Fight Club

Fight ClubFight Club by Chuck Palahnuik was first published in 1996 and the film of the novel came out in 1999. I picked up the novel at a used book store a few years ago and randomly decided to read it only recently. I had seen the movie a long time ago, so having known the “twist” I wasn’t really expecting any surprises.

I must admit that the film does an excellent job adapting the story. There are a few differences but the overall story is pretty much the same with of course a few underlying elements you get more of in the book such as the reasoning behind the main character’s mental instability. If you haven’t seen the movie, I may recommend reading the book first. If you have seen the movie, you likely won’t get too much more from the book, but it may be a fun way to experience the story again if you’re in the mood. This is definitely a story that you need to be either in the mood for or open to the craziness that is involved.

The book was a really quick and easy read at around 200 pages. I read it in about two days and probably could have read it in one sitting if I had the time or wanted to. This is the first book by Palahnuik I’ve read but I know he has a reputation for not holding anything back in regards to language, imagery, etc., and I think that is what draws people to his work. He won’t sugar-coat anything and no topic is off-limits. This is also the draw to Fight Club itself. The story centers around the down-trodden, middle-to-low class, working stiffs of the world which every society depends upon but doesn’t care to fully appreciate. This is also known as the majority of the population in every period of civilization.

The story is oddly liberating. I think we can all relate to hating a job and feeling stuck by paying bills and having to do things we would prefer to avoid, or we feel compelled or encouraged to follow a cookie-cutter path that is expected of us though these expectations change from generation to generation. Go to school, then go to college, then maybe get an even higher degree so you can get a good paying job though by the time you do all this the world has changed and that degree doesn’t get you as far as it used to and now you have to work that job in order to pay for the debt you took on for said degree because the cost of the education has increased eight-fold in 40 years while your salary is the same it would have been in 1950. There is no doubt that the world changes quite quickly and by the time you follow one recommended path, the theme park you were promised has been shut down.

What I’m trying to say is that despite the fact this book was written when the world was a much different place, despite being less than 25 years old, many of the same concerns remain. This book was written before 9/11 and the smartphone and it is therefore dated, but it touches on themes that have persisted. Get a job and buy a house and fill the house with things and that help you forget that the world is a messed up place. The book explores who we are when all these things are taken away. It delves into a primal notion to explore what it means to be human in the (recently) modern world. It is a reminder that we don’t have to follow the rushing current of societal expectations and perhaps we have an obligation to resist that current a little bit so we don’t lose ourselves in it.

Therefore, I think this book is a refreshing reminder despite its “taboo” or “uncivilized” subject matter. It is a reminder that sometimes we should re-evaluate where we stand in today’s world. However, I don’t think anyone needs to go join or start an actual fight club and try to destroy anything though apparently these did happen shortly after the book was released. Apparently people thought much of the book was based on factual events. It is entirely fiction, but fiction can have a big influence on human behavior. Chuck Palahnuik has a nice little essay at the end of the novel (the edition I have at least) that talks about how Fight Club had become a pop-culture sensation and how it started as a short story and he wrote it around the simple rules that are used when talking about Fight Club. The rules were meant to keep the story going and allow transitions that reader would accept without additional information. Therefore, the story was really based on a writing experiment. He goes on to talk about how it didn’t really need to be “Fight” Club per se and could have been anything, but Fight Club was definitely an area of interest for a lot of people. As he states, “It could have been ‘Barn-Raising Club’ or ‘Golf Club’…”

I’m curious if the sensationalism about this story has persisted. You don’t really hear much about Fight Club anymore (yes, I’m aware of the joke involving the first rule), but that doesn’t necessarily mean it still isn’t an influence. I think the sensationalism has faded, but the story will persist at a certain level. Hell, I just read it for the first time which is some sort of proof. I’ll likely watch the movie again sometime in the future, but I don’t imagine a new generation will pick it up as a doctrine.

