Chabon and Me

I wrote the title of this post like it was something that you should be caring about, like Roger and Me or some other kind of activism where I show you things and tell you things with the pictures and you have a genuine emotional response that makes you cringe and smile and cry little baby tears.

I hope that doesn’t happen.

I just finished Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends. I got it for free during McSweeney’s advent sale along with some other things. I didn’t have many expectations for the book; Chabon is one of the literary darlings of the self-aware, slipstream, “call-it-what-it-is” contemporary literature establishment. Most of that last sentence doesn’t mean anything.

I was aware of Chabon much like I am aware of most of the people that are associated with McSweeney’s. I read about them, I read clever little excerpts, and I don’t buy their books. I don’t have a proper reason why I don’t buy the books, really. I just don’t.

But the Christmas deal was way too sweet, and so I started reading Maps and Legends while avoiding work on the finals and papers and whatever that I have been doing over the past couple weeks.

Chabon and I don’t agree on a lot. I don’t think that we agree on much of anything at all, actually. The book comes down on three different themes, really, and they are: fiction for children, short stories, and what creation means to an author. I don’t think that Chabon is doing a great deal of new work in any of these categories.

Chabon says that we need to make things for kids again. We do that. YA literature is probably the fastest growing market, and comic books are in there too, with Mini Marvels and Tiny Titans and any number of kids books doing really, really well. Chabon says that short stories need to get back to their roots of horror-sciencefiction-fantasy-whatever. They are still at those roots. Some of the most successful authors in the contemporary period are using those things to tell stories. Not everything that is published goes into The New Yorker. Those markets still exist. Chabon says that creating is creating is creating. Sure. People write, craft golems, do whatever. They make things and we are complicit in that.

I was just unhappy with the book. Everything seems to come down to Chabon’s anecdotes about his history, about the way he writes, about the way he experienced certain media. And that would be fine, actually, if the bulk of the essays did anything more that summarize. The real shining essays of the book, like the one on The Road and another called “The Other James,” are really just pieces of journalism at their core. Not meat. Not theory or speaking to why these things matter. I don’t even have to read the His Dark Materials books anymore. Chabon basically read them to me.

So I’m wasn’t impressed. I’m not sure what this blog post was actually for.

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6 Responses to Chabon and Me

  1. It’s a bummer that the book wasn’t any good. The only thing I’ve read by Chabon is Kavalier and Clay, which I don’t know if you’ve seen, but I really, really liked it. It focused a lot on why comics do matter, and did in the golden age, and I thought it was really well done.

    • kunzelman says:

      It could just be that Chabon and I read and think about things in such a diametrically opposed manner that I don’t “get” what he’s saying. K&C is good, but Chabon is really quick to get into “the past was good because…”, which is a nostalgia that I don’t particularly have.

      • That makes sense. I think I have a much higher tolerance for that kind of writing if it’s fictional–it seems more acceptable to have made-up people think that than it does to have people actually think that, for whatever reason.

        • kunzelman says:

          Right, and thought he’s quick to admit that he can become super nostalgic, stealing the thunder doesn’t make it less boring or silly-seeming to me.

  2. Scu says:

    I’ve never read his non-fiction. But I still like several of his novels (and others not so much).

    • kunzelman says:

      This is his only book of non-fiction, and I understand why. He’s a much better fiction writer, and once he starts in on his “creative nonfiction” work, Maps and Legends is decent. It’s the heart of the argument that’s boring.

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