Stranger Than Fiction Virtual Book Discussion

Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories by Chuck Palahniuk. Published in 2004.

Synopsis: This collection of short, non-fiction essays by the writer of Fight Club is divided into 3 sections. “People Together” deals with odd events (i.e. nudist testicle eating festivals and tractor derbies), “Portraits” deals with sketches of celebrities and other interesting people (almost in the format of magazine interviews), and “Personal” deals with Palahniuk’s own experiences (largely based on his experiences in optioning Fight Club for film and with his father’s murder).

About the Author: Chuck Palahniuk grew up in a mobile home in Washington state and studied at the University of Oregon, later moving to Portland. A journalist by training, Palahniuk made his fiction debut with Fight Club in 1997, which was later made into a movie starring Brad Pitt, Ed Norton and Helena Bonham-Carter. He has since published 11 other novels. He draws much of his work from his volunteerism, participation in the Cacophony Society, and shadowing support groups. An interesting tidbit is that over 75 people have fainted during readings of his work.

My Initial Reactions to the Book

As a lover of creative non-fiction and obscure, odd things, I found this an interesting read. At 233 pages, I read most of this book in a single afternoon sitting. However, as it’s divided into 23 short essays, one could just as easily read it over the course of a longer time period. Also, I should thank my husband for this book club pick, even though I was initially a bit skeptical.

Firstly, I appreciated what Palahniuk wrote about it the introduction – about his writing being the opposite of the American dream. In large part, our society encourages loneliness, living in our big houses surrounded by technology that limits face-to-face contact, needing to work obsessively in order to maintain this idealism and expectation. Palahniuk argues that people want to feel connected and I think this is why I love reading so much. A good book allows me to feel connected to its characters, to identify with them. In the time I spend reading books the characters become my imaginary friends.

My favorite essays in this collection (one from each section) were “My Life as a Dog,” “Reading Yourself,” and “Escort.” In “My Life as a Dog,” Palahniuk and his friend spend a day in Seattle dressed in silly costumes, and it was interesting to read about the hostility society directed toward them (except, of course, one envious person at FAO Schwartz). “Reading Yourself” is about an interview with Marilyn Manson, and I liked it because Palahniuk humanized him, whereas much of society and the media demonizes him. I also identified with “Escort,” about Palahniuk’s experieces as a hospice volunteer, because I get much of my ideas for writing from my own volunteer experiences.

The only thing that bugged me about the collection is that there is much repetition in Palahniuk’s style of writing. I grew a bit tired of his journalistic “he says/she says” and the “this is/that is.” Also, many of his stories overlapped, but I imagine if these were initially written as separate pieces not intended for a collection they would tend to do so.

So what did you think of the book? Were you grossed out and felt like fainting at times? Did you have a favorite essay and why did you like that one so much? What did you think of Palahniuk’s style of writing? Feel free to post in the comments section below.

Next up for discussion: George Orwell’s classic allegory Animal Farm. Discussion begins June 16th.

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