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Books currently being read

I'm finally getting around to reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. The reason why it's taken so long for me to read this book is because, when it won the Pulitzer Prize and got famous about 15 years ago, this immediately compelled everybody in my extended family who vaguely knew I was into comics to go "This book has comics in it! [personal profile] sholio likes comics! [personal profile] sholio should read this!" Which of course made me obstinately not want to read it, combined with a suspicion that it was going to ping my wrong-dar in all kinds of ways. A few years ago my mother-in-law gave me a copy, and I finally decided I needed to either read the damn thing or get rid of it, so I'm now reading it ...

.... and it's borderline un-putdownable, damn it. XD Considering this is a topic I know quite a lot about (the comics business), it really does seem to be hitting most of the right notes, allowing for a bit of Chabon's over-the-topness. There have been a few little things that have made me twitch (I need to make a post about the Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Artists one of these days) but in general I'm really enjoying it.

Actually, it's interesting reading the book now instead of 15 years ago, because I'd gone into it with the idea that it was a fictionalized version of Seigel & Shuster creating Superman (I think that was the general impression that reviews of the book left me with, probably because Superman is the superhero the public is most familiar with, or was back in the early 2000s before the Marvel Universe got so popular in films) but no, it is FAR MORE NERDY than that: it's a fictionalized version of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon creating Captain America.

In fact, the main characters themselves are a fascinating mash-up of actual Kirby/Simon (working-class Jewish cartoonist) and fictional Steve Rogers (Brooklyn-based disabled son of a single mom who works as a nurse). After reading a ton of MCU fanfic in which 1930s Brooklyn is basically a post-apocalyptic dystopia, it is definitely a change of pace to switch over to a historical novel which has literally the exact same setup as most 1930s-era CA fanfic -- poor Brooklyn artist and son of single mom tries to get by -- in which Brooklyn is a place where people actually have rather happy and fulfilling lives rather than a wasteland of rat-infested tenements, and being working-class immigrant poor equates to not always paying the rent on time and having to be careful not to use up all of one's drawing paper before the next paycheck, as opposed to eating out of garbage cans and blowing sailors on the docks for rent money.

In the part of the book I'm reading right now, the character who is an obvious mash-up of Joe Simon (real-life cartoonist who is one-half of the team that created Captain America) and pre-serum Steve Rogers is dating the tall blond football-star-esque guy who plays their fictional comic hero creation on the radio, The Escapist, who is the book's equivalent of Captain America. I can't figure out if this is meta or surrealist or ... I DON'T EVEN KNOW. This book isn't fanfic -- it doesn't feel that way -- but it is informed by not just the real-life events it's riffing on, but also the comics themselves, and I WOULD say by the fanfic except it was written a decade and a half before the movie came out and the fandom blew up into something huge.

I think it threw me a little because I was not expecting the book to be this ... nerdy? Or quite this affectionately, blatantly pulpy? Or something. However, I think I can honestly say that the book approaches comics and 1930s pulp fiction in almost exactly the same way that The Yiddish Policeman's Union approached noir mystery: it actually is the thing it's commenting on (more or less), but it's also a meta-commentary on the genre itself. It's also very funny, in an often bleak kind of way.

(I am still quite a ways from the ending, so PLEASE DO NOT SPOIL ME, thanks!)

This entry is also posted at http://sholio.dreamwidth.org/1035017.html with comment count unavailable comments.
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I have that book on the top of my to-read pile right now! (...okay it's been somewhere in the pile for a while now, naye read it a few years back and had such a glowing recommendation that I bought it right away...and then failed to read, whoops.) Maybe I should start it!
You should! :D I truly can't gauge how much you'd like it (sometimes I have a really good feel for how much a person would like a book, but in this case, I could go either way) but I am finding it absolutely addictive, and very affectionate towards comics and general nerd-pursuits of the era. And then we can talk about it! :D
Skuld is super into Chabon, and I was feeling a lot like you about the book - basically a snobbish kind of 'if everyone says I should then I don't want to read it'. Then she found a copy in a charity shop (second hand store) and I started leafing through it only to discover what you're finding out too: it's really hard to put down!

