Chuck Palahniuk is an Oregon- and Washington State-based journalist, short story writer and novelist.
Fight Club, Lullaby, Choke, Haunted, Rant, Tell-All, Damned
1997 and 2003 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award (Fight Club, Lullaby), 1997 Oregon Book Award for Best Novel (Fight Club), 2002 and 2005 nominee for Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel (Lullaby, Haunted)
If you could recommend two or three books—fiction, nonfiction, drama, or poetry—to world leaders to help them gain a better understanding of America, what would they be?
The United States is a constant battle between narratives. To me, the plays of Tennessee Williams demonstrate that beautifully. Consider the struggle between Amanda and her daughter in The Glass Menagerie. Or the battle to establish the “truth” about the killing in Suddenly, Last Summer. Both plays are about revising the past to serve the present and control the future. That is America. Each of the works I cited seems to represent the world as an unstable and constantly shifting clash of larger forces. And my favorite characters, like Billy Pilgrim, are people who can exist in this perpetual turmoil without being broken by it. World peace will never come to pass, so I aspire to be such a peaceful person.
Who in your childhood—for example, parent or teacher—encouraged you to read books, and which one or two books do you remember fondly?
Please, may I list three people? The first was my fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Richard Olson, who praised me for writing a few poems and for memorizing all 18 verses of “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” I was 10 years old and he paraded me from adult to adult and insisted I recite the poem, he was so shocked by my strange talent for rote memorization. The second was my best friend in sixth grade, who returned from a holiday trip and brought me a copy of The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West, the paperback movie tie-in edition released with the Karen Black film. It was a strange gift from one 11-year-old to another, but the surreal movie studio back-lot scenes reminded me of Lewis Carroll’s strange alternative reality: doors leading from one century to another, strange paper palaces, overgrown gardens. I loved it. The third inspiration was my tenth-grade English teacher, Judy Frasure, who asked us to read Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. Once more, here was a story that jumped between vastly different realities. Everything was in flux, and the narrator was simultaneously old and young. Each of these surreal, absurd visions—as well as the people who presented them to me—has shaped my perception and taste.
Which books by writers from other countries have been most important to you as a writer?
As usual I trend toward the surreal: Günter Grass, Irvine Welsh, Michel Houellebecq. Each of them uses strong, well-depicted physical moments to achieve their effect. Who can forget Grass’s severed horse head filled with eels? Or Houellebecq’s brothels? The physical actions and descriptions imprint on the reader in ways that dialogue never could.