The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Tag Michael Chabon

Readings for October 2013

I appreciated Ben Myers' recent reflect on the obedience of reading:

The act of calibrating one's mind to the specific nature of a book is, I believe, one of the chief pleasures of reading. It is indeed a pleasure unique to reading, exquisitely dissimilar from the pleasures of other arts like cinema and music. The reading life is a life regulated by this practice of precise internal calibration to the books one loves. The best books are the ones that have to teach us how to read them, how to adapt our expectations to what is present in them.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Here is what I love about Michael Chabon: he took one of the great alternative history premises - that the Jewish state was established in Alaska rather than in Palestine - and then wrote a great story where this is merely the intriguing backdrop.The Yiddish Policemen's Union was wonderful, so I was expecting great things from Kavalier and Clay.

First off, the are certainly some amazing adventures for Josef Kavalier. These are detailed in the opening chapters and in a transition section of the novel. The amazingness of these adventures is muted a bit by the relatively pedestrian adventures which fill the rest of the book. So perhaps I had incorrect expectations, but I was expecting something more from the meat of the plot.

Yet my chief complaint with this novel is the nature of the relationship between Kavalier and Clay. These cousins strike it rich as business partners, but a strong friendship is never established in the story, except by telling us so after the fact. Clay feels like a background character, and the culmination of their adventures does not feel to me like the intuitive resolution of the story.

The book was powerful and interesting and funny by turns, but ultimately it did not satisfy.


  • Scientific American May 2013 - David Bourne gives an account of an amazing manufacturing duo - one man and one robot, who together can outwork a swarm of skilled human welders, with the flexibility to change projects without completely retooling.
  • Tin House #56 - I doubt I have commented yet on the "Readable Feast" feature in Tin House, but Katie Arnold-Ratliff's essay on eating in Disneyland really resonated with me. Nothing like turkey legs and churros!