Fight Club

Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Year: 1996
Pages: 208
Amazon: Fight Club

Read Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk and you realize it was easy for Brad Pitt and Edward Nortan Jr. to turn the film into a cult classic. The novel is both outrageous and profound but it also has a tighter plot that more easily coalesces than the film.

The novel is narrated by an unnamed average guy (nicknamed Jack) who breaks out of his monotonous life to rebel against the blah that is his life, his job and his society. He is sick of the bullshit of his job, the commercialism of a consumer society, and feels chained down to his worthless Ikea possessions. His sole relief is attending support groups and pretending he is terminally ill in order to illicit and feel genuine emotion and support from a group of people. He craves true human interaction.

Somehow (can't remember how) our beleaguered narrator develops a badass alter ego named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt character). Tyler Durden rebels against everything the narrator despises about society and replaces support groups with the invention of Fight Club. In Fight Club, people get together to beat the crap out of each other. It makes them feel alive. Naturally, Fight Club spirals into chaos as the narrator struggles to not let Tyler Durden dominate his life. Unlike the film, the transformation into Tyler is steady, logical and done in a way that clues the reader off as it is happening.

In my version of the book, Palahniuk writes an afterward about the immense popularity and social immersion of Fight Club. It is awesome. He serves up the idea that the story resonates with people around the world for the same reason why he wanted to write it - because this is a story for you, me and every average guy. It is a story that is to obscene for most to tell but perfect for everyone to read.

Litty’s Take

Palahniuk does a solid job of developing both an intriguing plot and meaningful themes. He speaks out for the frustrations of his generation and accurately uncovers the issues and fears of young adults. As I read the book I related to his hatred for the corporate world, disgust at places like Ikea dictating what one owns and how one should decorate his own home. We acquiesce to accept phoniness within society but still let it gnaw at our true happiness.

Obviously, Palahniuk takes the rebellion to the far extreme but it is fun to think about such an insurgence. He writes about what the average guy would love to do. Get into fistfights for fun. Defecate in food served to pompous luminaries. Tell the boss to f-off.

The narrator reminds me of a modern day Holden Caulfield (Catcher In The Rye) mixed in with some Thoreau. But instead of being resigned to his sorry existence and "quiet desperation", the narrator turns into a bad ass. It makes the reader feel inspired. The protagonist wages war with society and! It puts the reader's head in the clouds.

I'm pumped up to read more books by Chuck Palahniuk. I've heard about Choke, Survivor, Invisable Monsters, and Stranger than Fiction (non-fiction stories).




Author: Alex Garland
Year: 2004
Pages: 192
Amazon: Coma

Coma is mind-bending novella that follows the semi-conscious mental state of the story's narrator Carl. On the way home from his office, while riding on the train, Carl comes to the aid of a female stranger as she is being harassed by a group of young thugs. Carl ends up getting an ass-beating for the ages that leave him in a coma. At first, it appears as if Carl has recovered, is released from the hospital and returns home. But twilight zone like experiences and surreal events lead Carl to conclude that he still very much in a coma, albeit in an intense dream state. The stories continue from within his coma as Carl slips in between different dream worlds. He visits friends, has an affair with his secretary and revisits his traumatic mugging, but always reverts back to his vegetative state in his hospital bed.

The book's author, Alex Garland, who is refreshingly unpretentious as a write refers to the story (article) as "a short read. It was always designed to be. I suspect it would not have worked had it been much longer. Those jumps in mental landscape get frustrating after a while. You need something to grip on to.'

The fuzzy and confused perspective of his comatose state is heavily illustrated by Garland father and political cartoonist Nicholas Garland. The illustrations enhance the tone and intentional confusing nature of Carl's trippy journey.

Litty’s Take

I've been a big fan of Garland since reading The Beach and The Tesseract. This is his third novel and while it holds it's own and is a quick read it is way different from the first two stories. Both of those stories took place in exotic locations, with young, idealistic protagonist's searching for utopia. By the way, if you enjoyed the film version of The Beach at all (with Leonardo DiCaprio and a super cute French chick) it is definitely worthwhile to give the novel a go.

