Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk

Pretty much all of us are familiar with the movie Fight Club, it is such a cult classic! I figured it was time I gave the novel a try. I challenged myself even further by “writing in the margins” in this one, highlighting lines that struck me, writing notes on the story. This was an interesting tweak that made the read enjoyable, especially as I know what the main plot twist is and have a general idea of where the story goes. For those of you who don’t know (don’t fear, no spoilers ahead) the first rule of Fight Club is, you don’t talk about Fight Club. Fight Club follows the story of our unnamed protagonist and his blossoming friendship with Tyler Durden as they create the revolution that is Fight Club. Their relationship is further complicated with Tyler’s relationship with Marla Singer, whom our protagonist despises. As Fight Club grows in prominence it develops far beyond an outlet for the hundreds of men that take comfort in it and becomes a  dangerous rebellion intent on ending our consumerist society.

 

This story is a harsh and bleak one, so I probably do not recommend if you aren’t a fan of violence, anger and destruction. The themes are strong, yet provide some excellent food for thought. Our main characters are rebelling against consumerism. “Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don’t really need”. Their aim is to break down this system and return society to one that hunts for the food it needs and nothing more. There are some excellent points about today’s society that get you thinking. I found the outlook quite depressing at times and, of course, the book veers into extremes but the arguments are compelling and you can’t help but fid yourself sucked in. I wouldn’t say I found this book particularly enjoyable, it certainly isn’t happy or uplifting, but I liked it nonetheless and am glad I experienced it.

 

Having watched the movie and already knowing the main plot twist I found myself in the position of being able to concentrate wholly on the writing. Palahniuk’s writing is impeccable. I find it incredibly impressive that a book that is so powerful in thought and idea is still barely more than two hundred pages long. There is certainly no wasted words here and the way the sentences are formed increases how compelling the story is. There are a few hints at the plot twist hidden in the pages, with one sentence in particular repeated throughout the novel. I enjoyed this continuation immensely and found it really set the tome of the book. Palahniuk is also a master of the first line. The start of the book and a few chapters will hook you in from the get go. He has also perfected the art of holding two strands of the story and seamlessly jumping from one to the other line after line. The writing is captivating and I would recommend this book to anyone with a particular interest in the way words and sentences are formed.

 

Interestingly I can see how some people would despise this book. It is depressing, violent and has an unusual tone. Conversely, I can see how people would call this a five star read. As I mentioned the writing is compelling and masterful and the plot twist is a great one. For me, I definitely enjoyed aspects of this novel, in particular the the way the story ended, that being said, I wouldn’t rush out to read it again anytime soon. Overall, I give Fight Club three space monkeys.

 

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Book Ninja.

As a big fan of bookstagram and discovering all these amazing new accounts doing exciting things I love coming across unique bookish ideas. Even better when they are some what local. I was super excited to come across an account by the name of @booksontherail. Two women in Melbourne, Australia have come up with a brilliant initiative to encourage people to put down their smart phones and pick up a book on their daily commute. This involves using their best ninja skills to deposit books on public transport, trains, trams, whatever you like for unsuspecting commuters to discover. A sticker on the front of the book explains the premise: pick up the book, read the book and then return it to public transport for someone else to discover. What a great concept!

 

Things just got even better as the initiative has gathered more interest and momentum as the girls decided to go national. Naturally, I decided to contact them in order to get Books On The Rail to Adelaide, and so it shall begin. The question was, what books do I send out? I didn’t want to just send out any old books just for the sake of it, or to move along some I knew I wouldn’t read again. Instead I wanted to pick books than east something to me, that I wanted to introduce to others. Of course I had to be smart about it, I have no idea who my audience will be. I needed books that aren’t too long, books that are easy to get into and build momentum, books that are likely to appeal to a large cross-section of people.

 

What books did I pick, you ask? Well three came to mind straight away. The first I selected was The Five People You Meet In Heaven. An absolute favourite, must-read, always a recommendation of mine. I love the concept it is build on, I love the magic of the story and I want others to experience it for themselves. It also happened to fit all the criteria, easy to read, not too long, could easily be read by any gender or age and be relatable.

 

The second book is from a favourite Aussie author of mine, Tim Winton. Breath is probably my favourite novel of his (so far). I first read this book six weeks into an overseas trip. I was solo, a little travel weary and missing home. I picked up this book and while it was far from a happy story I was so consumed by it’s pages I had to finish it. It has been a favourite ever since. I still own my copy bought in a random book store in the canals of Amsterdam and regularly reread it. I feel it is one of his more under-rated stories so thought I would share the love with the Adelaide commuters.

