Michael Chabon on Families of Choice and His Influences

Posted by Cybil on November 26, 2016




The beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon whose works include The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Wonder Boys, and Telegraph Avenue, is back with his highly anticipated "speculative memoir," Moonglow.

Goodreads talked to Chabon about his new novel, his writing style, and his influences. You can read the interview in its entirety here.


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GR: Goodreads user Vickie asks, "Do you see a common idea or truth that connects your works?"

MC: I think there are a lot of sort of fairly common motifs or themes in my work. A lot about relationships between fathers and sons, a lot about other relationships between men, whether they are creative partners like Kavalier and Clay, or comrades, colleagues, detectives, like in the Yiddish Policeman's Union, or swords for hire, like in Gentlemen of the Road, or lovers like in The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, or best friends, as in Wonder Boys, and in Telegraph Avenue they are both best friends and business partners.

Also, families of choice versus families of origin. People making their own families [and] rejecting, or having lost, their families of birth. Identity, inventing yourself, ways of inventing yourself or finding yourself…the quest of redefining yourself, the power of imagination…Jewish identity, Jewish history and themes…the Second World War, the Holocaust.

GR: What books or authors would you say are your greatest influences?


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MC: The really important, strong influences happened early. Some of my earliest, more important, influences [ranged] from Edgar Allen Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ursula K. Le Guin, fiction and fantasy writers, too; at the other end of things, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Cheever, Barry Hannah, Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, Vladimir Nabokov.

A lot of it was about being affected by the literary style of the writer. Being affected very strongly and then trying to imitate that writer. And learning by imitation I really do think is the single best way to learn how to write. Just by frankly, freely, and openly imitating the writing of writers who get you going. The writing that gets you going, that gets you excited. Passion and enthusiasm come and go and influences fade…what you're left with is how to put sentences together from imitating a writer who is really good at knowing how to do that. After a while, that issue of being overly influenced fades away.

What's left for me is enthusiasm. There are writers whose books I will still pick up—even Edgar Allen Poe, or Barry Hannah, or some more recent writer like David Mitchell, even if I've read the book before, just to read a page or two and kind of bring back to me the excitement of their prose. Like The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, I love that book so much. I don't think I write like Michael Ondaatje at all, but I can sort of prime the pump for myself of writing by just picking up that book and reading any paragraph or two. I want to make something that makes someone as excited to read as me reading that. It's so reliable. It's become less about influence and more about enthusiasm.

GR: What are you reading now?

MC: I just finished reading Zadie Smith's forthcoming novel, Swing Time, which is just wonderful. She's such an amazing writer. And I love that book so much.

Read our entire interview with Michael Chabon. You can also add more of his novels to your Want to Read list.


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