Books seem to have lost a lot of power these days. They’ve been overtaken by movies, TV shows, even controversial billboards. It’s hard to imagine written words that can actually evoke a response in readers. How can a writer possibly string together a sentence that will make people faint?
So cynical audiences, who are supposedly ready for anything, dropping like flies at recent readings by author Chuck Palahniuk caught my attention, and I decided to attend his reading in D.C. at the National Press Club.
Although no one in attendance fainted, Palahniuk restored some of my faith in the power of words. The author of “Fight Club” wants to catch readers off guard and bring back the passion that once made fiction controversial, inciting people to burn, ban and censor books and, most importantly, avidly read them.
Palahniuk is currently touring to promote his new book “Diary,” while he upsets and amuses audiences with his yet unpublished short story “Guts.” The story is so good and so bad that after hearing it, Random House asked him to never read the story again. Thus, Playboy Magazine immediately offered him $17,000 for it. “Guts” will be published in the February issue. So now you can honestly say that you’re buying Playboy for the literary content.
The tale’s combination of pornographic material and an actual plot make Palahniuk’s true-to-life style all the more disturbing. With graphic imagery of pool filters, needles and lubricated carrots, it’s easy to see why somebody might faint while reading Palahniuk’s work. But the audience at the Press Club seemed willing to risk passing out to hear his words, as only his words induce laughter and a queasy stomach simultaneously.
After the reading, aspiring writers, avid readers and admiring “Fight Club” fans had the opportunity to ask the author questions. Palahniuk described himself as a boring middle-class man whose favorite past time is gardening, dispelling rumors that he was once a rapper, but he refused to answer questions about his close family. Palahniuk tries to keep his personal life as private as possible, so much so that he has given his friends carte blanche to lie unashamedly about his past to nosey reporters (hence the rapper myth).
The author then gave advice to potential writers, telling them to set their sights high and to be persistent in achieving their goals. Palahniuk said his favorite book is always the one he is about to write. He suggested finding fascinating stories from friends and strangers, alike, saying most of his books lack any autobiographical influence. But above all, Palahniuk insisted, an author has to make the writing process fun – if it’s not the best experience in your life, you’ll never do it.
Other books by Chuck Palahniuk include “Choke,” “Invisible Monsters,” and “Lullaby.”