Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
As a history buff, I was quickly reminded of why I so enjoyed the novel in the first place. It is historical fiction at its best. Chabon places real people in plausible fictional situations. The protagonists encounter Al Smith as President of the company that owns Empire State Building, where their offices are housed; Salvador Dali, at a party full of celebrities, at a time when the Spanish artist was living in the U.S.; and Orson Wells, just before the premiere of Citizen Kane. Chabon captures American culture and life in the period just before WWII through the time just after. If the Depression is never fully confronted, it is because the protagonists rise above the tough economic times and are able to give the Depression-weary populace comic book heroes to divert their attention.
Besides history, I loved how Chabon blends “obscure” topics like Jewish mysticism and comic books into a story in which you do not have to know about (or be interested in) either topic to appreciate. I’ve never read many comic books—frankly, I’ve never really cared for the “fantasy” worlds of superheroes—but I fully cared about the characters in the novel that spent their lives creating comic books. I may have even cared more during the reread than the first time around. I found this remarkable because, although I had forgotten many details, I remembered the broad contours of the story and the characters’ lives. I think that we normally care about characters when we do know what is going to happen, when we are living their lives with them. If we know the eventual end, we are no longer living along with them. And yet it’s the sign of a talented storyteller when you are absorbed in a story, even when you know the outcome. Even though I didn’t feel like I was experiencing the story for the first time, there was still a sense of anticipation. Part of this was a feeling of awe at the talent of Chabon.
Telegraph Avenue is a real street that runs between Oakland and Berkeley, and it seems that the story will take place primarily between these two cities. Set in 2004, it is contemporary, not historical and it seems to have a diverse cast of characters. (I have deduced this from a summary on Goodreads.) I have received a digital review copy, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. I might post a teaser before September, but I will likely not post a full review until it is released. Still, it looks exciting, is getting a lot of good early buzz.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Monday, April 23, 2012
I'll be giving out copies of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. I chose this book because I love it, but also because, even though it was a Pulitzer-prize finalist in 1991, I thought it might be one of the less familiar books from the list. It is a collection of closely related short stories, but not a novel in stories. Still, all of the stories take place during or in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Although Tim O'Brien has written about his service in Vietnam as memoir, he has always been clear that this is a work of fiction. I also chose the collection because, although the title story has become very well known and has been anthologized many times, the other stories are as good, if not better.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Amy here. Again. Fulfilling my role of being contrary.
We don’t know what happened –whether it was an intentional snub, or whether they simply couldn’t garner a majority. But either way, I have no problem with it. And here’s why:
No “Pulitzer book” was published this year.
They are big, sweeping, ambitious books that tell the stories of American lives.
Often, they involve multiple generations, or at least the lifespan of one quirky character.
They’re compulsively readable without being too light.
They’re not overly fancy or experimental. (The books are, after all, chosen mostly by journalists, not the literary elite.)
They’re of truly high quality, both in prose and in heart. I believe them.
Don’t get me wrong. Not all the books that win fit this mold. But the Board never seems to stray too far from this category, and they return to it again and again. It’s Middlesex. It’s Cavalier & Klay, and Empire Falls. They don’t have to be the very best, most artistically accomplished, groundbreaking books. But it’s a towering achievement in a certain micro-genre.
And nobody wrote one this year.* So what? Keep writing, authors. Keep reading, readers. There are other awards.
*The closest book I came across was The Art of Fielding. It fits the general description, but – and I may be alone here – I found it to be utterly without sparkle. Almost as if it were written by formula, like those movies you think are produced purely for the purpose of getting Oscar nominations. It fails my last criterion. In short, just not good enough.