Then again, we have had a lot of protesting this year and the world is a fairly uncertain place at the moment, so perhaps this story seems a bit out of place right now. Who knows if it will maintain it’s current meaning ten years from now. The world may be much different than as it is today. We can only hope it is for the better. I think reading, and reading widely, best prepares us to help steer our future to a better place. Perhaps this may be one of those books you read at the right time. Maybe you’re not quite ready for it. Maybe you’ve already read it and loved it or you hated it but still got something from it. Maybe you need to read it again. Only you can determine that.

Happy Reading.

The Man in the High Castle

man-in-the-high-castleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick was first published in 1962 and won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963. I’m a fairly big fan of PKD and I’ve had this book on my list to read for some time. I’d always heard it was a great story, the title is fantastic, and the premise is definitely intriguing.

The story takes place in an alternate history where the Allies lost the second World War and the United States is split into two territories with Japan owning the western region and Nazi Germany occupying the eastern (as seen on the cover here).

I’ll admit, I had fairly high expectations for this book despite not knowing much about the story outside of what I stated above. I know Amazon has turned the novel into a series which has several seasons and I’ve heard good things. I may try the show soon as I’m sure it differs greatly from the book and perhaps may even improve upon it as it has been nearly 60 years since the book was released.

The book has several interesting characters and different stories happening simultaneously. I was most interested in the political story-lines (despite not caring for politics in general). As you can imagine, there is a lot of racism and sexism related to Nazi idealism and there are plenty of heinous practices in place throughout the novel in relation to these. Luckily, we don’t have any/many direct instances of these in the story but they are referenced and go along with much of what actually happened during the war.

As in several other stories by PKD, there is a spiritual/divine presence in the form of the I Ching or Book of Changes which is a real book you can find today. The user can determine their fortune and possible short-term future by using this Oracle book. This added an interesting element to the novel, especially as it becomes more prominent as the story progresses, but it may be a little absurd for some readers. However, I did enjoy another element of the story in the form of an alternative history novel within this novel. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a fictional book (not to be confused with a real book by this title recently released in 2015) within The Man in the High Castle which predicts a future where the Allies win the World War (aka the actual outcome of the war). The book is banned in all Nazi territories and it lies toward the center of the overall story.

One of the things I like about PKD’s writing is that it has become a nostalgic form of science fiction. This book states that the Nazi’s have already colonized other planets in the solar system, and you can take rocket flights halfway around the world in 45 minutes, but the phone system still uses operators and everything is paid for in cash. This juxtaposition we recognize today would not have existed in the 1960’s, but I find it charming and makes the book even more interesting because it is a glimpse into the time it was written despite the setting being in the future (a future that has since become our past).

I’m recommending this book mainly because it does have a high status within literature and has become a historical piece itself. The book is a bit dated, but I can understand why it made a big splash when it first came out. I don’t think a book like this would be published today (or at least to the acclaim it received), so I recommend this book with a slight warning to keep your expectations of events a little low. PKD’s writing, for me, is really easy to read and he sometimes goes off on philosophical tangents (part of what I like about it), but it all comes together perfectly and leaves you a little to think about after finishing the story. This story does not disappoint in regards to this. It is a shorter book at around 250 pages depending on the edition you get. This was the first alternative history book I believe I have read and it was an interesting one. If the premise captured your attention, you’ll likely enjoy it.

Happy Reading.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De ZoetThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell was published in 2010. I picked this book up roughly seven years ago after reading Mitchell’s book Cloud Atlas. I consider myself a fan of Mitchell’s work but this is only the second book of his I have read as of today. I have a few of his other novels and intend to read them some day. I think I will try Number 9 Dream or Slade House next. He did just have a new book come out this month titled Utopia Avenue.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet takes place just outside of Nagasaki, Japan, beginning in 1799. Jacob de Zoet is a Dutch clerk who has traveled to Dejima, the man-made island just off the coast of Nagasaki which acts as a trading post between Japan and the Dutch East India Company. This post was the only trade between Japan and the outside world at the time as Japan remained closed to outside influence. Jacob has traveled to Dejima to make his fortune within five years so he can return and wed the daughter of a nobleman. His time in Dejima, and Dejima itself, prove to be a whirlwind of unexpected occurrences and interactions as the turn of the century brings many changes.

