Chuck Palahniuk

Summer Reading List #1: Mieville, Amy Chua, Palahniuk

During December and January I had the good fortune to travel to Malaysia, Hong Kong and Samoa. Over the course of my travels I went a little crazy with the spending and the eating, which was somewhat uncharacteristic of me–the spending, not the eating (I have a weakness for foods in general. I go a bit manic at buffets).

In between all that degustation, digestion and dispensing of dollars, I surprisingly managed to chow through a decent selection of books!

Since lengthy reviews are a pain to read, I thought I’d do a synopsis of my summer in books. I’ll post up short comments on each book over the course of several entries. Here goes!

The City & The City – China Mieville

I’ve been intending to sample Mieville for a while, ever since I stumbled across an article on him in the Age and discovered that he looks like this and he writes, in his own words, “weird fiction.” After reading The City & The City, I have no doubt that I will hunt down the rest of his books. Basically, The City is a strange existential thriller/fantasy set in a brilliant and bizarre locality: the twin cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma, which occupy the same four-dimensional space but are separated by politics, culture, history and the sheer perceptional willpower of its respective citizens.

I can’t believe no one thought of this before, right?!? Or maybe they did, but they just knew they wouldn’t be able to pull it off. It’s an impressively complex premise which Mieville tackles with practicality and verve. The story follows Tyador Borlu, a detective of the Extreme Crime Squad, whose investigation of the murder of a woman in a shady part of Beszel forces him to confront the sinister secrets of his city. I adored the dark, gritty, Eastern European feel of this book. I loved how the nature of the dual metropolis becomes apparent gradually, even though Mieville never explicitly spells it out. The City won a whole bunch of prestigious awards which you can look up, and I’ll stop raving here because this synopsis is becoming an essay. In summary: a new favourite.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother – Amy Chua

Picked this up in a bookstore in Hong Kong–ohemgee, I could not believe how cheap books are in Hong Kong. Battle Hymn is a delectably easy read; skimmable in a few hours. In essence, Asian Mum talks about how she raised two talented, civilised, cultured girls by whipping them China style. She does this with a strange mixture of arrogance and self-deprecation. I think Chua is able to recognise the extremes of her behaviour and her obsessive tendences, but at the same time she is immensely proud of what she has spurred her daughters on to achieve. This book will probably outrage you in some bits, which is why it has been so successful, I suppose.

Tell-All – Chuck Palahniuk

Tell-All is the first Palahniuk book I’ve attempted. At under 200 pages, it’s a surprisingly easy read. Palahniuk’s acrid prose and pan-faced descriptions of increasingly ludicrous circumstances make for enjoyable reading.

I have watched Fight Club the movie. So I expected Tell-All to be a roundhouse kick to the skull of F-bombs and violence. But Palahniuk proved himself more subtle: he delivered a disquieting but witty story about the extravagance and decrepitude of Hollywood life.

Tell-All begins strangely and only grows more excessive. Through the eyes of devoted lifelong assistant, Hazie Coogan, we meet Katherine “Miss Kathie” Kenton, the golden girl of all golden girls. With Hazie’s indespensible help, Miss Kathie has survived multiple husbands, career ups-and-downs and cosmetic surgeries to maintain herself as a perennial Hollywood star. Trouble arrives when Hazie discovers a manuscript hidden in a new suitor’s luggage that details Miss Kathie’s impending death. Dun-dun-dunnnnn.

I kept trying to second-guess the ending, but it was only several pages from the end that everything fell into place. Palahniuk’s likes to parody each extravagance by amplifying it to the point of ridiculous. Tell-All is not regarded as one of his best books, and I can see why. It’s a little too bizarre, and he drops in wa-a-a-y too many names and references. Might be better to start with Fight Club or Choke.


The death of the novel?

I had a sudden fear the other day that stories are going to die. In a few decades, my generation will have taken over the world. We’re a very talented bunch. We can be in the middle of thirteen tasks at once, with music blaring and three separate text conversations sending our phone into a buzz. We can do our banking, buy make-up online, and stick a picture on Facebook of ourselves  beaming over a dozen perfectly puffed soufflés. And that’s just the first fifteen minutes of our day. But we also have a 160 character attention span. And a complete lack of patience. Which why you haven’t really read this paragraph properly at all–at 7 lines, it’s far too long. You probably read the first and last line and filled in the middle in your head. Just as you do whenever you skim the newspaper. Right?

In forty or so years, I wonder if anyone will sit down on a couch and feel the urge to flip lazily through the crisp pages of an unread book. Maybe there won’t be stories any more. Maybe there’ll only be dot points. Or worse, tweets.

Save the story. Read more books! Like these:


Also, Time magazine has a great list of ALL TIME 100 NOVELS that you can memorise and subtly drop into your next conversation, in order to sound like a complete tool.

PS. RIP Diana Wynne Jones. I never knew whether to look for you under J or W. Your magic was wondrous :)