From Publishers Weekly
You would hardly think, reading Chabon's new book of essays, that he won the Pulitzer Prize for a book about comics. Rather, he is bitter and defensive about his love for genre fiction such as mysteries and comic books. Serious writers, he says, cannot venture into these genres without losing credibility. No self-respecting literary genius... would ever describe him- or herself as primarily an 'entertainer,' Chabon writes. An entertainer is a man in a sequined dinner jacket, singing 'She's a Lady' to a hall filled with women rubber-banding their underwear up onto the stage. Chabon devotes most of the essays to examining specific genres that he admires, from M.R. James's ghost stories to Cormac McCarthy's apocalyptic work, The Road.
The remaining handful of essays are more memoir-focused, with Chabon explaining how he came to write many of his books. Chabon casts himself as one of the few brave souls willing to face ridicule—from whom isn't entirely clear, though it seems to be academics—to write as he wishes. I write from the place I live: in exile, he says. It's hard to imagine the audience for this book. Chabon seems to want to debate English professors, but surely only his fellow comic-book lovers will be interested in his tirade. (Apr.)
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Chabon declares, “I read for entertainment, and I write to entertain. Period.” But of course there’s much more to his vivid and mischievous literary manifesto in 16 parts than that. A writer of prodigious literary gifts, Chabon brings the velocity, verve, and emotional richness intrinsic to the best of short stories to his exceptionally canny and stirring essays. Musing over the various literary traditions he riffs on in his many-faceted novels, he concludes, “All novels are sequels; influence is bliss.” Chabon zestfully praises the many allures of genre fiction and celebrates writers, among them Vonnegut and Byatt, who infuse their fiction with “the Trickster spirit of genre-bending and stylistic play.” He offers a fresh and affecting take on Arthur Conan Doyle and pays witty and provocative tribute to M. R. James, a seemingly serene British author of superb horror and ghost stories. Norse myths, Will Eisner, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road are all are interpreted with acuity and vigor. And then there are Chabon’s hilarious and puckish personal essays about his early writing misadventures and evolving sense of Jewishness. A writer so versatile he seems to be a master of disguises, Chabon provides invaluable keys to his frolicsome creativity and literary chutzpah in this truly entertaining collection. --Donna Seaman
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