The Coma does allow you to ponder the vibrant dream world of the sub-conscious and makes you wonder what happens to a person in a coma. I've always figured that dreams were meant to be forgotten and that is why we all do within minutes after waking up. But how real are you dreams? Can they add to one's fulfillment and satisfaction if they aren't ignored? I also wonder if dreams are our mind's way of telling us stuff that we refuse to listen to in our conscious state.

My recurring dream: I am in high school and realize that I have a Science Final Exam that day. For some reason I haven't gone to class in months, haven't opened a text book and have absolutely no chance of passing the test. I wonder why I never dropped the class while I try to hopelessly figure out a way to scheme my way into avoiding imminent failure. Thankfully it's not the worst nightmare one could have because I must have this dream at least once a week.



The Ghost of Hannah Mendes

Author: Naomi Ragen
Year: 1998
Pages: 384
Rating: 76/100
Amazon: The Ghost of Hannah Mendes

The Ghost Of Hannah Mendes is two stories weaved together into one supposedly romantic, historical and ancestral tale. The present day story is of a dying grandmother desperately trying to pass along all that is locked within her lineage to her self-centered grand daughters. Abuela convinces her dissatisfied with life grand daughters to embark on a far-fetched adventure to find the remains of a family manuscript that dates back to the Spanish Inquisition. Having to abort due to decline health, The girls end up on their own and get much more than they bargained for by finding love, ghostly spirits and an enlightened understanding of their heritage in their Indiana Jonesian quest through Europe.

The actually manuscript is the other story and is intertwined throughout the novel. This is the fictional story of Hannah Mendes an “indomitable Renaissance business women” who lived in the 1400’s and overcame the Inquisition to become an influential woman of wealth and power.

The juxtaposition of the two stories aims to provide greater meaning and context to each one individually.

Litty's Take

My mom gave me the strong recommendation on this one. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to relate and enjoy the novel as much as she did. Perhaps it had to do with the dominance of female characters, or maybe it is just that the idea of heritage resonates more with mothers and fathers who are constantly passing it down.

I skipped reading the sections of the book that were the transcripts of Hannah Mendes. It was hard enough trying to follow along with the misadventures of two girls who weren’t all that interesting. In hindsight, I would probably have been better off just reading the transcripts and not following the modern day saga.

Naomi Ragen does a commendable job of developing themes of Jewish heritage and family in all of her books. Her main characters are often female and she has no qualms about stooping down to garner interest through romance and inconsequential drama. I would consider reading another one of her books if the plot was a bit more relevant to me.

I would love to get my mom to chime in with her review and hear why she so thoroughly enjoyed the novel.



Atlas Shrugged

Author: Ayn Rand
Year: 1957
Pages: 1074. This takes quite awhile. Definitely a challenge the first time.
Rating: 89/100. Really challenges the reader to think about life.
Amazon: Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand's masterpiece, Atlas Shrugged, has a unique and special aura that can very easily captivate a reader. The story is about a society that has lost its spirit and faith in man and the select few people who strive to overcome the imminent doom of this loss of morality. But the plot, although impressive and timeless even after 50 years, is merely a vehicle for Rand to share her themes and philosophies on life and society.

The book's main purpose is to promote a way of life and to celebrate the mind. It cherishes the idea that life is a precious gift and those who truly appreciate it must strive to accomplish their goals. Virtue is created by fulfilling one's own selfish desires and true satisfaction can only be derived from within. Rand most admired characters in the novel are martyrs who hold utopian ideals. These characters are admired for their desire, determination and self-understanding. Their influence over the reader is tremendous as the reader admires their unattainable morality.

This book isn't for everybody and may be hard for many to understand and relate too. For those who have yet to read or do not enjoy Ayn Rand they might wonder what all the fuss is about. Atlas Shrugged is quite idealistic and has had profound effects on many people though. It can achieve this because it sets forth a romantic ideal of life and makes it seem attainable to the reader. Those who choose to believe in the message can be greatly influence by the novel.

Litty's Take

I have mixed feeling about Ayn Rand and her books. I first read the Fountainhead (another Rand novel) in high school and then proceeded to read all five of her novels (including Atlas Shrugged). At the time, I was instantly drawn to the characters and was open and impressionably by the ideals and themes in the books. It seemed to me like Rand was providing a means to unlock greater meaning out of life and these characters were able to achieve this enlightenment.

