So. I have this arbitrary goal to read a book a week in 2017. Unfortunately, I started with this one. It’s unfortunate, because this book is so beautiSo. I have this arbitrary goal to read a book a week in 2017. Unfortunately, I started with this one. It’s unfortunate, because this book is so beautiful, I read it THREE TIMES IN A ROW! I cannot recommend this book highly enough; I love it! It makes me want to write a gushing fan letter to Michael Chabon, a writer I’ve always admired, and frequently lauded.
Moonglow is a book that will often invite questions. Firstly, is it the truth, a total fiction, or a collection of truths joined by a talented writer’s imaginations? The dust jacket says it's a novel. In fact, the inner pages have that typical “work of fiction” disclaimer. In the first few pages, though, Chabon calls it a memoir. He also uses his name, his mother’s name, his family’s names and characteristics, and what feels like a heap of family history.
But we don’t know what the truth is. Nor do we find out, in the realistic sense. We certainly discover a certain emotional truth within the pages of this book; that’s it’s beauty. It’s a thrilling tale of a Jewish couple struggling after the war and into the last half of the bright American century.
The gimmick is that, back in the ‘90s when his grandfather was dying of cancer, Chabon found that the pain medications had loosed the old man’s tongue. Chabon at his side took notes (some of which were lost in the devastation after Chabon’s first divorce). Then Chabon dug in like an investigative reporter. He interviewed family members, mainly his mother. He sorted through court records – his grandfather had some run-ins – and questioned other contemporaries.
What emerges is an extraordinary tale about a damaged couple, full of wit and pain and elaborate romances and amazing events.
Chabon’s grandfather – who is never given a full name – was an extraordinarily rough character – part thug, part brilliant scientific mind, and entirely awkward with most other human beings. He had a wonky moral compass, which hated Nazis but also would resort to violence or pranks, especially to prove his point (which he never wavers from). As a boy, he dropped a kitten out of a high window just to see what would happen. As an employee, he once almost killed his boss. He was not religious but, otherwise, very culturally Northeastern Jewish. He often was involved in scams; he was also only guilty to varying degrees, depending on the scam. Sometimes, people pulled one over on him, and he worked to make them pay. He wasn't a very forgiving man...
His grandmother was French and Jewish. She had tattooed numbers on her arm. She also had a way of stopping the grandfather most of the time. The problem was that she also suffered from a crippling depression that would manifest itself in a most horrible vision, a monster that would follow the poor lady around.
The loved each other. When trouble arises, Chabon states, “My grandparents forgave each other with the pragmatism of lovers in a plummeting airplane.”
Their lives were fantastic – full of truths and lies, much like Chabon’s book. The grandfather hunted down Nazi war criminals and then invented things and then made models for NASA. The grandmother would use old Tarot-like cards to tell Chabon scary tales and fortunes. She also hosted a local black-and-white television show where she'd dress up and read scary stories. Many people tell Chabon that these programs scared the hell out of them. The people around the couple were also amazing, like Chabon’s mother, who learned to be headstrong. Or Chabon’s great uncle, who lost one eye – we find out later in the book how that happened!
Chabon always messes with form. Wonderboys combines high-minded literary conferences, highbrow academia, depression, and suicide attempts with lowbrow comedy. His Pulitzer Prize winner The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay follows the history of two comic book legends, cousins. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union mixes old pulp noir with obscure Jewish history. Like in Moonglow, Chabon often pays respect to his Jewish heritage.
Here, Chabon plays with the truth. He also plays with the great American memoir. If there is truth in here, it’s a proud homage to his grandparents – even with their flaws. If there isn’t any truth, then this is just an amazing, astounding, wondrous yarn – apparently worth reading over and over and over. ...more
It was good, but I found the three main characters and their ugliness got old. Especially for the narrator Rachel, the flagellating wore me out.
I wilIt was good, but I found the three main characters and their ugliness got old. Especially for the narrator Rachel, the flagellating wore me out.
I will say that the last few pages on this were interesting - the mystery and the denouncement were excellent. However, between the revelations, a few pages just dragged. It was either breathless or lifeless writing for the last 50 pages.
