Archive for the 'Mike B.' Category

You Can’t Handle the Truth!


In true Fight Club spirit, Bill returns a stinging blow to Matt (and his petty name calling with ‘Liar, Liar’) with a selection for our next bout of
Chuck Palahniuk’s Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories.

You see, Matt only reads non-fiction because he thinks it “true” and grounded in “reality” and he regards fiction with suspicion and mistrust (is Holden Caufield less believable because Salinger was phony in letters written when he was 22?).

In search of this elusive “truth,” Matt is gullible enough to believe that non-fiction writers are telling him the whole truth and not distorting reality through some usually unstated bias, by what they’ve chosen to include, or perhaps more importantly, left out in the telling.

In his essay “Dear Mr. Levin,” Palahniuk compliments Ira Levin (author of many books and plays including Rosemary’s Baby, Stepford Wives) on his ability “to take some of the thorniest issues in our culture and charm us into facing a problem.” Mr. Levin has created durable fables that help society deal with our demons. If you want a sterile recitation of fact, read an academic journal. But, what we’re talking about is truth. And,  no form of writing gets close to  pure truth like a well told story.

Thoreau said: “writing may be either the record of a deed or a deed. It is nobler when it is a deed.”

75 Books Every Man Should Read

Judge Smails: “How do you measure yourself with other golfers?” Ty Webb: “by height.”

I’m a sucker for lists of the “greatest books ever written” if only as a narcissistic measure of how well read I am. This time it’s men’s magazine Esquire with the admonition: “75 books every man should read.” So, now I feel half as well read as I thought I was and my manhood has been challenged.

But, with the honest introduction: “an unranked, incomplete, utterly biased list of the greatest works of literature ever published,” I had to take a look.

  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, by Raymond Carver
  • Collected Stories of John Cheever
  • Deliverance, by James Dickey
  • The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
  • Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy
  • The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Known World, by Edward P. Jones
  • The Good War, by Studs Terkel
  • American Pastoral, by Philip Roth
  • A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories, by Flannery O’Connor
  • The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
  • A Sport and a Pastime, by James Salter
  • The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
  • Time’s Arrow, by Martin Amis
  • A Sense of Where You Are, by John McPhee
  • Hell’s Angels, by Hunter S. Thompson
  • Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
  • Dubliners, by James Joyce
  • Rabbit, Run, by John Updike
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain
  • Dog Soldiers, by Robert Stone
  • Winter’s Bone, by Daniel Woodrell
  • Legends of the Fall, by Jim Harrison
  • Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry
  • The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer
  • The Professional, by W.C. Heinz
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
  • Dispatches, by Michael Herr
  • Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
  • Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates
  • As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
  • The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara
  • Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
  • All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
  • Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron
  • A Fan’s Notes, by Frederick Exley
  • Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami
  • Master and Commander, by Patrick O’Brian
  • Plainsong, by Kent Haruf
  • A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
  • Affliction, by Russell Banks
  • This Boy’s Life, by Tobias Wolff
  • Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin
  • The Adventures of Augie March, by Saul Bellow
  • Women, by Charles Bukowski
  • Going Native, by Stephen Wright
  • Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, by John LeCarre
  • The Crack-Up, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, by George Saunders
  • War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Shining, by Stephen King
  • Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson
  • Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
  • Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie
  • Labyrinths, by Jorge Luis Borges
  • The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe
  • The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford
  • American Tabloid, by James Ellroy
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Alex Haley
  • What It Takes, by Richard Ben Cramer
  • The Continental Op, by Dashiell Hammett
  • The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene
  • So Long, See You Tomorrow, by William Maxwell
  • Native Son, by Richard Wright
  • Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee and Walker Evans
  • Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner
  • The Great Bridge, by David McCullough
  • The Dharma Bums, by Jack Kerouac
  • Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry
  • Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Underworld, by Don DeLillo
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

What say you, fair reader? As a Fight Club pugilist, I noticed that there isn’t a non-fiction title in the bunch (see cockamamie Rules of Fight Club). So, not only are we a sissy book club, we’re not even reading manly books. After feeling emasculated, I clicked over to Esquire’s photos of Leryn Franco champion javelin thrower from Paraguay, and forgot all about it.


The World Until Yesterday and Existential Boredom

Fight Club has long been a fan of both Jared Diamond and Papua New Guinea. Seven years ago, Diamond’s “Collapse” was our inaugural bout and later we read “Lost in Shangri-La” by Mitchell Zuckoff about a WWII plane crash in a remote valley of Papua New Guinea and first (or nearly first) contact with native tribes there.

In Diamond’s latest book, “The World Until Yesterday,” he argues that we can learn lessons from these tribal cultures such as better child-rearing, better treatment of the elderly, and how to avoid $300/hour lawyers. Diamond tells us “loneliness is not a problem in traditional societies…people spend their lives in or near the place where they were born, and they remain surrounded by relatives and childhood companions.” In other words, traditional societies, to the extent they still exist, know how to take care of each other.