Fascinating to hear your take on the inspiration to the story - I know very little about American comics, so I missed all that!
hahaha, yes, EXACTLY. I think Yiddish Policeman's Union is still my favorite of his books, because ALASKA NOIR, but I am really having fun with this book! And it's so weird/interesting reading it after a year or so spent in the fandom for the exact comic that the book is doing a fictional riff on (as well as having a general knowledge of the comics industry from having been tangentially involved in it a number of years ago).
LJ just ate my comment! I has a sad!

The shorter version: yes, I think it's very meta and surreal. I wish I'd been in a better place in my mind when I read it this year, because I think I ought to have enjoyed it more.

Thank you for sorting out the Kirby-Simon-CA connections! I had something like that in my head but kept thinking I was projecting. And I don't know anything about Joe Simon (and relatively little about Jack Kirby), which didn't help.

I didn't know if Sam would even acknowledge to himself that he was gay, so my mind was blown when he started going out with Tracy!

I'm glad you're enjoying it.
Oh no! So sorry about LJ's commentavore tendencies. :(

Oh yes, I think the book is VERY strongly drawing on Kirby and Simon (even to some of the smaller details -- for example, Kirby pioneered romance comics after the war, and his wife helped him as an inker for many years). That said, I almost wonder if the book might be a different (better?) experience if you don't have that background of comics history. I am enjoying finding the connections, but it's almost uncomfortable at times -- the characters are such a weird blend of fiction and reality that there are times when it skirts close to my RPF squick.

(I haven't finished it yet; I'm reading quite slowly due to general lack of free time.)
I was so excited to read Kavalier and Clay! I bought a copy ~7 years ago before a long plane flight. And...just kept bouncing off it. Which still makes me cranky because I loved Yiddish Policeman's Union and I love the idea and I want to like it.

(although, actually, thinking about it, that book was my sudden "after decades of diving into all the Holocaust literature I could get my hands on, I suddenly Can Not Handle It" moment (not that the book is really Holocaust literature).

Anyway. I should really try it again sometime. Does it change tone at all, 50-100 pages in?
tbh, I think if you were still bouncing off after 50-100 pages, you'd continue bouncing off. Though I suppose it depends on what was making you bounce off. There are a number of tonal shifts and the book is actually quite funny in places, but if the thing that was giving you trouble was the book's general darkness and the WWII setting ... yyyyeaaaahhhh. I agree that it's not a Holocaust book, but it is heavily informed by it, and it goes SUPER dark for a while.

I also think Yiddish Policeman's Union is a somewhat better book, though in honesty I really enjoyed (am enjoying) both of them.
I read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay way back when it first came out, but not being a comics fan myself, I had never even heard of Captain America, and so assume it was about the creation of Superman! Now that I – like everyone else – have seen the MCU movies, I'd be interested to go back and reread it, and see how my impression has changed.

Also, that is a hilariously accurate description of MCU fanfic.

However, I think I can honestly say that the book approaches comics and 1930s pulp fiction in almost exactly the same way that The Yiddish Policeman's Union approached noir mystery: it actually is the thing it's commenting on (more or less), but it's also a meta-commentary on the genre itself.

Have you read Chabon's 'The Gentlemen of the Road'? It's my favorite book of his, and takes this same approach to old-school Sword & Sorcery (particularly Fritz Leiber). I highly recommend it!
You should reread! :D It is SUCH a Captain America riff. Despite having a kinda-sorta background in the industry, I think I would not have understood half the references and metaphors in the book if not for being in CA fandom for the time I was. Plus, all the Brooklyn stuff is both interesting and hilarious for having read so much MCU fanfic. XD

And I have not read Gentlemen of the Road! But it is very much on my to-read list! It looks like something I would really enjoy, and I've actually meant to read it since around the time I read Yiddish Policeman's Union (which was quite awhile ago, now).
I read it quite a few years ago, before I got into Captain America, and I didn't care for it. There is something in particular that happens later on in the book that really soured it for me, but I won't spoil it for you.

Although now I may take a look at it again with the Captain America angle...
I haven't finished yet, because I'm busy, but I will be back after I finish it to ask what it was that turned you off the book! I'm still enjoying it, but I do feel that the book starts to drag when the time-skips start getting longer (I'm into the last third of it now).