"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Telegraph Avenue

TITLE:  Telegraph Avenue
AUTHOR: Michael Chabon

I've now read three of Chabon's novels and each has its own style. This one, revolving around a used record store in Oakland, California, in 2004, is densely written, full of descriptive metaphors and similes that seem to be an attempt to create an underlying soundtrack for the story. It took me a few scenes to get into the rhythm of the prose, but once I did, this became a compulsive read. The story covers race, class, culture, families (fathers and sons, wives and husbands), sins of the past, and trying to hold on to a dream when perhaps a new dream is needed. I came to really care about these characters, the two men who own Brokeland Records and their wives who are partners as midwives, as well as their sons, plus the group of regulars who spend time sifting through Brokeland's stock while hanging out, catching up. A threat of a megastore coming that could put Brokeland out of business sets the story in motion. I was not surprised to read that Chabon created Brokeland and its denizens for an aborted TV show; I was envisioning many of the scenes playing out in front of me. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

TITLE:  The Miniaturist
AUTHOR: Jessie Burton

As a longtime collector of dollhouse miniatures, I wanted to read this book from the moment I read the first review praising it. Set in Amsterdam in the second half of 1686, the story revolves around Nella, an eighteen-year-old ready to start her life as a married woman, despite barely knowing her much older new husband, Johannes Brandt. Johannes is a successful merchant trader who travels a lot, and even when he's home, he shows no interest in intimacy or in consummating the marriage. Along with her husband's apparent lack of interest in her, Nella must also contend with his sister, Marin, who seems to view Nella as an intruder. Then Johannes gifts Nella with a dollhouse in a cabinet, leading Nella to commission the assistance of a mysterious miniaturist to furnish the dollhouse. As pieces arrive from the miniaturist whom Nella never meets -- the orders are commissioned by letter, then delivered by someone else -- Nella is struck by the exquisite craftmanship and how they eerily start to mirror her own life, almost predicting what will happen next. Curious and imaginative, Nella is determined to solve the mystery of the miniaturist and that of the aloof Brandt siblings.

I wasn't sure I'd enjoy this due to the writing style, more flowery than I usually read, but it didn't take long for me to get into the rhythm. While I wouldn't call this a page-turner -- few of the plot twists really surprised me -- it was a fast read. It's also a good exploration of a place and time where religion and conservative values ruled, a time with few options for women and a place where commerce was controlled by guilds. I also came to care deeply for all the characters, servants included, who called the Brandt townhouse their home.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Bookmarks

I've been using my used Mets baseball game tickets the last few years, but I might buy some of the cool bookmarks featured in this Book Riot post.

Friday, February 05, 2021

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

TITLE: The Yiddish Policemen's Union
AUTHOR: Michael Chabon

In Chabon's alternate history, the Jewish country of Israel doesn't exist, and Jewish refugees escaping from the Holocaust are granted the safety and autonomy of a strip of Alaska. Now 60 years later, the Jewish land of Sitka is about to revert back to the United States. That's the background against which a Jewish policeman, living in a fleabag hotel, ends up investigating the murder of another tenant of the hotel.

Still reeling from his divorce a couple of years earlier the more recent death of his sister, and faced with an uncertain future after the reversion, Meyer Landsman is a mess, but he's a good detective, determined to find the killer, even if it means disobeying a direct order from his newly promoted ex-wife who is now his boss.

In prose full of metaphors and similies, Chabon takes Meyer and the reader into the part of Sitka where the Black Hats -- ultra Orthodox Jews -- live and oversee life in the district. The simple murder of a former chess prodigy/current drug addict is anything but simple. This is a fascinating look at what could have been, as well as a compelling story about a murder, grief, and a community determined to keep surviving all the obstacles put in their way.  

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

TITLE: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
AUTHOR: Michael Chabon

I'm a bit embarrassed that it took me so long to read this. The trade paperback was too heavy to carry around and there were other books to read, and now it's been a lot of years and the pages are starting to yellow at the edges. When I finally sat down to read it, I couldn't put it down. There's a reason it won the Pulitzer Prize: It's brilliant.

Clay is Sammy Klayman, a Jewish teen in Brooklyn, dreaming of a career in comic books. The year is 1939 and the success of National's new superhero, Superman, has other publishers looking for their own superheroes. Sammy can write, but his art hovers around ordinary. Enter his newly arrived cousin Josef Kavalier, from Prague. Joe has studied magic and illusion and is obsessed with bringing his parents and younger brother to safety in the US. Joe is also a brilliant artist and together, they create The Escapist, which they present to Sammy's boss at a novelty company. Suddenly, the novelty company is in the comic book business.

Though successful, the cousins make a tiny fraction of the money their comic book creations earn for their publisher, to whom they'd sold their rights for a pittance. Chabon's prose seems effortless as he takes us through hope and disappointment, telling the coming-of-age story of these two cousins against the backdrop of World War II and the Holocaust, as well as an exploration of popular culture and mid-20th Century New York City. Chabon did his research and I had to look up a number of characters to see if they were/had been real or not. This is a long book I didn't want to end. I love Sammy and Joe and Rosa, the woman Joe fell in love with. Thanks to Chabon's narrative voice, I quickly became emotionally invested in their lives and as I closed the book on the last page, I wanted to know what came next. That's the best compliment I can give a book. To anyone who hasn't yet read it, give it a try.