Despite our warring 20th Century, a conflict-ridden first decade of the 21st Century, and America’s ridiculous number of guns, our society today is, in fact, less violent than tribal cultures. The highest war-related death rates for modern societies (Russia and Germany in WWI and WWII) are only a third of the death rates of tribal societies. Looking more broadly, Diamond shows us that modern societies average war-related death rates that are about one-tenth as high as tribal societies due to sustained conflict between clans.

Besides having lower body counts than traditional societies, another thing we moderns have going for us is that we generally live longer (watch Stephen Colbert chide Diamond on this point). According to Wikipedia, the average life expectancy in the world today is 68. In the US, it’s 78 (putting us 40th in the world) and in Papua New Guinea it’s 62 (153rd). But, average life expectancy within tribal settings tends to be less than 30, primarily due to high levels of infant and child mortality. As a result, only about 3% of tribal villages are over 65 (Other Ways of Growing Old). In contrast, 13.3% of Americans are 65 and older (2010 Census).

In perhaps one of the best arguments for living in a tribal society, Diamond tells us, is that people generally aren’t bored. This harkens back to our last Fight Club bout “America’s Best Essays of 2012” and Joseph Epstein’s wonderful essay on the current state of boredom in our culture, “Duh Boring.” Epstein observes: “Boredom is often less pervasive in simpler cultures. One hears little of boredom among the pygmies or the Trobriand Islanders, whose energies are taken up with the problems of mere existence.” He even postulates that the very reason for war in our modern society is the boredom in peace time armies. He quotes Lars Svendsen, the Norwegian author of “A Philosophy of Boredom,” as saying boredom is the major spiritual problem of our day.

So, maybe our problem is that we have too many bored retirees.

Fight Club – Splinter Cell

After 7 years of unrelenting non-fiction, several brave pugilists have rebelled and created a Splinter Cell where we can finally read and discuss fiction without being heckled about some subjective, and rather limited, definition of “truth” or “reality.”
This weekend Dave hosted Fight Club at his family’s cabin in northern Wisconsin, and while the nominal Fight Club selection was “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall, the main attraction was “Caves of Steel” by Isaac Asimov. And, while the discussion of “Born to Run” degenerated into actually throwing the book (Matt) and spilling a glass of perfectly good Irish whiskey, the discussion of “Caves of Steel” was a civilized discussion of science fiction (particularly in the 1950s), the role of technology and automation in our lives, gender roles in the 1950s, and the dystopian nature of science fiction today.
As if to underscore how great “Caves of Steel” and Isaac Asimov are for Fight Club, rather Fight Club – Splinter Cell, Dan found this great interview with Asimov and Bill Moyers. In one part of the interview Asimov articulates what could be the manifesto for Fight Club, rather Fight Club – Splinter Cell:
MOYERS: Learning really excites you, doesn’t it?

ASIMOV: Just yesterday I read about the invention of hay in Freeman Dyson’s new book. The thought that occurred to me was, “Why is it I never thought of this? How is it I never knew about this? What made me think that hay existed from the first day of creation?”

MOYERS: What is exciting about that?

ASIMOV: I think it’s the actual process of broadening yourself, of knowing there’s now a little extra facet of the universe you know about and can think about and can understand. It seems to me that when it’s time to die, there would be a certain pleasure in thinking that you had utilized your life well, learned as much as you could, gathered in as much as possible of the universe, and enjoyed it. There’s only this one universe and only this one lifetime to try to grasp it. And while it is inconceivable that anyone can grasp more than a tiny portion of it, at least you can do that much. What a tragedy just to pass through and get nothing out of it.

RIP Ray Bradbury

“It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow. You had only to rise, lean from your window, and know that this indeed was the first real time of freedom and living, this was the first morning of summer.”

– Dandelion Wine

Dynamic Surfaces – Cool!

Practice Resurrection

“Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.”
― Wendell Berry

Our blades are f**king great.

Cloaking Device


The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

A fitting tribute on the 35th anniversay of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior:


The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they called “Gitche Gumee”
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
when the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty,
that big ship and true was a bone to be chewed
when the Gales of November came early

The ship was the pride of the American side
coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
with a crew and good captain well seasoned,
concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
when they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ship’s bell rang,
could it be the north wind they’d been feelin’?

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
and a wave broke over the railing
And ev’ry man knew, as the captain did too
’twas the witch of November come stealin’
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
when the Gales of November came slashin’
When afternoon came it was freezin’ rain
in the face of a hurricane west wind

When suppertime came the old cook came on deck sayin’
“Fellas, it’s too rough t’feed ya”
At seven P.M. a main hatchway caved in; he said,
“Fellas, it’s bin good t’know ya!”
The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
and the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when ‘is lights went outta sight
came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Does any one know where the love of God goes
when the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
if they’d put fifteen more miles behind ‘er
They might have split up or they might have capsized;
they may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
of the wives and the sons and the daughters

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
in the rooms of her ice-water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams;
the islands and bays are for sportsmen
And farther below Lake Ontario
takes in what Lake Erie can send her,
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
with the Gales of November remembered

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
in the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral
The church bell chimed ’til it rang twenty-nine times
for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they call “Gitche Gumee”
“Superior,” they said, “never gives up her dead
when the gales of November come early”



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