Tag Archives: chuck palahniuk

2 sentence book reviews, part 1 (fiction)

i started something new with my book reviews earlier this year, and i liked it: 2 sentence book reviews. i allow myself one sentence as a summary of the book, and one sentence of opinion. it’s a bit like tweeting a book review, i suppose, though i’m not counting characters.

i was a bit behind on writing these, so have 22 books to review! i took a couple hours while on vacation in vegas last week to crank these out. so, while i know my blog traffic goes down when i publish book reviews, i’m giving this week to it anyhow!

today, we’ll start with 5 fiction books:

The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman, by Bruce R. Robinson
3.5 stars
Coming-of-age story of a young teen boy in England in the 50s, whose already dysfunctional family is falling apart around him. The cover is better than the book; but then, it’s an exceptional cover.

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
4 stars
Set in the future where most of life plays out in an immersive, online environment, a group of teenagers race to best an evil corporation in an MMOG with enormous rewards for a single winner. Way better than I expected it to be, I couldn’t stop reading this thing.

A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
4.5 stars
Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of stories with loosely interconnected characters, set across multiple decades and locations, revealing each character’s obsessions and longings. Brilliant in just about every way, but left me wanting a bit more of a plot at times.

Damned, by Chuck Palahniuk
5 stars
The perpetually bubbly pre-pubescent middle school daughter of wealthy celebrities finds herself in hell and wrestles with the realities of her new surroundings while trying to understand her place in her former world. Way, way, way beneath the extremely thick and garish brushstrokes of setting and context (which will both make you laugh and repulse you), Palahniuk delivers a surprisingly gentle story of a teenage girl individuating from her parents.

An Object of Beauty: A Novel, by Steve Martin
5 stars
The rise (and partial fall) of a charismatic, people-using young woman in the world of fine art auctions. Learn all about fine art collecting and auctioning while following an interesting storyline; but it’s really a morality tale about greed, motivation and priorities.

2-sentence book reviews, part 4 (youth ministry, fiction, and ‘other’)

back in the day, i used to post a full review in an individual blog post for every book i read. after rebooting my blog in the late fall of 2009, i changed that practice to posting 3 or 4 “mini reviews” at a time — one paragraph each.

but in 2011, i’ve gotten behind, and haven’t posted any reviews. i kept meaning to, but just didn’t get around to it. so, i’m catching up. and i’ve decided to do it in a different way, since i have 27 to post.


for each review, i only allowed myself two sentences. in each, the first sentence is a summary of the book, and the second sentence is my opinion of the book. i’m still giving 1 – 5 stars (5 means “excellent”, 4 means “worth reading”, 3 means “ah, take it or leave it”, 2 means “take a pass on this one”, and 1 means “do NOT buy or read this book – it sucked, imho).

up first was 7 young adult fiction books, and second was memoirs and graphic novels. the third collection covered leadership/marketing and theology/christian living.

this last installment (for now!) has five reviews over three categories, including youth ministry, fiction, and ‘other’:

Youth Ministry

Worlds Apart: Understanding the Mindset and Values of 18-25 Year Olds, by Chuck Bomar
5 stars
(Breaking from my 2-sentence pattern, here’s the endorsement I wrote)
We — the church — haven’t had a clue how to connect with college-age students for a long time. Peek inside an average church and it shows; 20somethings are the missing decade in otherwise robust and healthy churches. Before we race off to construct lame programs and structures that miss the mark, we could all benefit from increased understanding. Thankfully, Chuck Bomar has arrived with this book that offers just that.
(note: this book releases on august 30, 2011)

Redefining The Win For Jr High Small Groups: Strategies, Tips, and Encouragement for Leaders and Volunteers, by Johnny Scott
4 stars
A quick and encouraging overview of what middle school small groups can really be like. The perfect book to give out to all your middle school small group leaders (it even fits in your back pocket!).


Lullaby, by Chuck Palahniuk
5 stars
A poem that can kill, merely by its recitation, wreaks havoc on the lives of the few who know it. My favorite Palahniuk read so far.

Jesus Boy, by Preston Allen
2 stars
A hyper-conservative Christian teenage boy falls into a decade-long affair with the middle-aged widow of his mentor, and struggles to live a double life. With potential for so much more, this story is, in the end, just depressing – not cautionary, just depressing.


Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto, by Chuck Klosterman
3.5 stars
A collection of essays on modern culture, filled with wit and occasional insight. Some interesting thoughts, but the book had been so built up to me that I was actually a little disappointed.

mini book reviews, part 1 (of 3)

Pygmy, by Chuck Palahniuk
an uneasy 4 stars

i’ve been on a little chuck palahniuk kick lately. but, after this one, i need a break. pygmy is the fictitious autobiography (written as journal entries) of a foreign exchange student from an unmentioned totalitarian country, who, along with a dozen or so others, arrive in the u.s. for what appears to be a wonderful cultural exchange. but their presence is actually part of an intricate master terrorist plan to lay waste to this decadent nation. brutal, over-the-top dark, and chock-full of horribly distasteful observations and situations, pygmy comes to live in a world of (intentionally) two-dimmensional idiots, full of every excess and stereotype one can imagine. as with other palahniuk narratives, the book is more about commentary than it is about story. it’s a painful dismantling of whatever middle class american life would be if all the extremes of media stereotypes were actually true. everyone is perverse and ugly in some way, including the narrator. however, as easy as it is, most of the time, to sidestep the commentary by distancing oneself from the horrible characters, there are regular kernels of “ooh, there’s some veracity to that” that are both sobering and startling.

