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July 5, 2013

Capture or Asylum

Chuck Palahniuk’s Fugitives and Refugees 10 Years Later.

Fugitives and Refugees  By MATTHEW KORFHAGE

In junior high, they give you To Kill a Mockingbird. In high school, it’s The Catcher in the Rye. In Texas, we presume, they give you a Bible and a gun. In Portland, sooner or later most new arrivals are handed a slim, smudgy volume that looks to have been stained by coffee and burnt by cigarettes. It is adorned on its front by an ominous gang of bleary-eyed Santas.

“This is the best book,” your friend tells you.

Chuck Palahniuk’s Fugitives and Refugees was published on July 8, 2003—10 years ago this Monday. It’s a travel guide to a Portland that no longer exists, a calico mutt of misfit humanity that was dispersing even as its pages were written.

But transience is the book’s essential virtue: It does not describe a Portland you are expected to visit. It’s instead a lens by which to see the Portland before you today, a compendium of the oddball and fringe and by-the-wayside that has become central to how our city understands itself.

Unlike the Portlandia television series—or myriad proper guidebooks—Fugitives treats its subjects not with shallow bemusement but with humane generosity, plus a touch of sadness that it will all pass unnoticed.

Palahniuk may always be best known as the author of Fight Club, but in this city, Fugitives has touched the broadest range of people. I carried it around for a month while researching this article, prompting a succession of strangers to meekly approach.

“That is the best book,” they say.

He almost didn’t write it.Originally, Palahniuk declined Crown Publishing’s offer to write a hometown travel guide. “I was on deadline for another book,” Palahniuk tells WW from his home in the Columbia Gorge, where he moved for solitude in 2005 after the death of his mother. “I said, ‘If you pay me what you paid Michael Cunningham [for Land’s End, a guide to Provincetown, Mass.], I’ll do it.’ Michael had a book called The Hours out, and it was the biggest thing in the world for that year.”

Guides generally become obsolete the moment they are written. Cunningham’s book is now out of print, alongside every other guide in the series except one: Fugitives and Refugees.

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June 7, 2013

The End of Happily Ever After

PrincessBy Rob D. Young

Once upon a time our stories ended in happily ever after. Dragons were slain, damsels rescued, glass slippers found, and eternal bliss achieved—usually thanks to a combination of wealth and marriage. Things have changed. While “happily ever after” holds on in a variety of forms, audience expectations have shifted. Readers not only accept but often prefer endings that aren’t entirely happy. Why, as readers and writers in the 21st century, do we shy away from the old expectations of eternal happiness?

Hollywood vs the Unhappy Ending

***I’m talking about endings, so it should go without saying that spoilers will abound. Read on at your own risk.***

To say we no longer have “happily ever after” would be misleading. Some markets want that happy ending. Some genres demand it. Hollywood has certainly gone to great lengths to provide happy endings in the bulk of its stories; even books written with a mixed or unhappy ending often find a new conclusion in the film rendition.

Perhaps the best example comes from The Princess Bride, where the film gives us a concretely happy ending and the book gives us a happy ending only to tell us that’s not how it really happened:

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April 29, 2013

The 10 Best Book Endings

Jessica Soffer

Jessica Soffer

By Jessica Soffer

Jessica Soffer’s Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is a novel about families, food, and facing uncomfortable truths. It also culminates in a revealing and satisfying ending that brings all its pages together. For Tip Sheet, Soffer shared 10 of her favorite endings in books.

I don’t like to play favorites. It’s not right. Sometimes, it’s an act in futility. Apples and oranges and such, especially in literature. But here we are. Ten Best Book Endings, according to me, a woman who has read as much as she possibly could during her twenty-seven years and who wishes every day for more reading time so that she could say “Ten Best,” and feel more certain. Until then, “best” is a moving target—and I’m not even in possession of all the darts.

Bottom line: the most we can look for is an end that justifies, honors, makes meaningful the means. And sometimes we might hope for an end that does more: an end that outdoes the means. Sometimes, a deftly plotted twist will do the trick, or a really grand grand finale, or a thought so moving, so appropriate that we write it down and keep it in our wallets for years. When endings work they feel both inevitable and earned, which just doesn’t happen in real life where nothing is ever still long enough to really end at all. And so good endings must do more than life: honoring what’s come before, swelling with the promise of what’s to come, and hovering in exactly the right place so that when it’s over, it’s hardly over. It’s just right.