The book is split into five parts. The final two parts are short and read more like an epilogue, so I consider the first three parts, the bulk of this ~500 page book, to be the main story. I will admit that the third section had a bit of a lull due to the introduction of new characters. The first two parts included a few characters and plot points I thought were the most interesting of the book, and they take a back seat during the third part but do ultimately get resolved before things wrap up. I was a bit concerned for a moment that a resolution would not occur as I was nearing the end and was still waiting, but it does eventually wrap up, primarily in the epilogue-like finale. Therefore, I would consider this book almost like a four-act play. The first three sections telling the story, and the final two sections as the resolution act.

The writing is phenomenal, which is a large reason I enjoy David Mitchell’s work. Included in the back of the edition I have, there is an essay by David Mitchell “On Historical Fiction” where he talks about how he discovered Dejima, found a new level of respect for historical fiction writers, and how he didn’t initially intend to write a historical fiction novel but the story he wanted to write needed to take place in that particular setting. I must say, the historical aspect alongside the juxtaposition of East and West culture of the time makes for a compelling setting for which the interesting characters then enter to begin the story.

Also, history is often not kind and you should not expect the traditional fiction plot where things always end well for our protagonists. Another reason I think this book held an air of mystery is that almost anything could happen. Good or bad. I was, overall, satisfied with how things ended. I had mentioned I was concerned about certain story elements possibly not begin resolved, but they all tie up nicely even though in ways I did not expect.

Unlike many of Mitchell’s other books, including Cloud Atlas, this novel isn’t split among several narratives and fused together, but rather follows one main character, Jacob de Zoet, though I would consider there to be a second protagonist and two secondary characters who we get to see short stretches from their points of view.

I don’t often read historical fiction, though I have read a few alternate history novels. I usually keep to straight fiction or non-fiction. I didn’t realize this was a historical fiction novel until I was about halfway through. I had assumed the setting was real, but certain events were taking place that I thought were too realistic to simply be fiction and I soon found out that I was correct. I really enjoyed it and may even try more historical fiction novels in the future.

Happy Reading.

Knightmare Arcanist

KNIGHTMARE ARCANIST - E-BOOK COVER - FINALHello and welcome to this stop of the Blog Tour featuring Knightmare Arcanist by Shami Stovall (pronounced sha-me), who I believe is a name you should keep an eye out for moving forward. This post will contain no spoilers so have no fear as you read further.

Knightmare Arcanist is book one of The Frith Chronicles which follows a young man named Volke who wants nothing more than to become an arcanist. Arcanists are those who have bonded with mystical creatures, can use magic as a result, and are highly respected in society. Volke lives on the island of Ruma, which was named after the famous arcanist who founded it, and will likely live his life as the town outcast unless he can bond with a mystical creature. The island is known as a location where phoenixes breed and the islanders hold a ceremony every ten years to determine who will bond with the fledgling phoenixes and become arcanists. Will Volke be able to obtain his dream? If so, what adventures await?

This book hit many of the “fun fantasy elements” for me. Mystical creatures and magic of course capture my interest. The bonding of mystical creatures creates a unique magic system where the arcanists are able to use magic related to the creatures they bond. For example, phoenixes allow the use of fire and healing magic, an undine would allow their arcanist to wield water magic, and a hydra allows the use of poison-type magic. Not just anyone can bond with a mystical creature though. The creature must accept the bond and the bonding is for life.

I’m usually not a huge fan of books that include talking animals, but for some reason I consider this story an exception. Perhaps it is because only the mystical creatures can speak and they are technically not real animals but creatures of legends and myths. The plethora of possibilities created from the variety of creatures makes the magic even more interesting.