 

The last book I chose was a hilarious read I could’t put down, How To Talk To A Widower by Jonathan Tropper. I feel a slight amount of guilt for putting this out there to be read on a daily commute as I found when reading it myself I was laughing out loud a lot. Trooper is another favourite author of mine and while some people may be familiar with This Is Where I Leave You from it’s movie counterpart, I wanted to spread the love with his heart-breaking, yet hilarious, stories about real life. People dealing day-to-day with their sorrows.

 

Have you read any of these books? Would you recommend them? I also have one sticker left, what books would you recommend to entice readers on their daily commutes? I would love to hear your suggestions! If you are living in Australia and want to get on board or are just generally interested, hit Ali and Michelle up on their website. If you are living in Adelaide, stay tuned and keep your eyes open on public transport.

 

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When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

This book has popped up all over the place for me this year. People’s recommendations, best seller lists, and I finally got around to picking it up for myself last night. When Breath Becomes Air details Kalanithi’s journey from successful neurosurgeon on the cusp of finishing his residency to his role reversal as a patient with inoperable lung cancer. The book is divided into a touching foreword that prepares you for the journey, a prologue and two parts: his healthy life pre-cancer and living post-diagnosis and a touching epilogue written by his wife. This book ended up a little more personal than I realised and left a strong impression that is unlikely to fade.

 

I was especially stuck by Kalanithi’s account in part one: In Perfect Heath I Begin. What a striking, unique individual he was. His interests in both literature and biology searching in pursuit of understanding and experiencing all that life and death has to offer. For someone to have such strong and dare I say equal respect and love for both literature and psychology and biology and medicine is incredibly rare and impressive. His character and substance continued surprising me through his career with his dedication to keeping his humanity while working with his patients, striving to not letting them become purely a case to be dealt with and solved. Working in the field of healthcare I feel I can take some lessons from his practices. While I am not a doctor and do not work often with terminally ill patients I still think it is important to keep the humanity and remember that the people you work with are no merely patients but unique individuals with tier own story. The world is truly a poorer place without Kalanithi in it and I can only begin to imagine the differences, the breakthroughs he could have made in neurosurgery had he been given a long life to work with. Instead, as his wife Lucy details, he has left his legacy in this beautiful piece of prose.

 

The prose of this book is reminiscent of the poetry he clearly loved in his lifetime. As Abraham Verghese writes in his foreword if you do read this book ensure you read Paul’s final passage aloud and revel in the poetry and meter of his words. The writing will take your breath away. Paul’s words are incredibly honest and he has truly left a gift for those walking down their own paths of terminal illness, be it their own or someone in their life who is walking this difficult road. I found his unique experiences of transitioning from doctor to patient incredibly enlightening. Most honest of it all is the reality that Paul’s writing was left unfinished. He was unable to finish all he had to give before his passing, truly reflecting the tragedy and beauty of life.

 

This book draws several parallels with another favourite of mine, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch (another I would highly recommend) and I know When Breath Becomes Air will join it in the category of most loved books that have so many lessons embedded in them. Books that we should all read at least once, if only to be reminded that we are all lucky for what time we have, to continuously strive for making the most of what we have and to discover what is most important in our own lives and to focus on that which makes us happy. My heart goes out to his wife, Lucy and daughter, Cady. The gift he has left her is truly beautiful and my heart breaks for his time cut short, though it is clear he gave it everything he had.

 

I would highly recommend this book to anyone. This is the type of book we should all read at least once. For the lessons to be learned. For the perspectives to be gained. For the poetry in the prose. When Breath Becomes Air is a truly memorable book and I give it five microscopic lenses, pivotal for neurosurgery, the passion of Paul’s life.

 

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Black Rock White City – A.S. Patric

The winner of the Miles Franklin award for 2016 is Black Rock White City. A novel telling the story of Jovan and Suzana, two refugees from Sarajevo escaping their horrific past. Now living in Melbourne Jovan works as a cleaner in a hospital where some mysterious and troubling graffiti starts cropping up. This story follows the couple and the people around them as they try and navigate their new lives in Australia and reestablish their relationship, while allowing their past selfs to merge with their current ones.

