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Michael Chabon

Discussion in 'General Book Discussion' started by Coragem, Sep 30, 2011.


    Coragem Believer in flawed heroes

    Nov 4, 2010
    I started writing a door stopping wedge of a sci-f
    Hi Guys:

    I've just been reading an interview by GRRM, within which he mentions (and praises) Michael Chabon. He cites Chabon in the context of arguing that fantasy books are more than able to show high literary standards.

    What views do people have of Chabon?

    Personally, in terms of fantasy authors who reach a high "literary standard" my pick would probably be Guy Gavriel Kay. Although honestly, my priority is great characters, a believable world, and ideally some heroism and romance; I don't want any literary pretensions getting in the way of that!


    Hex Write, monkey, write Staff Member

    Mar 3, 2011
    Mmm. "High literary standards" is a phrase that (whether it should or not) sort of suggests deadly dull and pretentious, doesn't it...

    I've only read a couple of Michael Chabon's books, but that was because I got side-tracked as I was following them up, not because I didn't like them (the rest are sitting on my 'to read' pile). I would say, though, that the ones I have read were absolutely wonderful.

    'The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay' is one of the best books I have ever read. It's wonderfully written and utterly gripping. It might be really clever (I couldn't possibly comment, I was too caught up in the adventures to notice) but I didn't spot any literary pretensions and if there were any they didn't get in the way of the story.

    (You could argue that Ishiguro has high literary standards as well, but I haven't read a book that freaked me out so thoroughly as 'Never Let Me Go' for a very very long time).

    I love Guy Gavriel Kay too.
    JonLaidlow likes this.

    williamjm Member

    Apr 28, 2006
    I thought Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union was a brilliant mix of noir-ish detective story and alternative history. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was frequently brilliant, although I thought the story started to drag a bit towards the end and it felt a bit disjointed due to the large jumps in time.

    The other Chabon book I've read is Gentlemen of the Road, which was a fun adventure story, although it doesn't have the same depth that the other two do.

    antiloquax Trans-MUTE!

    Jun 21, 2011
    I haven't read Chabon, but there are many examples of "literary fiction" that use fantasy SF tropes. One example might be Thomas Pynchon. "Gravity's Rainbow" and "Vineland" are strange, wonderful novels.

    jojajihisc vast and cool

    Oct 30, 2008
    I've read The Yiddish Policemen's Union and Gentlemen of the Road and the thought the first was a few orders of magnitude better than the second. Didn't care for the flowery prose in the latter book one bit.

    DegenerateHillPerson New Member

    Sep 25, 2011
    Chabon has a quote about Jack Vance in the NY times magazine article entitled the "Genre Artist". I'd post a link but I reckon I can't yet on account I'm a new poster. If you search for "Ny times magazine jack vance" it will show up. Anyhow the article delves into the question of literature and sci-fi quite a bit, you might find it interesting. Here's the Chabon quote:

    “Jack Vance is the most painful case of all the writers I love who I feel don’t get the credit they deserve. If ‘The Last Castle’ or ‘The Dragon Masters’ had the name "Italo Calvino" on it, or just a foreign name, it would be received as a profound meditation, but because he’s Jack Vance and published in Amazing Whatever, there’s this insurmountable barrier.”

    The article is about Vance, written by a prof. Chabon has a couple of more quotes in the artricle, and there's something from Dan Simmons a few others, about how they really dig Vance.

    gully_foyle Here kitty kitty kitty!

    Feb 1, 2007
    Brisbane, Queensland
    I've only read The Yiddish Policemens' Union. I didn't particularly see any literary pretensions. It was a good read, solid characters and all that. I liked the alternate history setting and the sense of failure and despair it kind of creates amongst the 'people' (I'm avoiding spoilers here). I felt the wrap up was a little bit Hollywood.

    I wouldn't see it as being high literature, I think there are plenty of others who can lay claim to that first (PKD, Pynchon (as mentioned), and so on).

    Connavar Well-Known Member

    Apr 1, 2007
    The Yiddish Policemen's Union was weaker than i expected. I dont buy into mainstream mag general fiction hype. I thought he sound interesting what his books is about.

    I do wonder what the fans who posted here think is his best book ?

    I will give him a second and final chance just because i too read that Genre Artist about Vance greatness, originality. He knows his truly great literature and not only the hyped foreign mainstream names.

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 21, 2005
    Impressive. Yourself and Nesacat..maybe JD are the only people I know who have read the entire text. I have a copy but am yet to embark upon the journey. It's viewed by several critics as a masterpiece but by still more people as 'unreadable' perhaps a little dare I say like Joyces' Ulysees (especially if you don't have the appropriate anontated/academic edns at hand)?

    Back on topic I know of Chabon of course and The Yiddish Policemens' Union but I'm sorry to say I'ver never read it. Perhaops I should give it a go?

    antiloquax Trans-MUTE!

    Jun 21, 2011
    It's well worth it. :D

    soulsinging the dude abides

    Oct 23, 2008
    I would say the Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay is his best. I also very much enjoyed Summerland (admittedly targeted towards a more YA audience but a lot of baseball and fun and American myth) and the Final Solution (a Sherlock Holmes pastiche). Yiddish was very enjoyable, but I didn't think it as revelatory as some of the hype. Wonder Boys was also excellent and is about an aging professor writing a long overdue followup novel to his massively successful debut and finding it increasingly difficult to rein in his work (the opposite of writer's block!). The movie is also incredible and a must-see for any book lover.

    Gentlemen of the Road was almost unbearably overwritten though, and his first novel Mysteries of Pittsburgh is ok if you're looking for a sort of nerdy 90's version of F Scott Fitzgerald's coming of age stories.
    Randy M.

    Randy M. Active Member

    Mar 7, 2012
    I haven't read much by Chabon but what I've read has impressed me:

    Maps and Legends: A book of essays on writing and reading, and in spirit rather close to Michael Dirda's Bound for Pleasure or the more genre-based, What Makes this Book so Good? by Jo Walton (one of my current reads). His ability to think through what he's saying and say it gracefully, along with his championing of genre writers (not just Vance; he says good things about Fritz Leiber, too, and Leiber's work is supposed to have been a conscious influence on Gentlemen of the Road) cheered me greatly on reading Maps and Legends.

    The Final Solution: I'm shocked by the disparity of ratings for this at GoodReads. This novella is the finest Sherlock Holmes pastiche I've read, combining a good mystery with a contemplation on aging and a foreshadowing of the Holocaust (note the title). Chabon's prose is smooth and flexible, capable of bringing a grin or tugging at other emotions. Compressed story, elegantly written. Excellent.

    Just to note: "Literary standards" and "literary pretensions" are not synonymous. The former suggests qualities that give a work texture and meaning, that elevate it. The latter suggests a warped perception of standards and/or the inability to achieve them. Max Beerbohm had literary standards; his creation, Enoch Soames, literary pretensions.

    Of course, much of the fun comes from discussing authors and taking sides on who had standards and who had pretensions.

    Randy M.

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