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review 2018-02-28 08:05
Moonglow: Very nonfictiony fiction
Moonglow: A Novel - Michael Chabon

It took a while to get into this one. As I was about to give up, I cheated and skipped to the final chapter, read three sentences, squished my face into an "aww man" and decided I had to know how they got from where I was (chapter 13-ish?) to there. So I turned back with some real chagrin and read on.

 

The more I read, the more I liked the story and the more I liked the story, the more I liked almost everyone involved in this family -- Chabon's family? Good question. I note that it won awards for fiction, but it seems like nonfiction-y fiction or fictionalized nonfiction, or some blend of the two. It's essays, a novel, biography, historic, dramatic, funny and a bunch of other stuff: like a family, I guess. Is it sad? Well, only in the way that everyone's life has some sadness and grief involved. It's not sad overall though, not by a long shot.

Moonglow is a wild ride that starts at the bedside of one man dying which turns into a lifetime, a family's story, a very American story - complete with redemptive arcs, great scenes of cities I love, and real vitality. It feels so real because of the little details and the nuances that I haven't found in Chabon's other work. It's very different from the other work in some ways, yet there's always those metaphors. Apparently he inherited that ability, says the [fictionalized nonfiction-ish] grandfather.

It's clear that Chabon has a very close understanding of the convoluted underpinnings, including street names, neighborhoods, buildings, businesses, and a real love of the family about which he writes. I wish I'd felt the love before I did. It took me a long time to care about these people. I felt rather divorced from the story being told for far too long. It goes on wild tangents -- sometimes they work beautifully (the story of the snake hunting is a prime example of a beautiful tangent that tells a lovely tangent of a story that tells us important things about the main character) and sometimes they just fell flat for me. It was during one of those moments that I almost abandoned the book.

I'm not a skimmer, thank goodness. If one skims in this story, one will miss something that turns out to be vital many pages later. Not in the sense of "what?" but more in the sense of why it matters. I'd imagine it's hard to write a story where all at once you're in the present and past, explaining why someone is finally telling you things you've been angry at them for not telling your whole life. Perhaps this fictionalized way was the only way to get some of this family's secrets out?

It's very hard to believe this is plain ole fiction - no matter how good. (Unless maybe that explains all the awards.) I doubt it's for everyone. I thought it wasn't for me, but I found myself wishing I'd known the family of the narrator (who is never called Michael Chabon, but who has a very similar life to Michael Chabon.) I'm glad I read it, and I was sorry when it ended. I've moved on, but the characters and their warm spirits - especially an awkward, flawed, yet fiercely loving grandfather -- will stay with me for a long time.

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text 2018-02-27 17:59
February Reading
The Tombs of Atuan - Ursula K. Le Guin,Rob Inglis
The Farthest Shore - Ursula K. Le Guin
Pet Rescue Panther - Zoe Chant
Grand Canyon - Vita Sackville-West
Moonglow: A Novel - Michael Chabon
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration - Isabel Wilkerson

Seven books read:

The Tombs of Atuan - Ursula K. Le Guin

The Farthest Shore - Ursula K. Le Guin 

Pet Rescue Panther - Zoe Chant 

Grand Canyon - Vita Sackville-West 

Moonglow: A Novel - Michael Chabon 

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration - Isabel Wilkerson 

Jade City - Fonda Lee (DNF)

 

Women Writers Bingo: 5/25

(Personal take: Finish 25 books by new-to-me female authors in 2018*)

Finished in February: Vita Sackville-West, Isabel Wilkerson

 

Gender Balance:

Fiction: 5 by women, 1 by men, 0 by non-binary

Non fiction: 1 by women, 0 by men, 0 by non-binary

 

Format:

Paper books that I own: 1

Paper books from library: 0

E-books that I own: 3

E-books from library: 0

Audiobooks that I own: 3

 

March Goals:

1. Finish reading for Hugo Award nominations (Prey of the Gods, Winter Tide, that Canadian comicbook).

2. Keep library list from imploding, OMG!

3. Stop ordering fucking library books.

 

*Women Writers Bingo Bonus Points:

5 of those books in translation: 1/5

5 of those books are non-fiction: 1/5 (The Warmth of Other Suns)

 

Bingo Companion Round:

5 books by non-binary authors: 0/5

 

Previous months:

January Reading

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review 2018-02-24 05:31
Huh. I feel like Chabon is backsliding.
Moonglow: A Novel - Michael Chabon

At least in regards to women. I felt like Yiddish Policemen's Union was a massive step up from Chevalier and Clay in that regard, but this was... a step sideways at best.

 

I don't know, maybe I just wasn't feeling this book. It's a pretty self-indulgent project in that it's a fictionalised family biography of his grandfather and himself wrapped together and told out of order, and it never quite gelled for me. I enjoyed a lot of the segments, especially the WWII stuff. I liked the relationship between Chabon and his mom. I liked the humour much of the time.

