Chuck Palahniuk spoke through the Commonwealth Club’s Inforum group at San Francisco’s Castro Theater. If you are familiar with Chuck’s writing, you’ll understand that he doesn’t do anything like others do. His voice and stories are unique because he is. Chuck’s books aren’t meant to be provocative. He isn’t writing to shock people. He is writing stories for people who like them, who get him, who also see the world differently. Chuck tells the stories he knows and understands. He tells the stories that were whispered to him by nervous people that want to confess, want to share their secrets. When people are shocked, it is because they are entering an unfamiliar territory, one in which they are uncomfortable with things they don’t understand or do not like.
This is probably my sixth time seeing Chuck Palahniuk speak. He’s most famous for having written Fight Club, the book that was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter. When asked about the success of Fight Club, he humbly says, oh that movie? That was a joke put upon the film company by Brad Pitt and the director.
Chuck has his community. I say this because we are more than just fans. He asks people to dress up, and most of them do. His readers dress as characters from his books. And he plays with us. He kindly takes pictures with people, he speaks to every person he interacts with, he never makes you feel rushed, he is the epitome of good manners, this author of books so dark. His community reads everything that he has written. They tend to see him read multiple times. They are the most dedicated readers.
This particular reading I had the good fortune of receiving VIP tickets through the Inforum Club. There was an early “meet and greet” session which offered complimentary drinks and snacks. Additionally I was given a copy of Lidia Yuknavitch’s book, The Small Backs of Children.
I was the fourth person to meet Chuck and all I could say was “I love your books and your writing.” I gushed as everyone does. Nothing original. Nothing new. And yet, he took my common compliments kindly, shook my hand, met my friend Gib, and took a picture with me. Lately, he’s been taking pictures as though he is choking his readers, and most people look great. They smile, they act shocked, they act in pain. Not me. No. I was so excited and over-stimulated by meeting him (again) that I forgot to pose for the photo. I just enjoyed the moment: having Chuck Palahniuk choke me. I stood on my tippy toes and laughed, giddy with excitement. This picture, while not flattering is probably one of the purest moments of joy. Not thinking about anyone or anything else. Not wondering what anything means. Just getting choked by Chuck Palahniuk.
On to the actual event. Moderated by BrokeAss Stuart, each reader read from their books. Chuck read a short story from his latest publication, Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread. It was a great story. Chuck is a phenomenal reader. He reads slowly, articulately, and knows when to pause. One beat. Two beats. Nervous laughter. Are we meant to laugh? Are we laughing at the narrator or is Chuck a jerk? (It’s always the narrator, but sometimes, people think it’s Chuck’s voice, such as the annoying woman behind me at the last reading).
It is an Inforum tradition to ask each guest, “In 60 seconds or less, how would you change the world?” And Chuck’s answer was, “it may sound grim, but live life as though your parents are dead.”
Chuck is incredibly supportive and promotes other writers. His last two readings have included readings by other authors. It’s as though he has an opening act but he would never be bold enough to say they are warm-up acts. No, in his eyes, he is merely sharing the stage with them. This reading included someone from his writing circle, the aforementioned Lidia Yuknavitch.
Candy was thrown, severed arms were thrown, and two arms landed near me, which was perfect: one for me and one for Gib! When we arrived at the reading we were given beach balls to blow up, then two glow sticks which we broke open and stuck into the balloons. We wrote our names on them with sharpies, and later, when the lights were turned off, and music was playing, we tossed them all up in the air and watched the room light up with glowing beach balls. Each time, Chuck’s assistants pulled three to four balls and those lucky winners received leather bound copies of his books.
After the reading, questions, and contest portion I had my book signed. I had also brought some of my comics because I wasn’t sure what I wanted him to sign. Gib offered to have my comic signed for me since he hadn’t brought anything. He spoke with Chuck about comics and Gib also noted how kind and genuine Chuck was.
Go see Chuck Palahniuk speak. His readings, while unconventional and meant to entertain, truly celebrate reading and reward readers for their love of stories. They are genuine literary happenings in which Chuck’s passion for the written word is apparent with every item thrown at the audience. His slow, quiet drawl will lull you into a quiet contentment until pow pow!! His story hits you and you struggle not to laugh as you laugh with a roomful of people who also enjoy sick, creepy, private moments.
Check out the Commonwealth Club as they have loads of great speakers.
Since Chuck Palahniuk is one of my favorite writers, I’ve written many a blog entry about him. If just want to read about the last time I saw him speak, also with my friend Gib, read Chuck Palahniuk: Changing the Culture of Author Readings.