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April 19, 2013

12 Things We Learned From Chuck Palahniuk’s AMA

Filed under: Authors — Tags: , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 8:32 am

rantBy Emily Temple

As you may have heard, Chuck Palahniuk has some forthcoming novels lined up, and to ramp up anticipation for these (as well as appease his hordes of fans) he hosted an AMA (Ask Me Anything) over at Reddit last night. We waded through the cheeky banter, multiple counts of Internet failure, and sometimes sexually aggressive commenters to bring you the most interesting tidbits we gleaned from the session.

1. He’s not as hardcore as he wants the world at large to think. “A secret truth? Those [Jack Daniels] bottles on that tour… they were filled with Lipton’s tea. I wanted a sight gag that would look cool.”

2. He does research for his books with the (stoned) professionals. “Not to lose anybody his job… but some very stoned guys came from Stanley Steamer and taught me the blood-cleaning stuff. And this was ten years before Sunshine Cleaning.

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December 1, 2012

Little Big People

1202-Cain-articleInlineBy CHELSEA CAIN

As a professional writer, committed to improving my work, I meet with not one, but two weekly writing groups. The first is made up of New York Times best-selling authors and literary darlings. The other is made up of 7-year-olds. Guess which group cries more?

My grown-up group meets Monday nights in the back room of a gallery full of sharp metal sculptures. Chuck Palahniuk, author of “Fight Club” and cult superstar, likes to take off his shoes and rub his socked feet together as he reads. He prefers SmartWool socks, by the way, made from high-performance merino. Cheryl Strayed, whose memoir, “Wild,” inspired Oprah to bring back her book club, is a chatter; she will chat right up until the moment we start. Monica Drake — Kristen Wiig is adapting her indie novel hit, “Clown Girl,” for the big screen — is almost always five to seven minutes late; you can set your watch by it. Lidia Yuknavitch, author of the freak-pride novel “Dora: A Headcase,” once had a cake made for Chuck’s birthday that cannot be described in a family newspaper. There are nine of us in total. There used to be 10, but there was a fight and someone left.

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November 8, 2012

Bedtime Stories for Grownups Plays to Second Sellout

By Jordan Foster

At the sold-out November 2event in Eugene, Oregon’s WOW Hall, Portland authors Lidia Yuknavitch, Chelsea Cain, and Chuck Palahniuk gave another raucous performance of their “Bedtime Stories for Grownups,” the second such event that gave fans—and the authors—a chance to wear pajamas in public, cuddle with stuffed animals, and listen to spooky stories.

After the success of trio’s first story time—at Portland’s Broadway Books on September 13—the three gathered again in Eugene, home to the University of Oregon, and regaled the crowd of over 400 people with readings from their work, interspersed with prize giveaways.

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November 1, 2012

What Scares You? 30 Terrifying Horror Stories Straight Out Of Your Worst Nightmares

By Kimberly Turner

Fear is subjective and personal. The things that haunt your nightmares and the things that cause my breath to quicken—they are probably not the same. Some people are hit hardest by subtle seeping dread and things unseen. Others, by in-your-face gore and guts. Still others, by the darkness of the human psyche.

That’s why making a definitive list of the most terrifying books of all time (which I originally set out to do) is a futile endeavor. Instead, I invite you to stroll down phobia lane until we find the horror that pushes your buttons, poking around until we discover a soft spot that makes you cringe. Because that’s what Halloween is all about.

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August 29, 2012

“Somewhere a Dog Barked”

Pick up just about any novel and you’ll find a throwaway reference to a dog, barking in the distance.

By Rosecrans Baldwin

As a reader of novels and not much else, I keep a running list of authorial whims. Male writers of the Roth/Updike generation, for example, love the word cunt. Also, where novelists once adorned their prose with offhand French bon mots, Spanish now appears. Here’s another: Novelists can’t resist including a dog barking in the distance. I’ve seen it happen across the spectrum—Jackie Collins, William Faulkner, and Chuck Palahniuk: “There was no more rain, just an eerie stillness, a deathly silence. Somewhere a dog barked mournfully.” (American Star) “She did not answer for a time. The fireflies drifted; somewhere a dog barked, mellow sad, faraway.” (Light in August) “This is such a fine neighborhood. I jump the fence to the next backyard and land on my head in somebody’s rose bush. Somewhere a dog’s barking.” (Choke)

