I love Michael Chabon. I hate Michael Chabon.

Love him because he’s so damn good. Hate him for the same reason.

I first fell under his spell during a casual encounter with The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and then descended into hopeless obsession this summer, between the pages of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Here’s a brief passage from the first essay in Manhood for Amateurs, on the sheer hubris of trying make art in the first place:

“Every work of art is one half of a secret handshake, a challenge that seeks the password, a heliograph flashed from a tower window, an act of hopeless optimism in the service of bottomless longing…Art, like fandom, asserts the possibility of fellowship in a world built entirely from the materials of solitude. The novelist, the cartoonist, the songwriter, knows that the gesture is doomed from the beginning but makes it anyway, flashes his or her bit of mirror, not on the chance that the signal will be seen or understood but as if such a chance existed.”

See what I mean?

12 thoughts on “I love Michael Chabon. I hate Michael Chabon.

  1. I would love to hear him speak. I’m loving this book of essays—his mastery of language makes me want to jump up and down and pump my fist in the air. Actually, I *do* those things when I read him. 🙂

  2. I absolutely loved reading Yiddish Policemen’s Union! It was ingeniously conceived and fantastically written. I wish I could even come close to creating something that good. So yeah, I know what you mean.

  3. I do see what you mean, that’s a great paragraph. I have a MC book next to my bedside, Maps and Legends, and I felt the same way when I read the first chapter. Maybe art is the biproduct of some other process…something the artist wiggles his way out of and kindly leaves behind for us mere mortals as a sort of parting gift.

    • Well said!

      You’re obviously an MC expert. Which of his novels should I read next? I’ve only read “Kavalier and Clay” and “Yiddish Policemen’s…”

      • Thanx. I’m not an expert at all, though perhaps I should be : ). I just bought that book on a high I got from finding the first chapter entrancing. I do recall feeling Wonderboys (the movie) somewhat interesting, it made me cry like a baby because I realized I had a similar problem the main character in the movie had — he didn’t know how to make choices in his work. I remember that killed me. And I felt his pain at not knowing the first thing about prioritizing his experiences, or even really wanting to. Part of what I enjoy in life is not placing a value on experiences. I don’t know why I always thought I was doing a good thing, keeping them pure and clean, free from the crippling grip of significance.

  4. I bought this book on a whim along with 5 others at one of those going-out-of-business-please-buy-all-of-our-books-for-ridiculously-cheap sales and now I’m anxious to see what’s under the cover!

  5. By happy coincidence, I just picked this book up at the Borders clearance sale for next to nothing. And wow! It’s heartbreaking and engaging and basically everything you just said you love/hate him for.

    As a parent, my favorite essay is the one about his kids’ art.

    • That’s exactly where I got my copy! And I just read the art essay not five minutes ago. I’m not a parent, but it still resonated.

  6. Dude is a genius.

    Check out “Wonder Boys,” and then see the excellent Curtis Hanson adaptation. When he spoke in St. Paul, he thought the timbre of the movie matched the book very well, and yes, he’s totally inspiring. I have the ‘secret handshake’ quote pasted in my office!

  7. I’m going to need to read some more of his stuff. I’ve only read The Amazing Adventures of K and C, but The Yiddish Policemen’s union sounds interesting.

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