I realized that I had let Ayn Rand ideas and philosophies have way to big of an influence on my thoughts and ideas. I had unconsciously allowed many of her ideas to seep into my head and had too easily accepted them as truth without critically analyzing each one. Some of these ideas I liked and wanted to incorporate into my own understanding of the world but other ideas I believed, with some hindsight, too be both unobtainable and unhealthy. In some aspects of my thinking I had become selfish, elitist and frustrated - and this was a direct result of reading these novels. Furthermore I had not realized the books had had such a great influence on my character until after I had unknowingly changed many of my beliefs. Then I did some research on Rand and basically found her to be a philosophical quack that is looked upon more as a cult leader than a true teacher. I was angry that I let myself be so influenced.

After my experience the first time around I had vowed never to read another Ayn Rand book. I didn't want to be "brain-washed" any more and was afraid of letting my mental guard down. I guess I picked up the book out of curiosity - to see if it would have the same effect on me the second time around. I'm glad to say it hasn't. I felt much more detached as I read it again. I was able to find parts of Rand's philosophy that I admire and other ideas that I vehemently object to as well. There are still times I will be reading a newspaper article or be in a conversation and have a new and different reaction than I usually would. I quickly realize that this might be because I've just finished reading Atlas Shrugged and I'm able to quickly put my new reaction it into a better perspective instead of automatically trusting this new feeling. I'm glad I've read it again though as it has helped me come to terms with many of these ideas and feelings.

Note: I didn't spend really write about the specific ideas and theories of Atlas Shrugged because I believe they are pretty personal and that the story creates different emotions and ideas in each reader. I thought it would be better to discuss how the book affected me and how I chose to deal with my own issues and ideas as I was again exposed to it.



This Side of Paradise

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald (Great Gatsby)
Year: 1920
Pages: 261. It’s a rough go. I had to reread the first 100 pages and never had any momentum.
Rating: 79/100. Fitzgerald is top-notch, but his first novel isn’t his best.
Amazon: Buy This Side of Paradise

Amory Blaine is the typical spoiled rich kid who thinks too much and tries to hard at all the wrong things. Outwardly cocky and inwardly insecure, The novel chronicles Amory through elitist prep schools, Ivy League college (Princeton), and his graduation into metropolitan living with a job that does little to support his luxurious lifestyle but which is offset my his modest trust fund. At every stage of Amory’s life it’s the same old schtick. Amory never commits to anything or anyone, is over-occupied worrying about his social standing and reputation, and is so hopelessly narcissistic that his relationships wouldn’t last even if he didn’t tire of his “flappers”, who may be more vain than himself.

Fitzgerald’s mastery is in explaining the social context in which Amory and his companions exist. He explains the origins and reasons behind Amory’s erratic behaviors and intricate thoughts. Fitzgerald is considered a “great American writer”, and this is because his stories are so deeply rooted in American culture and society. Many who haven’t been exposed to elitist “intellectualism” might find this book outrageous, but what is most outrageous is how this story so truthfully portrays reality.

Litty's Thoughts

The plot is lacking and the characters are bland yet Fitzgerald’s insight into American culture is so accurate that it makes the book a worthwhile read. Raised in affluent suburbia, and socializing with many in the egocentric class, I can somewhat relate to many of the Fitzgerald’s themes. He does an admirably job exposing this sector of society to what it truly is – as human and troubled as the rest of the world.

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books of all-time (ranked in my top 5) and I have reread it a few times. The idea that money doesn’t necessarily equate with happiness, but does somehow relate with a lack of morality and an overwhelming egotism is so richly developed by the characters in Gatsby that it influences the lens that through which I see my social environment. My hope was that This Side of Paradise would be a version of Gatsby focusing on youthful exuberance and the growth into adulthood. In many ways it was, but it is too difficult to buy into the characters.

I’m not sure I’m going to recommend this one. I think another rereading of Gatsby would have been more worthwhile.



