We’ve been on hiatus for a while, but I’ve had a couple of requests to bring the book club back for Michael Chabon’s latest novel, Telegraph Avenue, and since I want to read it myself, I think it’s worth doing. Let’s do Part I for next Friday.
Stories tagged with “Michael Chabon”
It’s coincidental that they came out so close together, but two recently-published interviews, one with Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon, and the other with William Shatner, present an interesting portrait of the odd institutional bias against genre fiction. Chabon, in an interview with Wired, talked about the way he’d been discouraged from writing genre fiction, even though it was one of his first loves, in his MFA program:
I had been taught early on in college and graduate school that I wouldn’t be taken seriously if I wrote genre fiction, and not only would I not be taken seriously, but people just really didn’t want to read it, like, my workshop mates and my workshop leaders. I had workshop leaders who just out-and-out said, “Please do not turn science fiction in to this workshop.” That was discouraging, obviously, and if I had had more courage and more integrity, I might have stood up to it more than I did, but I wanted to be read, and I wanted to receive whatever benefits there were to be received from the people I was in workshop with, and the teachers I was studying from.
And, you know, I wasn’t looking for a fight, and it wasn’t like I don’t love F. Scott Fitzgerald, and John Cheever, and Vladimir Nabokov, and Eudora Welty, and all those people. I love their work just as much — if not more in some cases — as Arthur C. Clarke, or Frank Herbert, or whoever it might have been. So I had just sort of allowed myself to fall into this channel as a writer that at some point I realized I didn’t want to be limited to anymore.
And William Shatner, talking with Terry Gross, explains how, though he took his work on Star Trek extremely seriously while he was acting on the show—” I applied every talent I had to making it valid and working on story and fighting management and doing the best I could”—he came to feel ashamed of it afterwards, and was bucked up by Patrick Stewart’s commitment to the work:
When I left “Star Trek,” I left it with pride and went on to other things. And then “Star Trek” started to become popular about six years afterwards, as it went into syndication. And then people started talking about, hey, there’s – beam me up, Scotty. And there’s Captain Kirk. And, you know, and then somebody would say: Do you really go where no man has gone before – in that sort of semi-mocking tone that I thought, well, all right. Maybe it wasn’t as good as I thought it was. And maybe I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. And I held myself up defensively.
It was only watching Patrick Stewart – and I have great respect for Patrick, both as an actor and as man. I love him. And the gravitas that this great Shakespearean actor gave to his role, that I suddenly realized that this guy is taking Captain Picard every bit as seriously as Macbeth. And I used to. And I stopped. And what the hell’s the matter with me? It was a great piece of work. Everybody contributed to three years that has lasted 50. It’s a phenomenon. Why aren’t I proud of it? And that’s when I had that moment.
I’ve never really understood the bias against genre fiction. It’s not as if there’s something inherently more praiseworthy about contemplating the present in an entirely realistic way than about considering the possibilities future or the norms of the past. It’s not actually less self-indulgent to revisit and fetishize, say, the sixties or the eighties than to imagine what it would be like to live under an interplanetary government, to settle Mars, or to fight the War of the Roses with powerful metaphors for uncertainty and danger thrown in the mix. That MFA programs and critics have managed to convince people otherwise is evidence that they’re good at preserving the privilege awarded certain kinds of work, not that they’re correct.
The bridge is yours.
-The only celebrity memoir I’d even contemplate purchasing.
-Another reason you should catch up on Enlightened so you can watch it next season.
-Michael Chabon on his life-long relationship with Edgar Rice Burroughs.
-This is basically the perfect role for Ben Stiller:
This post contains spoilers through the first 12 chapters of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Next week, I’m off for Thanksgiving, but for the Friday after that, let’s read through Chapter 25.
One of the things that’s fascinating about alternate histories is which events and impulses the authors think would stay the same. In The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, the United States went to war with Cuba, but the conflict produced a rash of heroin addictions, much as the Vietnam War did. The Israel Lobby may be dedicated to an Alaskan homeland, run by a Jewish COINTELPRO agent who “diverted up to half his operating budget to corrupt the people who had authorized it. He bought senators, baited congressional honeypots, and above all romanced rich American Jews whose influence he saw as critical to his plan,” but it still exists. Six decades in Sitka haven’t undone the Jewish fear of annihilation — as Landsman’s colleague tells him of the tunnel under his hotel “When the greeners got here after the war. The ones who had been in the ghetto at Warsaw. At Bialystock. The ex-partisans. I guess some of them didn’t trust the Americans very much. So they dug tunnels. Just in case they had to fight again. That’s the real reason it’s called the Untershtat.” Hasidic Jews are still ridiculously well-organized, even if they’re turning their talents to crime in Sitka. Sectarian differences still matter. Landsman knows, when he and Berko go visiting, that “He is on their turf. He goes clean-shaven and does not tremble before God. He is not a Verbover Jew and therefore is not really a Jew at all. And if he is not a Jew, then he is nothing.” And while Jews may have swapped Palestinians for American Indians, the specter of violent conflict still looms, whether in a synagogue bombing, or in Berko Shmets’ hammer.