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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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text 2017-02-09 00:10
So, can we talk about this book?
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - Michael Chabon

Because this book isn't about comics, not really.   It's about the people who write comics - and there's a huge difference.   Someone suggested that I write about K&C in my essay for Simmons.   Except I haven't read it.   I've tried, once, but I ran screaming after about the first twenty pages.  I found it bloated and pretentious.   I've never tried another Chabon, that's how turned off I was by this book.

 

Furthermore, I'm more interested in the general history of comics - what politics formed the way comics were made - or creators talking about how they came up with comics.   Like when Stan Lee says that chose gamma rays for the Hulk because they 'sounded the coolest' and that he didn't know about science?   Alright.  I don't want to know about all your personal stories, though.   I love Stan Lee, but it's because he created something I love.   (And from what I know, he seems pretty awesome: kind, willing to poke fun at himself, etc.)   That being said, I don't want to know about comic creators in great detail for the same reason I don't seek them out on Twitter: I want my comics to be pure entertainment.  I don't want to know the traumas that created these characters so I don't have to dwell on them and can just enjoy them.  I also don't want to know my favorite creator is a secret racist, or wife beater, or whatever.  I just want to enjoy my comics.

 

So, the other thing about this book?  It's like saying, 'well, if you like comics, do I have some real literature for you!'   Sighs.   No.  I read comics for a reason, and if I want to read prose that is comic related, I have so, so many tie-in novels.   Not to mention, Abnett's Groot and Rocket was scathing satire on business.   And a prose superhero novel.   Go figure!   

 

Champions has said more about the current world clime than most books I read, and can do so more quickly: once a month, I get some more commentary on the world we live in.   The issue about Muslim radicals denying women education was not only incredibly smart, it was empowering in that those women needed help - but wanted to be part of the solution.   The Champions were willing to do their beatdown, not even giving a second through the next incursion of radicals.   The women not only stood up the radicals, but also to the Champions, saying, 'no, we need this, and we need it done this way, and this is why.'   

 

That takes guts.   (Also, please note all the Muslims in their country were willing to let the women get education until the first terrorists came in.   This book was in no way trying to say 'all Muslims,' or put down any religion.   They were just acknowledging that this was a problem for some people.)

 

So why is the first recommendation for a comic lover a prose book?   A long prose book that has very little about what I love about comics: the mythic elements, the superpowers, the visuals, the soap opera elements?   Because I get suggested this a lot, with the side of 'if you haven't read it yet.'  

 

If it's not a customer, and just a random recommendation there's a stony silence, followed by 'no, no I haven't.'    If there's a customer involved, I just shrug and say I haven't.   And they tell me I have to, and I secretly think I'd rather gouge my eyes out than finish that book. 

 

So, so boring.   So bored.   So much bored.   

 

I think I just twitched and snapped because this dude has recommended K&C before.   Multiple times.   Please don't.   Please stop.   Like everyone, please stop.   Comic book fans will not automatically like this book.  I'm sure there are some that do.  I am not one of them.   Instead, you can try suggesting a book like Watchmen, that made the Times list of 100 best novels.  Or Maus, Art Spiegleman's biography that tells the tell of his father's experiences during the Holocaust.   Or even Vision, which is one of the most nuanced books I've had the pleasure of reading or rereading.  If you're feeling overly ambitious, suggest More Than Meets the Eye, or Lost Light, James Roberts' opus which is, in my mind, the best comic being put out today.   And Lost Light in particular is uncannily timely, given our current president.   I mean, you won't have anyone take you seriously; they shut down as soon as they realize it's a Transformers comic. 

 

My point is, no, thanks.   I read prose for a different reason than I read comics, and right now?   I'm in a huge comic book mood.  I'll read that, thanks!  

 

What do you think?   Have you read this book?    Do you like it?   Am I being too harsh because I want something more quickly paced when comics, so maybe I just had the wrong expectations?   Or have you read it and also disliked this book?   

 

Do you disagree and believe this is a reasonable suggestion for someone who likes comics?   I'm eager to hear what you guys think.  It's unlikely that I'll pick this up again, but who knows?   Maybe I will someday!

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review 2016-09-01 03:55
The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
The Yiddish Policemen's Union - Michael Chabon

I’ll admit that I more or less gave up on reading this book on page twenty-six, when I was completely overwhelmed by the prospect of sitting through hours and hours and almost four hundred more pages of what I had read so far. So I started skimming, reading a sentence or two in this paragraph, then skipping on to the next and so on because there were just that many information dumps. There was also far too much chess. I read most of the dialogue, and I think I got the gist of the rest of it. It wasn’t so much skimming as absorbing by sight without really reading. It’s probably a bad sign that I was able to do that.

 

Anyway, the funny thing is that I had been really looking forward to reading this book because it had be on my to-read list for quite a while, and I was curious about checking out the author. I was not impressed. The present tense bothered me from the very first page, and there was this weird occasional usage of the second person in the narrative instead of the passive voice. Mostly I was bored. The only thing I liked was the typeface.

 

 

 

Edited to add title to post. And to substitute typeface for typesetting. I must be tired.

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text 2016-08-31 03:20
Reading progress update: I've read 304 out of 432 pages.
The Yiddish Policemen's Union - Michael Chabon

I've only gotten this far by skimming a lot of paragraphs. Not so much the dialogue, just a lot of the long descriptive info-dump portions. The book has an insanely high number of those. Guess what? You can mostly just skip them.

 

And what's with the random use of the second person pronoun instead of the passive voice in the middle of the narrative? This is the second time I remember noticing it:

"You reach the loft by a steep companionway at the back, next to the kitchenette."

The other instance was on page 131:

"You come into a wainscoted hall, a door at the far end, on the left a wooden stair leading up to the second floor."

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