The Ha-Ha

Author: Dave King. This is his first novel.
Year: 2005
Pages: 340. Starts slow and first 100 pages are tough but picks up after that.
Rating: 84/100 - Slow, and action is limited, but good characters and alot of wisdom inside.
Amazon: Buy The Ha-Ha

The Ha-Ha is the story of a middle aged man named Howard Kapostash who can't speak, read or write due to a devastating accident he sustained over thirty years ago in Vietnam. Thankfully, the wonderful world of fiction takes the reader inside his head in a first person narrative and allows one to understand Howard way too well. For a dude who is a mute (although of normal intelligence) Howard is in pretty good shape. He has a job, owns a house (passed down from his deceased parents) and has roommates who help take care of the daily chores. Howard though is cut off from the world and is an empty shell never able to overcome the accident of his youth, and forlorn with his failure at recovery.

The story takes its dramatic twist when Howard's high school love Sylvia, who is now strung out on drugs decides to go to rehab and leaves Ryan, her nine year old son, with Howard. The half white, half black (father is unknown) child forms a relationship with Howie which allows them both to experience new emotions, trust, vulnerability -- yada yada. (For all you Lost fanatics out there, the child is eerily similar to Walt.)

King does a good job keeping the story realistic, keeping his characters consistent and making the protagonist's transformation subtle yet extraordinary.

Litty's Thoughts

The Ha-Ha is one of those novels your mother would read. In fact, my mother gave me the book to read so I could participate in her book club, meet her book club leader and hopefully learn the tricks of the trade (a major goal in my life is to start a book club - hence this blog). Yes, that did put me in the awkward position of sitting around with a bunch of Jewish yenta mothers, sipping coffee and yenting away about the novel.

The discussion was actually pretty interesting and the group leader is one of those amazing high school English teachers that can break down a novel and unlock all the hidden meaning from the pages. Some of the most powerful passages and themes in the book are somewhat subtle and really materialized for me during the discussion. Some light was also shed on what the heck a "Ha-Ha" is and why it was used as the title of the book. I would get into detail on both these discussions, but it has been a week since the book club and it's already too foggy in my head to give a concise and accurate explanation.

Oh well, if you read the book let me know what you think.



Battle Cry

Author: Leon Uris
Year: 1953
Pages: 694. Sounds frightening but goes quickly. Took me about a week to read.
Rating: 82/100 - It does the job but by no means a must read.
Amazon:Buy Battle Cry

Battle Cry is a historical fiction tale of the "Pogey Bait" 6th Marine Regiment during World War II. It follows a group of All-American lads; gives the back-story on why they enlisted in the marines, follows them through boot camp and training, and climaxes with the battles against the Japanese in the Pacific.

Every Leon Uris book contains a tremendous story, a suspenseful plot and well-developed and likable characters. Uris' historical fiction is part Kubrick, part Coppola in a literary form. The story is riveting, ultra-dramatic, and has great build up. Battle Cry was the first novel written by Uris, and probably a notch below Exodus and Mila 18. Uris was a former marine, and intimately details the experiences, emotions and torment of a marine in war. If you like Full Metal Jacket, Jarhead, or Saving Private Ryan then you will be able to appreciate this story.

Litty's Thoughts

Battle Cry is one of those books that make you realize the craziness of war. Not the politics, or the newspaper articles - but rather the incredible experiences of individuals way younger than myself. Impressionable boys step out of society and turn into Marines. War removes Marines from the organized structure of the military and turns them into killers that must rely on their most primal instincts. This is all done, in theory, to protect the society for which they removed themselves from when they enlisted. It's so intense and radical that it is hard for me to fathom how I would react and perform under these circumstances.

This book takes place over fifty years ago, but is as relevant today as when it was first published. Right now, we are in a war that sends thousands of young adults half way around the world. Personally, I do not know anybody who has served in Iraq (a fascinating socio-economic issue I'm not going to get into). When I lived in San Diego, I used to often see Marines and soldiers out on the town. I never really got them and always kept my distance - they were meatheads, jarheads, and seemed to live by a different set of standards than "civilians". The fact that the closest I might ever get to understanding them is from a book like this (which is fiction nevertheless) makes me wonder how we all really live in the same world.


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