Fight Club – Bookcast #14

Fight Club (1996) by Chuck Palahniuk

Every weekend, in the basements and parking lots of bars across the country, young men with white collar jobs and failed lives take off their shoes and shirts and fight each other barehanded. Then they go back to those jobs with blackened eyes, loosened teeth and the sense that they can handle anything.

Fight club is the invention of Tyler Durden, projectionist, waiter, and dark, anarchic genius, and it’s only the beginning of his plans for violent revenge on an empty consumer-culture world.

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“Fight Club” Show Notes

0:00 – Intro to “Fight Club”

  • Chuck Palahniuk’s goal is to slap modern men out of their comfortable, routine, meaningless, consumer-driven lives and challenge them to try something terrifying and transformative.
  • Intended audience: Anyone with a Y chromosome; anyone who likes dark, intense stories; anyone who struggles with existential angst; anyone who’s never been in a fight
  • People who won’t like it: Conformists, consumers, people who only like stories about nice people doing good things

5:30 – How easy is the book to read?

  • Easy to read – although because of its bleak subject matter and nihilistic overtones you may want to take breaks
  • Print: 208 pages (5-7 hours)
  • Audio: 6 hours

6:30 – Reviews and significance of Fight Club

  • Book (1996): 2,352 reviews – 4.6 stars
  • Movie (1999): 4,375 reviews – 4.7 stars
    • Currently: 
      • #48 Amazon – Satire Fiction
      • #62 Amazon – Self-Help & Psychology Humor
      • #107 Amazon – Dystopian Fiction
      • #6 Audible – Satire Fiction
      • #24 Audible – Dystopian Science Fiction

10:15 – Bio of Chuck Palahniuk

  • Charles Michael “Chuck” Palahniuk – Born in 1962 (58 years old) 
  • Grew up in a mobile home in Burbank, Washington
  • Parents divorced when he was 14, moved in with his grandparents on their cattle ranch in eastern Washington
  • Graduated University of Oregon (Journalism) in 1986 – He was 24
  • Worked as intern for NPR in Eugene, OR / Wrote for local paper in Portland, OR 
  • Worked for Freightliner as a diesel mechanic  – Wrote manuals on fixing trucks
  • Did volunteer work for a homeless shelter. He also worked as a volunteer escort for hospice, providing transportation for terminally ill people and bringing them to support group meetings. He stopped volunteering after one of his favorite patients died.
  • Began writing fiction in his mid 30s
  • His first novel, Invisible Monsters, was rejected by every major publisher and wasn’t published until after Fight Club was successful.
  • Fight Club was published in 1996. Palahniuk received a $6,000 advance for the novel – something he calls “Kiss Off” money: “An advance so low the author is supposed to feel insulted and walk away.” He took it anyway – it covered his rent for a year. 
  • His fourth novel Choke (2001) was his first NYT best-seller 
  • Palahniuk writes in the “Transgressive Fiction” category. His novels are about subjects like:
    • Death cults (Survivor – 1999)
    • A teenager who dies and goes on a tour of hell (Damned – 2011)
    • Ritual magic, spirit possession and environmentalists (Lullaby – 2002)
    • A porn actress attempting to break the world record for serial fornication with 600 men in a row (Snuff – 2008)
  • To date, Palahniuk has written 15 novels, 3 non-fiction books and numerous short stories and other works – including several coloring books and graphic novels.

12:30 – Book-to-Movie Translation

  • Matt: Amazing. Fight Club is THE best book-to-movie translation ever.
  • Jay: Loved both versions. Every guy needs to experience both.

15:30 – Major Themes of the Book

  1. Emasculation
    1. Modern men are anesthetized and emasculated – they watch other men do things. “Being a man” has become owning the right watch or car instead of knowing what your values really are.
    2. The Narrator experiences emasculation in the face of Tyler’s relationship with Marla. He feels like he has lost his place next to Tyler, who embodies a perfected sense of masculinity.
    3. The threat of castration exists throughout the book. 
  2. Violence
    1. The fighting in the novel is not presented as a solution to the character’s problems, but is a means of achieving a spiritual reawakening. 
    2. The fighting itself reminds the men that they are alive. As part of Tyler’s philosophy, it also reminds them that they will die. 
    3. Fighting is an attempt by the men to reassert their masculinity
  3. Chaos & Societal Breakdown
    1. Tyler believes that the use of chaos as perpetrated by Project Mayhem will lead to a better world.
    2. Tyler asks the Narrator which is worse: God’s hate or His indifference? Tyler feels it is better to be hated than to be ignored. 
  4. Isolation
    1. The Narrator and Marla Singer both seek out some sort of contact to save themselves from their mundane lives. 
  5. Absent Father Figures
    1. Average men have largely accepted the role of men presented to them by advertising: Secure a good job with a good salary, get married, have children and buy a bunch of stuff. 
    2. The men of fight club have seen an emptiness in this model and reject it.
  6. The Threat of Death
    1. Tyler stresses the importance of being fully cognizant of the fact that one’s life will eventually end. 
    2. He employs the “human sacrifice” to shock unwitting “victims” into realizing that their lives are passing them by.
  7. Consumer Culture
    1. Shopping is the modern opiate for the emptiness in life
    2. Instead of taking steps toward changing his life, the Narrator channels his frustration into the purchasing of more and more consumer goods. Buying something is the only real power he feels over his life.

17:00 – Jay’s Perspectives

  • What did you like best about Fight Club? 
    • Absolutely challenging. This is a book that asks questions every adult male must be able to answer before he can become a man.
  • Share a favorite quote (maybe 2). Why did this quote(s) stand out?
    • “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”
    • “The girl is infectious human waste, and she’s confused and afraid to commit to the wrong thing and so she won’t commit to anything.”
  • What did you learn from this book / How did this book change you?
    • Reminds me that anytime you want to change – really change – it’s going to hurt. That’s the price of transformation. It can be a good hurt, but it’s still going to hurt.
  • What did you like least (critique)?
    • I feel like there’s a suicidal element in the book. Like with the mechanic in the car, driving against traffic. It’s this feeling of “I’m going to die one day so why wait? Maybe I should experiment with death now.” It feels very real, like Palahniuk himself is not sure whether his life is actually worth living.
  • What question(s) would you ask the author?
    • What are some of the fights you’ve been in?
  • Any other related/connected books that you’d recommend to others?
    • Choke” by Chuck Palahniuk. Book is about Victor, a sex-addict and con-man, who pretends to choke in public diners and when strangers “save his life” they often give him money – which he then uses to pay his mother’s retirement home bills. Movie is actually quite good too. Sam Rockwell stars.
    • Palahniuk has written over a dozen novels. As far as I can tell they’re all bizarre and if you liked Fight Club you’ll probably enjoy them.

22:00 – Matt’s Perspectives

  • What did you like best about this book? 
    • I love how this book questions what our modern priorities are. This is a story that asks what’s at the core of a men and every man must answer.
  • Share a favorite quote (maybe 2). Why did this quote(s) stand out?
    • “This is your life and it’s ending one moment at a time.”
  • What did you learn from this book / How did this book change you?
    • To go and find YOUR purpose and listen to your inner self, don’t take what society tells you or other’s expectations of you as fact. Figure out who you are.
  • What did you like least? (critique)
    • The nihilism in the book – the idea that nothing matters.
  • What question(s) would you ask the author?
    • Are YOU a nihilist?
  • Any other related/connected books that you’d recommend to others?

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