 

I just never quit developed a strong attachment to the characters, and the different timelines never really told a story in a way that justified the skipping chronology. We get bits of his grandfather in WWII, bits of his childhood, bits of a year in prison, bits of his courtship and tumultuous marriage, bits of a later courtship with another woman, bits of him dying. Almost all of it starring as him being gallant and heroic. The through line is possibly his relationship to rockets and a one-sided rivalry with Werner Von Braun, or it could be his relationship with his manic pixie dream wife. I couldn't really tell, and by the end I didn't care.

 

I'm probably being overly harsh with that description, but it seemed like the purpose of the women in this story was to be difficult, frustrating, slightly mad, and very sexy. We rarely if ever saw the story from their perspective, but we get a series of prostitutes, French girls with mysterious pasts, sexy widows in retirement homes. There's a lot about the grandmother's mental illness, especially in how it effects the men around her (and to some extent her daughter), and very little about what's actually going on in her head or what she wanted. A lot of the interactions involved implied sexual violence.

 

Towards the end, we get a narrative-shattering backstory revelation that more or less sinks without a ripple, and I always came back to the feeling that--rocket obsession aside--I'd much rather be reading the novel that Cabon decided not to write about his grandmother. Too bad he didn't go with that.

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review 2017-07-08 01:14
Review: The Yiddish Policemen's Union
The Yiddish Policemen's Union - Michael Chabon

I liked and disliked different aspects of this book.  This is a detective noir-type story, set in an alternate version of Alaska where most of the Jews were resettled after World War II and have built a Yiddish community.  Despite the alternate history setting, this doesn’t have any science fiction elements.  The alternate history aspect is just there, without explanation.  The story opens up with the main character, Detective Meyer Landsman, discovering that somebody has been murdered in the same hotel where he lives.

 

As you might guess, the book is heavily focused on Jewish culture.  I enjoyed that, just as I usually enjoy books that feature a culture outside my personal experience, but I didn’t understand a lot of what was being said in the beginning.  There’s a glossary in the back of the book but, by the time I thought to look for it, I was a third of the way into the book and had already figured most of it out for myself long ago.  The dictionary on my Kindle was less helpful than usual because most of the words I had trouble with were Yiddish and/or used in a slang context.  The translator function has no idea what to do with Yiddish.  At one point, my dictionary told me a word being used to mean policeman (latke) was a potato pancake.  This may be technically accurate, but I find that policemen and pancakes typically do not do the same types of things in books, and there can be confusion if one mixes the two up.

 

I don’t read many detective noir books, so I’m far from an expert, but this one seemed to have a lot of the overused themes I associate with them:  Our main character is, predictably, told not to investigate this particular murder.  He of course continues to investigate it anyway.  He makes stupid decisions and puts himself in danger that could have been avoided.  He has a lot of personal baggage and a drinking problem.  A lot of seemingly-unrelated events “coincidentally” all turn out to be related.  And the book has so much tobacco in it that somebody who purchased the physical book could probably roll up the pages and smoke them.

 

The story had a slow start, and not just because of the initial terminology confusion.  Most of the information was relevant eventually, but there was a lot of back story provided in the beginning about characters I didn’t much care about.  This book is more character-driven than plot-driven, and I often enjoy those types of books, but I wasn’t that crazy for these characters.  Some of them did grow on me, but I was never that invested.  The main character in particular was a type I have trouble appreciating, and the general atmosphere in his head, where we live throughout the book, is pretty bleak.

 

Despite all my negative comments, I did enjoy the story pretty well.  Every time I picked it up, my attention would wander and I had trouble getting back into it.  Before long, however, I’d find myself several pages further along and caught up in the story again.  There’s a good deal of sarcastic humor, and I particularly enjoyed that.

 

Next Book

Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik, the 7th book in the Temeraire series. 

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review 2017-06-04 12:08
The Scale of a Family
Moonglow: A Novel - Michael Chabon

Readers of Michael Chabon's novels know that he has a wonderful way of mixing reality and fiction, to the extent that the lines can feel very blurred. I noticed this in his "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay," which won him the Pulitzer. Although that novel, (which I really should review someday) focuses on the rise of superhero comic books, with an aside into the realm of magical realism, this book takes on a much more personal form. Here, Chabon takes the last 10 days of his grandfather's life (well, step-grandfather, to be precise) and uses the recounting of the events of this man's life in order to create a fictional biography, or memoir. In this way, Chabon not only makes protagonists out of real-life relatives, but he also places himself and other family members into the cast of characters.

 

Read the rest of my review here.

 

 

Source: drchazan.blogspot.com/2016/12/the-scale-of-family.html
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