate. I’d recommend this to anyone. Give it a chance, and really listen to what Vonnegut has to say. 

Rating: 10/10
Quote: “All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I've said before, bugs in amber.”
Purchase here on Amazon Smile and donate to a charity of your choice! I choose The Foundation to Decrease Worldsuck!
Next novel: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk


Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Finished "The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time" by Mark Haddon, a murder mystery written through the perspective of a 15-year-old autistic boy named Christopher.

Quickie Amazon Summary: Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow. This improbable story of Christopher's quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years.

            I read this to get a little more insight into autism, as I have very little. And I'm aware having read this doesn't make me an expert now, or that all autism is the same. But I understand a little better the struggles they experience on a daily basis. In this particular case of autism, Christopher has Asperger syndrome, considered a high functioning form of autism. He could still communicate with others and take care of his own personal hygiene, etc. His main trouble took the form of understanding people and interacting with them socially. There were times when the reasons people did certain things didn’t make sense to him, which reading from his point of view made the situation very raw, and his following skepticism understandable.
            This novel became much more than a murder mystery, an unexpected twist that made the story much more serious and real. It depicted the harsh reality that sometimes people who need help, or children in this case, aren’t always surrounded by the most appropriate people. No parent is perfect, and sometimes our emotions take over sensibility. But this novel strives to show that love always wins out in the end. No matter in what form. Very gripping, give it a read!

Rating: 9/10
Quote: “Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them.”
Purchase here and donate to a charity of your choice using Amazon Smile! I choose the Foundation to Decrease Worldsuck!
Next novel: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut


Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Finished "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" by Ransom Riggs this morning. Can't believe it took me this long to read it.

Quickie Amazon Summary: A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

            I haven't read a fiction book as gripping, colorful and strange as this in a LONG time. It is a must read. His writing style is unlike anything I've experienced. A favorite quote: "The sky was turning the color of a fresh bruise as we pulled into my grandfather's subdivision..." Who compares the sky to a bruise?! It's not romantic or majestic, but rather sets the tone for an upcoming event in the chapter. Just spectacular.
            Reading this novel brought me back to a simpler time in my life. A time when the novels I read were about a rag-tag group of misfits my age who have to save the day, complete with heaping helpings of mystery and danger alike. And that’s just what this book delivered. The old photographs interspersed sparingly throughout the book’s pages (which, according to the back of the novel, are mostly real) make this one of the most visually appealing novels that I've ever read. The characters feel real by the end, and when all is revealed by the end, Riggs ties every last potential hole together beautifully. This is an exciting novel from start to finish, with a sinister enemy that actually, certifiably terrified me. Forget recommending this, it is a priority read. This is the kind of book you read when you need a good literary cleanse. Dig in and enjoy!

Rating: 10/10
Quote: “I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was.”
Purchase here and donate to a charity of your choice using Amazon Smile! I choose The Foundation To Decrease Worldsuck!
Next novel: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon


Friday, October 17, 2014

Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie

Finished the "Matched" series by Ally Condie this morning, recommended by my good friend Rachael!

Quickie Amazon Summary: Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

            Maybe this is just a phase I’m going through, I’m sorry, guys. This is another dystopian future series. Bear with me; this is the last one for the foreseeable future.
            If you’re into the dystopian future novels though, there are a plethora of plots available, ranging from murder-y bloodbaths between children (Hunger Games) to worldwide experimental societies (Divergent) to colossal, killer mazes trapping teenagers (Maze Runner). But they all have one thing in common: questions, questions, and more questions. This particular series goes the way of an epidemic, but it doesn’t begin that way. And that’s the saving grace of this series.
            The first novel, Matched, focuses much more on the developing love triangle between Cassia, Xander, and the moody, mysterious Ky. It builds some serious tension between the three, and early on it’s clear that they’ll be fighting for Cassia’s heart the remainder of the series. This may seem a bit corny, but don’t be disheartened. The author, Ally Condie, does a fantastic job of focusing more on the ever evolving storyline, particularly each of the character’s roles in the oncoming crapstorm epidemic. Her depiction of Ky’s past throughout the series, and the setting up of Xander’s future as a healer were flawless and constantly kept me interested. I ripped through this series crazy fast, which is saying something for me, being the agonizingly slow reader that I am.
            This was a very colorful and illustrative depiction of the human condition. While it was essentially a dystopian future novel, it’s spotlight is instead shone on the concept of having a calling and where love lies when all the odds are against you. I hope to see this as a film adaptation one day, if it’s handled by the right people. A really great read with an unexpected ending. Thought I had it figured out, but nope! The plot was thorough and didn't miss a beat.