 

Patric has an incredibly beautiful writing style. He manages to meld humour with some incredibly deep observations about war and loss. I found myself laughing out loud at times due to these small moments of hilarity, some of which completely demonstrating what it is like to be an Australian. Then there were some passages where he was discussing war, men and the devil and the wording was so eloquent I have marked out the passages to reread because what he has said is such an incredible representation of the essence of war and written with such grace and passion. I fell in love with his words. I loved that Jovan was a poet and lecturer back in Bosnia and enjoyed the moments he found poetry in his daily life. Read this even if you only love beautiful writing, one of the most well-written books I have read this year.

 

The two main protagonists are complex characters that slowly shed their layers as the novel progresses. Jovan is the strong, silent, gentle giant, choosing to keep his stilted English to converse with those around him. I enjoyed reading his perspective the most as he was a character with several contradictions. There were parts of him I understood and there were parts I did not. All kept my interest in the pages as I was struggling to piece his life together. Suzana was much more mysterious with the reader only reading her perspective late in the novel. Her character has many struggles but is much stronger than you initially give her credit for. I found myself wanting the two of them to find their way back to each other and their former selfs for much of the book. The host of supporting characters are interesting and a few in particular are great caricatures of typical Australians you might find around the place. Again, Patric hits the nail of the head.

 

The sub-plot of the hospital graffiti artist, or Dr Graffito as Jovan thinks of him, is intriguing and add a great deal of pace to the plot, the beginning in particular. It keeps you on edge to find out what he comes up with next and you spend the novel wondering who could Graffito be? You are eventually rewarded with the reveal in the dying pages. I did find the ending missing a little bit of something? Overall the ending does all tie together and I can see how it received the Miles Franklin award.

 

I would recommend this book to anyone, there are some beautiful and profound words to be found in these pages. Along with simple laugh out loud moments, mysteries and snatches of everyday life. I give Black Rock White City  four of Suzana’s notebooks, slowly forming her novel.

 

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Wine Wednesday 21/09/16

Here we are, ready for the second of the hopefully many to come Wine Wednesday. Lets all figuratively clink our glasses in celebration. This week I’ve pulled a bottle of  2012 Paxton MV Cabernet Sauvignon from my wine rack. Paxton’s is located in the McLaren Vale wine region, just south of Adelaide. This well known winery stands out as it is a biodynamic winery which focuses on minimal interventions, promoting healthy, living soils using natural composting rather than synthetic fertilisers.  This particular bottle was a clear favourite of mine after I accidentally bought it twice on two separate occasions. The first time was my first visit to their cellar door, a beautiful airy room with a views to die for. Their cellar door staff were chatty, friendly and very helpful. My friend and I had decided on a spontaneous day down south and this was our first stop and a bottle came home with me. My second visit was stop four on a wine tour with some friends and I was a little (a lot) tipsy and having a great time. Once again I came home with a bottle and was quite entertained to realise it was the same bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

Why, you may ask, am I pairing with this delectable bottle of biodynamic Cab Sav? A book just as Australian, organic and free spirited as the bottle. Hope Farm by Peggy Frew is the story of Silver, a young girl, growing up on a hippie commune in outback Victoria back in the 70’s. A finalist for both the Stella Prize and the Miles Franklin Award this book has a strong impact and is beautifully written. Following the relationship between Silver and her mother, Ishtar, as Silver grows up and learns to navigate commune life. This is a memorable read that I would highly recommend. I have no doubt in my mind Ishtar and her fellow hippies would be all for enjoying a bottle or two of natural grown red around the bonfire at night, although, lets be honest Silver wouldn’t care being less than interested in the crunchy, spiritual principles of commune life.

 

Wait for a sunny spring Sunday afternoon, roll out a picnic blanket on the lawn (you know, being one with nature and all) and crack a bottle of guilt-free biodynamic wine. Slowly sip enjoying the beautiful weather Australian spring has to offer and let yourself be transported back in time to the 70’s and follow the story of Silver and Ishtar. Alternatively, if you ever find yourself in the region, take a drive down to McLaren Vale and taste all of the wines Paxton have to offer. Pick your favourite, grab a bottle and sit in the garden surrounding the cellar door and have a read. What better way to spend your day?

 

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milk and honey – Rupi Kaur

my heart woke me crying last night

how can i help i begged

my heart said

write the book

 

Poetry is not my typical read. I have seen this book all over the place and was mildly curious about it as it is unusual for a poetry book to get so much attention. My mind was made up after reading the above inscription. Such an intriguing passage and then the format, split into four parts: the hurting, the loving, the breaking, the healing. I had to read it.

