me, several co-workers, a very tired Thomas and Michael Chabon at the signing for The Yiddish Policeman's Union

“No doubt all of this is not true remembrance but the ruinous work of nostalgia, which obliterates the past, and no doubt, as usual, I have exaggerated everything.”  (The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, p. 297)

He isn’t just the writer of two of my favorite books.  He is the author of a Pulitzer Prize winning novel that I rank as the second best novel so far this century.  He is an accomplished author of literary fiction who has nonetheless veered off into genre after being established.  He is the only Pulitzer winner for Fiction to win either the Hugo or the Nebula for Best Novel and he won both for the same book.  He has allowed comic books and pulp fiction to influence and inform his work and remembered that many of the best short stories of last century were genre stories.  He has branched out and proven he can also write essays, comic books and even films.  He is Michael Chabon.

My Chabon collection - six paperbacks, four 1st Edition hardcovers and an advance reader

Chabon falls into that short list of authors of whom I will buy their work as soon as it comes out in hardcover.  As I have already pointed out, he won me over instantly when I first read Wonder Boys (more to the point, I was won over instantly just watching the trailer for the film).  Within the next few months, I had read his first three books – a novel and two short story collections – but I was slackjawed upon reading Kavalier and Clay when it came out that fall.  He had done what I always wanted to do – he had written a brilliant novel with comic books at the very core.  Of course, you could tell he loved comics already – the best hint being the firm where Grady’s wife works in Wonder Boys (Richards, Reed, located in The Baxter Building).

“And then they took the first road that led out of the city, unmindful of whether it turned east or south, their direction a question of no interest to either of them, their destination already intimately known, each of them wrapped deep in his thick fur robes and in the solitude that they had somehow contrived to share.”  (Gentlemen of the Road, p. 196)

  • The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988)
    • The graduate thesis that became the novel that put him on the map.  His adviser at UCI submitted it without telling him and suddenly Chabon was an established writer at age 25.  It is funny and bittersweet, its sexual confusion caused him to get lumped in as a “gay” writer.  The sexual ambiguity of the narrator is a theme that runs through much of his later fiction and Chabon was grateful that the mistake opened some doors to new readers.  A good first novel, though you should ignore the film.
  • A Model World and Other Stories (1991)
    • Chabon’s first short story collection.
  • Wonder Boys (1995)
    • His magnificent second novel.  A brilliant book, one of my favorite of all-time and currently sitting at #49 on my all-time list.  Written after he abandoned Fountain City, which has finally appeared in a short form, and which was the subject of an essay the other day in the New York Times.
  • Werewolves in Their Youth (1999)
    • His second short story collection.  It contains the wonderful horror story In the Black Mill, which he wrote under the name of August Van Zorn, his pulp writer character from Wonder Boys, setting the stage for later writing the comic books created by Kavalier and Clay.

      my signed title page of Kavalier and Clay - complete with the Golden Key that Chabon drew

  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000)
    • His amazing Pulitzer Prize winner.  It ranks as my #2 novel of what was the first decade and, now that we are into the second decade, the century.  It will eventually appear in my Top 100.
  • Summerland (2002)
    • His kids novel – an attempt to create a kind of fantasy world for America – the way the Brits have Narnia and Middle-Earth (or at least, that’s what he said when I saw him reading from it).
  • The Final Solution: A Story of Detection (2004)
    • A short little lark – the final story of Sherlock Holmes, written a century after Doyle.
  • The Yiddish’s Policeman’s Union (2007)
    • A widely imaginative novel.  This is the story of a detective in the Sitka District of Alaska – where the Jews have settled since the collapse of the Israeli state in 1948.  He is a shambles of a man (I picture him in the same vein as Dirk Gently).  What is so great about this book is that it is not only a fascinating detective story, but also great alternate history.  You know – what The Man in the High Castle could have been had it actually been interesting.
  • Gentlemen of the Road (2007)
    • Jews with Swords was what he originally thought of calling it.  A grand adventure in the style of a Douglas Fairbanks film that was originally serialized in The New York Times.
  • Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands (2008)
    • His book of essays.  It is useful and fascinating as he talks, not only about other writers, but also about his own work, how it developed and how he ended up where he was.
  • Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son (2009)
    • A book about being a father and a husband.  Much different than anything he has written, but still interesting.

Next up, hopefully, will be Telegraph Avenue.  If you have ever had any experience of Berkeley, you know exactly where the title comes from.  It is supposed to be his return to literary fiction.  In the meantime, there is also the news that he and his wife will be working on a series for HBO.  And of course, the list above doesn’t include the editing he did for McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, the issues of The Escapist that he wrote for Dark Horse or the script for Spider-Man 2. He’s still not yet 50 and he’s going strong.

the covers of my Chabon collection

“The young men listen dutifully, for the most part, and from time to time some of them even take the trouble to go over to the college library, and dig up one or another of his novels, and crouch there, among the stacks, flipping impatiently through the pages, looking for the parts that sound true.”  (Wonder Boys, p. 367-68)

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