Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rereading a Favorite Novel and Previewing a Fall Release

I rarely reread books. There are too many books that I want to read for the first time, mostly new fiction releases, but also books from the last 15 years that I didn’t read. Then there are many fiction “classics,” which as a history major in college and one-time law student (my secrets comes out!), I’ve never read. (I am slowly trying to read the ones which interest me most.) Further, despite focusing my squarely on fiction recently, I also love nonfiction. Add to all of this the fact that I read somewhat slowly, and I don’t feel like I can afford to reread! 

And still, revisiting a book can be rewarding. Many people say that you “learn” or “discover” something new every time you reread. This is certainly true. Still, when rereading a book that I once enjoyed, the biggest reward is, once again, appreciating specifically what made me love it in the first place. My latest reread that fits this criteria: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
There were a few reasons why I chose to reread Michael Chabon’s remarkable historical novel. One, amongst the Pulitzer Prize-winning books that I have read, it is one my favorites. Two, with no Pulitzer winner in fiction this year (if you haven’t heard about this see my post here), I wanted to read a “recent” winning book. Three, Chabon’s has a highly-anticipated new release—Telegraph Avenue – coming out in September, and I wanted to reacquaint myself with his most notable work.

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.

Despite publishing three books since Kavalier and Clay, there is a valid argument that the upcoming Telegraph Avenue is his first traditionally published, full-length, “literary” novel since. The Final Solution was a short novella; The Yiddish Policemen’s Union verged on “genre” (an alternative history detective story); Gentlemen of the Road had been serialized before being published as a book.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment