Sunday 2 August 2015


The next sequence of reviews is likely to seem a little odd. While I was away in France, I decided to put my kindle away and read only work from the bookshelves of the house we rented. This proved to be a hit-and-miss idea and I rejected a good twenty books from their openings and the rest from dodgy titles and dreadful covers.  
Essentially, it means I read a number of books that I wouldn’t normally have chosen. It proved to be a pretty good experience and I’m glad I gave it a try. If nothing else, I realised just how many books I don’t like, something that’s never really occurred to me before.
What drew me to my first selection were the author and the amazing cover. Even with these to recommend it, I still entered Chuck Palahniuk’s Non-Fiction (US) with mixed feelings. True stories and journalistic pieces are things I often struggle to focus upon, especially in a magazine or newspaper format. If they’re of particular interest, I’ll usually hang in there, but even then they’re not something I really enjoy.  

The introduction to Non-Fiction is excellent and did a lot to get me in the mood. Among other things, it’s a really interesting look at writers and writing which offers some real insight. Then came the first piece, Testy Festy in the People Together section. I almost gave up at that point. This collection of observations and quotes from a wild sex festival didn’t really work for me. In some ways it felt like a test – get through this and you’ll be OK. To my mind it’s the least interesting piece in the collection and is an odd choice for an opener.

I’m glad I stuck with it in spite of this early experience. What followed were a series of really fascinating and often moving glimpses into closed worlds – castle building, demolition derby teams, screenplay conventions, wrestlers, body-builders, spiritualists and sub-mariners. The style of the pieces is interesting. They might seem to be collections of random facts thrown onto the page, but as the montages are layered and built they come together to offer revealing and moving images. Sometimes there are strings of quotes, at others there is poetic description. The author throws in personal tangents and offers a range of angles of reflection.

These personal asides continue into the section entitled Portraits. I was only aware of a few of the characters in the spotlight, but that didn’t matter. The pieces were intimate glimpses into the subjects’ lives and most of them hit the spot.

The final section rounds things off nicely as it brings to the fore the man who’s taken us on the previous journeys. There’s some overlap in the material, but rather than spoil things this generally brings a sense of rhythm to the collection. There’s also a lot of humour here and a rather touching openness from the author.

By the end, I realised that I’d mostly been gripped by the work as I might have been by a good novel. The world seemed more expansive than it had when I began and I liked the author even more by the end than I did at the start.

I don’t think you need to be a Chuck fan or a Fight Club fanatic to love this, you just have to be interested in people.

For me, with only a couple of exceptions, an unexpected hit.  

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