Friday, May 08, 2009

Chuck Palahniuk at Pratt Library

Chuck Palahniuk addresses packed house at Pratt Library

I know nothing about Chuck Palahniak except that he was the author behind Fight Club, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. So when I saw he was appearing at the Enoch Pratt Central Library Thursday night as part of their "Writers LIVE" series to promote his latest (and 10th overall) novel Pgymy, I figured I'd stick around and educate myself. Good thing I work there because had I left work and come back, I would have had trouble getting in. I don't know what the seating capacity is in Central Hall, but I'd guesstimate at least 700 people were there last night, with 90% of them between the ages of 18-24. See for yourself below:

Obviously, when Chuck Paluhniuk rolls into town, it's not your typical author book signing event. The only comparable author event at Pratt would be Garrison Keillor's appearance last year. Kudos to Pratt for hosting this event, as Baltimore was one of only five U.S. cities to land Palahniuk on his current tour.

Paluhniuk's minions, teeming...

Anyway, Palahniak didn't disappoint as he read provocatively risque excerpts from Pygmy and answered questions from the audience and WYPR host Aaron Henkin. He has a great speaking voice and he's a good storyteller - the man knows how to entertain a crowd. And not just a traditional book crowd. When the best-selling author of Fight Club, Snuff and Choke (also adapted for the big screen) asked the teeming minions to raise their hands if this was the first book talk they had attended, enough hands pumped the air to start a wave at Camden Yards. "I highly recommend that you go to more," he responded. I like that he encouraged a young, non-traditional bookworm crowd, to read more. I've seen a similar, perhaps slightly younger, teen and 'tween demographic embrace the Stephenie Meyer vampire novel series (Twilight). And I have to agree with one of Paluhniak's heroes, John Waters, on that score: reading books is good, regardless of what you read, be it Zane or Thomas Pynchon, lowbrow or highbrow. Whatever brings 'em to the table - or the library, in this case.

Palahniuk opened his book talk with a recitation of Lewis Carroll's classic "nonsense" poem "Jabberwocky" (from Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There) to illustrate how even made-up language has a pattern and feeling that people can understand, much like his PYGMY narrator's BORATesque broken English voice. OK, I get it; but what's with the silly red hat?

Chuck Palahniuk recites "Jabberwocky"

The funniest moment of the night came next as, mid-monologue, Palahniuk's cell phone rang and he quickly ad-libbed, "Oh my God, it's Joyce Carol Oates...and she's sexting me!"

After reading selections from Pygmy and doing a brief Q&A with WYPR host Aaron Henkin (as shown below)...

...Palahniuk fielded questions from the audience. Below, he answers a fanboy's query about the origins of "Guts."

Chuck Palahniuk discusses his intestinal fortitude

Paluhniuk also clearly likes fun and games and audience interaction. He brought a bagful of goodies to hand or toss out, including Choke DVDs, an inflatable sex doll, and dozens of inflatable penguins that were signed "Chuck Paluhniuk, Pygmy 2009 Tour." The first person to inflate a penguin won a CHOKE DVD.

Following are some video clips of the penguin tossing and ensuing frenzy.

Penquin tossing frenzy!

Mr. Ray practices CPR on an inflatable penguin

My mild-mannered librarian pal Ray looks like he's blowing up one of the inflatable penguins hurled into the crowd, above. But when Ray started talking in broken English like the narrator of Palahniuk's latest novel PYGMY, suspicions arose that he was really "huffing" a penguin-shaped bag of glue. (Kidding!)

All in all, it was quite an entertaining evening and inspired me to stop by the Fiction Department and pick up a Palahniuk book to read. Mission accomplished, Mr. Palahniuk!

By the way, the library recorded Palahniuk's book talk. Click this link to hear the entire 69-minute podcast: Chuck Palahniuk Podcast.

Palahniuk Pratt Pix:

Guys and Love dolls

Ray Cruitt blew a penguin.

"Where's a penguin's blowhole?" woman wonders

Penguin mania - it's not confined to Pittsburgh hockey fans

What's this fanboy's story?

...Paluhniuk's minions leaving, sated and elated

Related Links:
Chuck Palahniuk Podcast (May 7, 2009) (official website)

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