 

I’m so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried something different. Kaur’s words are haunting. I finished the hurting barely 15 minutes after opening the package it arrived in. I had to limit myself to one part each day just to make the book last. So many of the poems spoke straight to my soul. I never really enjoyed poetry a great deal back in my school days, probably because they made you study poems with double or ambiguous meanings. This didn’t really appeal to me. What I long to read is profound ideas wrapped up in pretty words. I love language, I love the way things sound. This is why I fell in love with Kaur’s work. Her words are magical and the meanings behind them hit the nail on the head way too much.

 

If you are a women, read this. There is so much in there to identify with. To know others have walked this path with you. If you are man, read this. If only to learn. Learn what it feels like growing up female. Learn how damaging actions can be. Learn to change for the future should you bring a daughter into the world. For the world to be a different place to grow up as a girl. I’m not one for feminist rants or even identifying myself as one. I don’t like the way being “a feminist” or realistically anything that inspires passionate opinions (racism, politics, religion) is portrayed with negative connotation, particularly in social media. People care to much, people say things with too much anger, people make brash statements without ever stopping to acknowledge what other people have to say. I’m not one of those people and have no interest engaging in those conversations. But this book, this book will challenge your thinking in the most beautiful way. Read it, feel the beauty in the words, learn from it. Of course not every man treats women this way, not every female will identify with it, certainly many young boys will have felt the same things. Take a moment to step into someone else’s life and just feel.

 

This was probably one of the best decisions I have made this year in terms of trying different books. I could have easily read this book in one sitting and already plan to start all over again and have begun telling everyone I know to read this, read it immediately. It has also inspired me to add more poetry to my reading lists. I would urge you to give this book a go, even if you aren’t much of a poetry reader yourself. You may surprise yourself as much as I did. I give milk and honey five bumble bees, hard at work making that honey.

 

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The Passage – Justin Cronin

While The Passage’s back cover says little describing the story, it serves it’s purpose by piquing my interest. I had no idea it was a book about vampires in a viral apocalypse. However, to say it is simply a post-apocalyptic vampire horror story isn’t enough. This story s so much more than that. Threaded with themes of morality and ethics in research, army and governments, religion and love this story is a whole lot more complex. The Passage begins with a researcher delving into the jungles of Bolivia to track down a bat with vampiric properties. The mission becomes compromised when the group is attacked by the bats and only a few survive, including one member infected by the bats. This leads to further research involving each row inmates doomed to die anyway, creating the twelve.  The last to be infected is a little girl. Unsurprisingly everything goes wrong with the twelve escaping their confines and wreaking havoc on the America decimating the population. The rest of the book follows 93 years into the future in a small civilisation trying to survive.

 

After hearing the author speak about his books I was convinced his book was for me. I love how layered and complex this story is, while it works as a stand alone novel there is much left unfinished at the ned of the novel leading to the two books following. The strands of the story are woven together across the novel. Some night find the book too long and boring at times. I have to admit I enjoyed the length and still finished the 900+ pages in a weekend. I loved the stories slowly unravelling, the air of mystery, the supernatural/regligious aspect to the story. In my opinion this story is utterly haunting, guaranteed to send shivers down your spine. Cronin has definitely developed a fascinating setting.

 

The characters are another highlight of this book. While there are many to keep track of and it can be confusing to begin with they are well worth remembering. Cronin is particularly skilled at developing whole characters. They are all complex with their own back story and unique personalities. Cronin mentioned that he chooses to write his characters as really people. The villains are written to create empathy for those that you wouldn’t usually feel for and your heroes certainly aren’t perfect. This concept I absolutely love as it adds another dimension to the story and holds my interest. I definitely found myself considering the central characters across the weekend whether I was reading the book or not and know I’ll be thinking of them long into the future.

 

Despite hearing many good things about this novel and listening to the author speak less than a week ago this book not only lived up to my expectations, but surpassed them. This is an intelligent book with great concepts, great characters and memorable writing. I would definitely urge anyone to give this one a try, even if it is stepping outside of your usual comfort zone. This book as so many interesting aspects that it is truly a unique read. One I am keen to continue with his next book, The Twelve. I give The Passage  four bright lights, keeping humanity alive.

 

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