Rating: 8/10
Quote: “Growing apart doesn't change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled. I'm glad for that.”
Purchase here and donate to a charity of your choice using Amazon Smile! I choose the The Foundation to Decrease Worldsuck!
Next novel: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs


White Fang by Jack London

Finished "White Fang" by the infamous Jack London. The only exposure I'd had to him before were the excerpts given to us in high school. One of the most powerful books I've ever read.

Quickie Amazon Summary: In gripping detail, London bares the savage realities of the battle for survival among all species in a harsh, unyielding environment. White Fang is part wolf, part dog, a ferocious and magnificent creature through whose experiences we see and feel essential rhythms and patterns of life in the animal kingdom and among mankind as well.

            I could talk about this book forever. Basically, this wolf/dog hybrid named White Fang makes his way through The Wild, kicking ass and taking out bad guys. He makes friends with humans and even throws himself out a window to be with his master at one point. Freaking alpha!
            One of my favorite books in the world ever ever. As is well known, Jack London spins a deadly, unforgiving relationship between man and nature. What’s interesting about this book in particular is that it begins through the perspective of man, but quickly and permanently switches to a perspective through an animal’s eyes. We don’t actually see through White Fang’s eyes until a good way through the book, but it is so worth the wait. I can’t believe a man, a writer, was able to so perfectly capture the thought and actions of a wolf dog. Completely. From the moment it’s born to nearing the end of its life. Unbelievable.
            Alright, I’ll try to stop gushing long enough to get out an actual review. I cannot think of one complaint I ever had about this novel. It expressed the simple, easy reasoning for White Fang’s actions, but it felt as if I were in the mind of an actual human. I’m not sure of this was because the book was in written form, or because some of the thoughts drew similarities between man and wolf. Much like a human, White Fang was new to the world at one point. Thrust into an unknown world, protected by a mother, forced to fend for himself. At times, used by other. At others, loved by many. From the beginning, White Fang learned quickly the laws of the World, but by the end had formulated his own set of rules that even included morals.
            I cannot possibly stress enough how important this book is to me. It’s something unlike anything you’ll ever read, and I highly recommend it. My favorite (and most emotional moment to boot) was when White Fang’s master was preparing to leave on a boat to California to join the Gold Rush. Knowing White Fang would try to follow, they locked him in the cabin and closed all the windows. This master was more than just another person to White Fang, however. He saved White Fang from a brutal, violent life. Cared for him, was patient with him when he could trust no other man. White Fang, locked in the cabin, loved this man so much that he threw himself through a goddamn window just to be with him. Tear jerker.
Rating: 10/10
Quote: “The hand descended. Nearer and nearer it came. It touched the ends of his upstanding hair. He shrank down under it. It followed down after him, pressing more closely against him. Shrinking, almost shivering. He still managed to hold himself together. It was a torment, this hand that touched him and violated his instinct. He could not forget in a day all the evil that had been wrought him at the hands of men.”
Purchase here and donate to a charity of your choice using Amazon Smile! I choose The Foundation to Decrease Worldsuck!
Next novel: Matched Series by Ally Condie


The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Finished The Maze Runner by James Dashner.

Quickie Amazon Summary:
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.
Nice to meet ya, shank. Welcome to the Glade.
Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive.
Everything is going to change.
Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.
Remember. Survive. Run.

            Yay, another dystopian future novel about young adults leading the new world order! Or what seems like it anyway. This book is questionsquestionsquestions from beginning to end. I have yet to read the novels following this one, so many of my questions have gone unanswered.
            One of the things I loved about this book was while none of the boys in the Glade knew how they had gotten there or why they were there or where they heralded from, they still had order. They had laws, codes, organization, and leaders. At least for the most part. Of course, it’s full of teenage boys, some older, some younger, so there’s inevitably going to be some disagreement and violence.
            My only complaint about this novel was the odd stream of consciousness the character’s displayed. They had unrealistic reasons for some of their actions, written in a way that seemed forced and unnatural. Like the author couldn’t decide which way to present a plot progression or new twist, so they had this character or that character do or say something that made little sense.
            As a whole, this novel was very enjoyable. I loved the little language they Gladers invented to express disdain or dislike for something. The scene in which the Maze doors remained open overnight was extremely gripping and had me anxious as to what would come next. As you know, the movie adaptation was recently released. I have yet to see it, but judging from the trailer it has a great soundtrack and a solid cast. It’s gotten mixed reviews, but I’ll withhold judgment. All in all, this is a quick and enjoyable read!

Rating: 6.9/10
Quote: “If you're going to decipher a hidden code from a complex set of different mazes, I'm pretty sure you need a girl's brain running the show.”
Purchase here and donate to a charity of your choice using Amazon Smile! I choose The Foundation to Decrease Worldsuck!
Next novel: White Fang by Jack London