I just didn't get as swept away as everyone else, mostly because the self-punishment and sarcasm of the characters didn't hook me. I suppose this is based on truth - I mean, people go through this pain and hold these mythologies of damage and victimhood to themselves forever. However, I wouldn't want to sit next to this whining wino on a train. I guess I'm being harsh. I'll just say it was an OK book with some really great stuff peppered in the ending, but I had a hard time feeling empathy for anyone but maybe the dead....more
I'm giving this a four, because I love Carol Burnett so much. Also, this book would be wonderful for anyone who doesn't know the Carol Burnett show weI'm giving this a four, because I love Carol Burnett so much. Also, this book would be wonderful for anyone who doesn't know the Carol Burnett show well. However, if you've watched the specials (and I have!), and watched the shows as much as I have, there's not a lot new here. I listened to it, because I wanted to hear Carol's voice. And a few new stories peppered throughout the older tales are delightful; there's just aren't a lot of frsh stories here! Perhaps she could do a book on all the stuff we don't know, a sort of "bump up the lights" for us, her unwavering fans....more
A lot of people have written reviews, so I'll only add my opinion. I think Chabon is a brilliant novelist, and I do agree with him that there is a lovA lot of people have written reviews, so I'll only add my opinion. I think Chabon is a brilliant novelist, and I do agree with him that there is a lovely gray area between respectable fiction and genre fiction. Chabon himself has been exploring this almost his entire career, with comics, and noir mysteries, and hip, disaffected novels about writers.
However, I feel like his fiction writing is great storytelling; his essays (his writing here) often want to show how smart he is. His nonfiction mostly isn't even about edification; I think we can accept his premised fairly easily. These are about big words and fancy turns of phrases. Maps and Legends isn't about the ease at which one sails through his writing. It's about thickly deciphering, with a dictionary at the ready. Your computer is nearby to look up people and references on Wikipedia. You have to work too hard, especially given his subject!
In short, this could've been more entertaining!
I agree with other reviewers that there's an air of pretentiousness here that doesn't enter when Chabon commits to his fiction characters. He complains about having to go to the best writing program he didn't want to attend, instead of the one he did. He likes to pull out and drop names left and right; he expects you to either know his minutiae or study up!
The book itself is gorgeously illustrated (albeit with a few errors some editor missed). The structure supports Chabon's theory. And Chabon is smart! (I wish he didn't feel like he had to prove it!) The writing - these 16 essays - personal and professorial - just don't quite sing from the pages....more
There isn't anything new in this book. If you haven't read a book on habits and how to break them, how to build better patterns, this is a good book tThere isn't anything new in this book. If you haven't read a book on habits and how to break them, how to build better patterns, this is a good book to start. It's engaging; he's a good, easy-to-read author. The one thing Triggers is really missing is data! I just flipped through the book again, and there are maybe a total of 12 bits of data with research behind them. Most of this consists of models the author invented....more
This is an exhaustively thorough book! It has hidden in here a fascinating story of an actor brilliant at many genres (Shakespeare, Restoration, moderThis is an exhaustively thorough book! It has hidden in here a fascinating story of an actor brilliant at many genres (Shakespeare, Restoration, modern farce). However, Gielgud became famous playing fops. (He'd often compete with Noel Coward and Ivor Novello for the same roles.) Yet, he also had to navigate or hide his homosexuality for years and years on end. Scandal wrecked his career for years; he had to keep working to reinstate his deserved reputation.
Three stars? Yes. There probably is a better book by being more brief with Gielgud's exhaustively long resume and concentrating on the larger themes. In fact, many of his productions could've been gleaned from the chronology. Then, the author could just get to how Gielgud's life changed, how his acting changed, how he fought for roles, how his acting revolutionized others' approaches, his homosexuality, the scandals, the years of struggle, his family, his personal and working relations. We don't really need a couple pages every time Gielgud accepted a touring role out to West Swampy Shropshire-Heresford, unless he had to because of the other stuff. Get to the big stuff....more
I just feel like she went in with a forgone conclusion, did no real research, and then strung together tiny bits of data and stories to back up her prI just feel like she went in with a forgone conclusion, did no real research, and then strung together tiny bits of data and stories to back up her preconceived bias. ...more
A salesperson at Bookmarkit in Orlando suggested this. This is an honestly beautiful collection of short stories. I loved "Amputee," "How to Help YourA salesperson at Bookmarkit in Orlando suggested this. This is an honestly beautiful collection of short stories. I loved "Amputee," "How to Help Your Husband Die," and "What the Wolf Wants." However, "Lizard Man" is the absolute best short story I've read since Adam Haslett's "The Beginnings of Grief." I read it three times. ...more
There are enough reviews out there. I will say this. I am looking forward to reading this to a couple small children I know when they get a smidge oldThere are enough reviews out there. I will say this. I am looking forward to reading this to a couple small children I know when they get a smidge older. This is a great introduction for elementary kids to the joys of reading!...more