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Book Review: Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Purple and white face with large eyes and open mouth that looks frightened. Book title and author's name are written over it.Summary:
A bunch of people sign up, individually, for a writer’s retreat. Telling no one where they’re going, they vow to write the next great American novel. They wind up locked away in the opposite of the lap of luxury, however. Trapped in a dusty old theater, they quickly become focused on an entirely different type of story.  What happens to these writers is interspersed with poetry about each person and short stories written by each of them while locked in the retreat.

Review:
I am a huge Palahniuk fan. Fight Club spoke to me when I was at my late teens most intense angst that is indescribable.  To this day, I view the book (and the movie) as exemplary artforms that demonstrate how genre literature can say something incredibly serious and deep.  I also point to Palahniuk as a way to say that vulgarity and horror do not equate to bad writing.  All of which is to say, I’m pretty biased toward being a fan of anything Palahniuk does.  Just so you’re aware.

I struggle with short story collections. I like them to be all connected somehow, even if it’s just by theme, so at first I really liked the idea of a collection of short stories written by people at a writer’s retreat.  It’s a good idea, but it’s not executed very well.  The short stories are awesome! The connecting bits of narrative aren’t so much.  Basically, the writers decide that they should spin what happens at the retreat to be as horrible as possible to help get a movie deal out of it after the fact. So they focus on twisting the facts and committing atrocities against themselves and each other to make for a better story.  I totally got what is being said about writers procrastinating by making drama in their own lives instead of actually writing.  I liked that part. But there also wasn’t enough realness in the connecting bits to keep me interested.  I found myself dreading them whereas I really enjoyed the short stories, which made for an uneven reading experience.

One of the short stories contained in this collection is Palahniuk’s famous “Guts.” The one that makes people faint.  (Palahniuk has made it available online for free here).  This was definitely the best short story in the collection, and I can see why it became so famous.  It also sets the tone for a lot of the stories in the collection. There’s one with people randomly getting smashed in a city. There’s also one about the possible origins of the Sasquatch myth.  My second favorite after “Guts” was actually about an inn near a hot springs in the mountains.  That one grossed me out *almost* as much as “Guts,” and also had something deeper to say, I think.  All of this is to say that if you read and enjoyed “Guts,” you’ll like the short stories in this collection.  They’re gross, horrifying, and stick with you.

Overall, it’s an interesting idea for unifying a short story collection.  Ultimately, though, I would have liked it better as a straight-up short story collection, maybe even including the writer’s retreat as a short story by itself.  This fact might make me rate the book lower, but the inclusion of so many high quality short stories keeps the book itself rating highly.  Grab this if you’ve read and enjoyed “Guts.”

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Brookline Booksmith

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Friday Fun! (Rain, Gardening, and Cooking)

March 19, 2010 6 comments

In spite of the torrential downpour that Boston experienced last weekend (check out pics of the sinkhole that erupted under a line of the T here), I still managed to have a very nice weekend.  I got to flex my Beirut playing muscles Friday night and got to spend most of the rest of the storm holed up inside, except of course for Monday when I had to commute to work.  Also, inside didn’t exactly mean no rain as both my library and my apartment sprung leaks in the roof.  They thought they had fixed the library ones. They were wrong.  The hospital didn’t even bother wet vacing the carpet this time around.  As for my apartment, it held strong for most of the storm, but on Monday morning, I woke up to water running down one of the walls.  It appears some of that wind finally took its toll on the roof tiles.  Almost everyone I talked to though said there was at least some water damage to their homes, so it has been proven yet again that I am not a unique snowflake (thank you, Fight Club).

The weather the rest of the week almost totally makes up for it though.  It’s been in the high 60s to low 70s.  I haven’t had to have my heat on in days!  I took this as a sign of spring and started my herb and flower seeds last night.  I’m planning on ordering my veggie and strawberry seeds today and hopefully will get them planted soon as well.  I’m honestly pretty darn stoked for all the food aspects of summer–plants in my kitchen, farmer’s market on the way home, possibly taking a whack at canning by myself for the first time, berry picking, etc…  So much yumminess and new skills to learn!

I tried out two new recipes this week.  The first was a low-calorie, low-dairy mac and cheese bake (I printed it from some random website, which I can’t remember off the top of my head).  It used pureed butternut squash to replace most of the cheese.  The only cheese used was 1 cup of mozzarella and 2 tablespoons of cream cheese.  Naturally, the pasta was whole wheat.  I enjoyed this, and I think it will be a good recipe with time.  A little something was missing from it, though.  A wee bit bland.  My dad suggested nutmeg.  Any other thoughts?

The other recipe was for stuffed eggplants from my cookbook The Vegetarian Bible.  Basically you halve the eggplant, scoop out the insides, then mix the insides with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and al dente pasta.  Then you stick it back in plus mozzarella and bread crumbs then into the oven.  This wasn’t a bad recipe.  It was nutritious, filling, and tasted fine.  I just didn’t love it or really like it enough to warrant the labor intensity of it.  I doubt I’ll make it again unless I randomly have lots of eggplants I need to use up.  The other recipe I’ve tried from the cookbook was really good though, so I think this might be a personal taste thing.

What did you guys get up to this week?  Any new things tried?  Happy weekends!

Movie Review: Choke (2008)

November 2, 2009 3 comments

I promised you guys more than just book reviews, but what can I say, I read more books than I finish movies and definitely videogames.  I play them a lot, but it takes me forever to finish.  Anyway, I’m finally keeping that by-line promise.  Here be my first movie review! (They will be much shorter than the book reviews).

MV5BMTQ3MDAxNTYxMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDM2MTcyMg@@._V1._SX98_SY140_Summary:
Vincent had to drop out of medical school to get a full-time job as a colonial reenactor in order to pay the bills to keep his Alzheimer’s mother in a good home for people with mental illness.  To help boost the bank account, he sometimes pretends to choke in fancy restaurants, then sues his rescuers.  Of course, that’s what he goes to meetings for.  He goes to meetings because he’s a sex addict.  When he meets his mother’s new doctor, he starts to question who he really is when he discovers that he might sort of actually like her.

Review:
I admit it.  I have a weakness for movies about legitimately crazy people finding their way through life. Particularly when finding their way involves falling in love.  Although the title implies that Vincent’s scam is the focus of the movie, in fact it is about how his random childhood with his mother and foster families made him who he is today.

For a movie based on a Chuck Palahniuk book, this isn’t very graphic.  Clearly since Vincent’s a sex addict, there are some moderately graphic sex scenes, but there is little violence and the sex is pretty normal.  I’ve seen more disturbing scenes on Entourage.

The acting is good.  It’s nothing mind-blowing, but it’s not bad either.  Setting of the scenes is done quite well.  It feels like the everyday world cranked up a notch.

What makes Choke interesting isn’t the violence shock factor that Fight Club had going for it.  Choke modestly proposes that it’s ok to be a bit crazy–in moderation.  It also dares to suggest that we can be who we decide to be instead of what society says we are as long as we’re aware enough to make that conscious decision.

If you want gratuitous sex from the author who brought us the violence of Fight Club, don’t bother with Choke.  However, if you enjoy movies about the mind and what makes us who we are, give Choke a shot.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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