Having heard the dog’s call, it seemed like I couldn’t find a book without one. Not The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Not Shadow Country. Not Ulysses. Not Robert Penn Warren’s All The King’s Men, or Monica Ali’s Alentejo Blue, or Stephen King’s Itor Christine. Not Jodi Picoult’s House Rules. If novelists share anything, it’s a distant-dog impulse. Picture an author at work: She’s exhausted, gazing at her laptop and dreaming about lunch. “[Author typing.] Boyd slammed the car door shut. He stared at his new condominium, with the for-sale sign in the yard. He picked up a pistol and pointed it at his head. [Author thinking, Now what? Gotta buy time.] Somewhere a dog barked. [Author thinking, Hmm, that’ll do.] Then Boyd remembered he did qualify for the tax rebate for first-time home buyers, and put down the gun.”If a novel is an archeological record of 4.54 billion decisions, then maybe distant barking dogs are its fossils, evidence of the novelist working out an idea.

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March 1, 2012

Transgression in Theory: The Idea of a Fight Club

By Phil Jourdan

Not very much has been written, on even a basic theoretical level, about this weird thing we call transgressive fiction. I call it weird because the very idea of lumping together some twisted and “dangerous” novels and seeing them as part of a “group” — or worse, a genre — feels, to me, like a bad move. Certainly, as I’ll happily concede, novels like American Psycho and Fight Club have thematic similarities, as well as stylistic ones. Still, considering them in terms of a genre, which apparently we have come to do, means softening them, cushioning their blows, and attributing (in hindsight) a pattern to their development.

It doesn’t, in the end, matter very much, because as the popularity of the transgressive genre rises, so will its impact diminish. Not to say the texts themselves will lose their power: it’s trickier than that. I think, rather, that whatever is genuinely transgressive about these novels — assuming they are transgressive in any real sense — will be overlooked.

Transgression is a very difficult concept. I’ve found that in conversations about Bret Easton Ellis or Chuck Palahniuk, it’s rarely made clear what exactly is being transgressed. Beyond that, it’s hard to explain why the transgressions are needed in the first place. And since so little theoretical discussion exists that deals directly with this kind of text (notwithstanding some excellent film criticism), I’m going to try my hand at starting a conversation.

I must take certain things for granted, at least at first. For instance, I think that the idea of jouissance, an irrational, exuberant enjoyment without any purpose except itself, is a fantastically useful one. It was developed by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, and more recently by the Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, to explain many apparently unreasonable kinds of behavior in people. This enjoyment has to be understood as extremely desirable: it’s a thrill, it’s the kick we get out of things even though we probably wouldn’t if we operated on cold logic. A football team wins and your friends start screaming with joy; or you hear someone say something arousing to you that nobody else can hear, and you feel those “butterflies” in your stomach; or you’re about to have an orgasm. That generic, almost boundless feeling of “being alive” — let’s call that jouissance.

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December 2, 2011

“I tell the truth, even when I lie.”: A Discussion of Unreliable Narrators

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:25 pm

Unreliable Narrators

Column by Taylor Houston

Can your narrator be trusted?? Reliable narrators are the norm, but unreliable narrators are great to read and fun to write. We briefly discussed unreliable narrators in Sixth Sense Settings, but I thought I might expand on the topic.


Let us first define a reliable narrator. As you might have surmised, reliable narrators are trustworthy; they relate the story as it happened or at least as they experienced it. Third-person omniscient narrators are usually reliable (they are sort of like fact-tellers) and many first-person narrators are, too. On the rare occasion that a third-person narrator slips into the action by saying “I” or offering some other particular judgment, then an argument might be made for unreliability, but it’s not typical. Reliable narrators sound authoritative and display a thorough knowledge of the characters and events that the story unveils. They offer unbiased, or at least equally-weighted, descriptions of characters and events. The narrator for most Jane Austen novels, I’d argue, is reliable, because it is third-person and mostly impartial.

On the flipside of the narratorial coin, we have the unreliable narrators. These may be first-person (or even second-person) narrators who, for whatever reason, cause the reader to doubt his or her retelling of events. Maybe the narrator is a drunk or psychopath. Maybe the narrator is an admitted liar or “yarn-spinner” or like Marlow in Heart of Darkness. Consider, too, literature’s well-known pedophile Humbert Humbert from Nabokov’s Lolita. He often attempts to excuse his deplorable activities, such as preying on his young stepdaughter. He also tries at times to convince the reader his intentions are not as terrible as they seem by arguing that it’s natural or that the young girl is tempting him (Yuck). Another great contemporary example comes from LitReactor’s patron saint—Chuck Palahniuk. How long did it take you to realize Tyler Durden wasn’t a real person? Long enough, I’m betting, for you to get invested in him as a character. I know I was duped.

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