Within this fascinating world we follow a group of interesting characters who struggle through interpersonal conflict often created through implicit misunderstanding. These struggles will make you love or hate certain characters, but in the end they must all face, together, the real dangers they knowingly are ill-prepared to confront.

This book was released in June of last year (2019) and lucky for us there are already three more books in the series bringing The Frith Chronicles total to four books so far with the most recent being released this past May. It will be interesting to see what comes next for our adventurers after the events of this book. The four books are:

  1. Knightmare Arcanist
  2. Dread Pirate Arcanist
  3. Coliseum Arcanist
  4. Plague Arcanist

If you are a fan of fantasy then definitely give Knightmare Arcanist a try. It is a fun, swashbuckling tale that takes place in an ever-interesting world of magic. I want to thank Dave at TheWriteReads for including me in this tour, and a big thank you to Shami Stovall for providing this great story.

Happy Reading.

Words Are My Matter

Words Are My MatterUrsula K. Le Guin won the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2014. This collection was originally gathered and published in 2016. Words Are My Matter: Writings on Life and Books consists of essays, book introductions, and book reviews written throughout Le Guin’s lifetime. The book is split into the three categories and only minor editing was done to the original pieces.

My favorite section was the essays and talks. I enjoyed the book introductions and was happy to discover a few writers I had previously never heard of who I have added to my TBR list. I love finding new authors via authors I already enjoy. I think I like Le Guin’s essays as much, if not more, than her fiction, but I need to read more of her fiction before I make a definitive decision. Her essays are often a call to action while also being an observation of a trend she has noticed throughout her career. I agree with much of what she says and have come to realize that some of her concerns as far back as the late 1960’s are still very much something to be concerned about today. The issues have not been addressed or have continued behind the curtain. However, I am hoping the recent widespread notice of some issues in publishing and among writers will bring about the long-overdue changes. Only time will tell.

As far as essays go, there are several great ones here, but I think another collection, The Language of the Night (which consists of only essays), provides stronger arguments. Please check out that collection if you want more of the aforementioned calls to action. This collection contains her ever interesting article “Is Gender Necessary? Redux” which was the reason I had first borrowed it from my library. I am recommending Words Are My Matter though because I believe it is a collection that is more likely to appeal to a wider range of readers. The subtitle Writings of Life and Books of course is the perfect description of this collection.

My favorite essays from this collection were “The Death of the Book” and “On Serious Literature”. I also enjoyed “Genre: A Word Only A Frenchman Could Love”. The author I mentioned I discovered earlier is Jose Saramago and I will likely try his book Blindness first. There were of course other authors I had not yet discovered, but their books didn’t catch my interest despite Le Guin’s review. Granted, a couple of the reviews actually killed any interest I might have had. I actually never read reviews about books unless they are included in collections like this as I tend to give myself the opportunity to form my own opinion instead of relying on others. It’s also fun to see a review about a book that has had decades to prove itself.

I respect Le Guin’s opinions despite not agreeing with every one she expresses. The reviews were my least favorite, but you can skip around in collections like this if you choose to as they are all standalone pieces. The book ends with a “week in the life of” which seems like a little bonus part to the book. This is a diary format description detailing Le Guin’s stay at a women-only writing retreat called Hedgebrook. The week she describes could be considered uneventful (as is most of life) but for some reason it transported me to the idyllic landscape Le Guin explored when not working on her story. It was the perfect ending and left me feeling as if I had just finished a week out in nature away from everyday obligations. Refreshed, relaxed, and able to enjoy the moment. I would recommend this book for this description alone, but again, there is a lot to enjoy and there is likely something for any reader.

Perhaps you may pick this up one day and read one or two little essays or reviews. This is definitely a collection that is easy to pick up and put down at any interval. Perhaps you will discover something new or be inspired to do something new. I hope so.

Happy Reading.