180: Stories of People Who Changed Their Lives by Changing Their Minds, by multiple authors
3 stars

full disclosure: i wrote a chapter in this book. it’s a collection of many (a few too many) voices, writing short chapters on one way they changed their minds (in the best chapters, you see the actual process of how and why they changed their minds). multi-author collections like this rarely do well in publishing; and, about a third of the way through this book, you’ll get a sense why: there’s just not enough of a directional thread to take the reader somewhere. some of the chapters are fantastic, some are a significant misfire (and should have been cut), and many are good enough. that said, by the time i got to the end, i was digging the book. i got past the tedium of “one more…,” one more…,” and grew to appreciate the point of the whole thing: changing our minds, lives, beliefs, and realities is necessary, as is holding loosely to those things we’re so confident of (even waiting with anticipation of what god’s spirit will reveal to us next about what or how we need to change). reading sample after sample of that process had a cumulative affect of readying me for whatever change might be around the corner.

Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou (Authors), Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna (Illustrators)
5 stars

ok, seriously — who would have thought that a graphic novel about the life and ideas of bertrand russell could be so good? c’mon! this is no comic book, kiddies; but the illustrations are still awesome, and the graphic approach made me not want to put down a book on a subject i otherwise wouldn’t have picked up. a bit of math history, a fairly complete history of the study of logic, and an exploration into the relationship between the pursuit of certainty and the (shouldn’t be) surprising commonality of madness in those who pursue it, all wrapped up in a real life story. the authors throw in a few very inventive devices — like, pulling back the curtain on their own discussion during the development of the book, with pages given to those “but wait” and “where should we go next” conversations. all in all, i felt like i learned some stuff about math, logic, history, philosophy, and bertrand russell — and i liked it. what more could one ask of a book about the history of logic?

mini book reviews, part 1 (of 2)

i’ve got a couple days of 3 mini-reviews each. and i’m kind of cracking up at the mix. seriously, i doubt these three books have ever been reviewed together in the same space before. what can i say? i like to read diversely.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
5 stars

acclaimed (and married) journalists kristof and wudunn take readers on a round-the-world exploration to visit oppressed, violated and mistreated girls and women, as well as girls and women who have — sometimes on their own, sometimes with the help of others — risen out of oppression, violence and mistreatment. the authors document, with research and hard data, as well as dozens of amazing stories, the power of women to change the reality of a family or a nation. it was fairly convincing to me — so much so that i can hardly imagine a more productive way to change the world than to invest in girls and women in developing nations. if you care about the world at all, if you ever look past your windowsill or border, please read this book. while not a “christian book” (thought certainly fair in profiling christians — and others of faith — who are making a difference for the girls and women of the world), it’s critical reading for any christian who hopes to have an even remotely informed worldview.

Survivor: A Novel, by Chuck Palahniuk
4 stars

palahniuk, if his name is familiar to you but you can’t remember why, is the novelist who wrote fight club. his books, as i’m finding (now that i’ve read a couple of them, as well as watched fight club a few times), are dark — to be sure — but always have a very strong undercurrent of social commentary. survivor is the story of a “death cult” survivor, the last of his kind. he was raised on a compound, somewhere in nebraska, by a group that seems somewhere in the space between mormonism, amish, and waco. he was trained, as all but the first son and elder-chosen daughters are in this group, to be a ‘labor missionary’. and, in his young adult life, he’s earning slave wages that are sent back to the tribe. but, after the self-inflicted death of all the group’s followers, he life takes an odd shift. he becomes an agent-shaped media darling, a self-styled swami of religious kitcsh, and a stadium-filling, product-selling machine. then it all crumbles; and he finds himself alone on a jumbo jet he’s hijacked, heading toward his own death. yeah. it’s a wild story. and it’s not all perfectly told, though the majority is very well written. but more than the story, it’s a brutal upper-cut to american popularity culture. and, for those willing to read between the lines, there are all kinds of implications for the brand of hero worship we practice in american christianity.

Hope within History, by Walter Brueggemann
4.5 stars

how do i rate a book like this? i mean, it’s certainly not a “reader”. no one’s gonna curl up by a fire with a cup of hot chocolate and read this puppy, finding it to be a page-turner. it’s an intro, followed by a collection of 5 theological talks, presented by brueggemann at one theological symposium or another. and, unless you live in that world, much of the language is so dry and pithy, i literally laughed out loud when i noticed that the back cover said that the author was known for how readable he is. yet, that said, there were some theological gems in this baby that just blew me away. like, there were ideas in this little book that will shape things i think and say and write for — well — the rest of my life. it’s that kind of framing book. i’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking about christian hope, and scot mcknight had recommended this (and a couple other brueggemann books) as part of my background reading. brueggemann has, in 100 pages, given me a new biblical framing for understanding how hope plays out in our lives.