Sunday, January 20, 2013

Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Hindenburg and Empire State Building, 1936. (
Michael Chabon has become one of my favorite writers, based largely on The Yiddish Policeman's Union, The Mysteries of Pitsburgh, and numerous essays. I've had The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay on my list for years, and it's considered to be his masterpiece (thus far). This is the first book I purchased just for my Kindle -- to mark the occasion, so to speak.

The story is immediately engaging, plunging the reader into the world of Prague on the eve of World War II. The Kavalier family is determined to get their oldest son, Josef, out of Prague and to the safety of America as the Nazi presence becomes increasingly hostile to the Jewish community. Josef is a budding "escapist" in the tradition of Houdini, and this becomes his only route out of Czechoslovakia, concealed in a coffin, bound for Lithuania, which contains not only the refugee, but also the famed Golem, a revered object that the Jews of Prague want to save from Nazi depredations.

This fantastic exploit delivers the Golem to a new hiding place, and by a long route, Josef, to his relatives in Brooklyn, the Klaymans. His cousin Samuel, at work for a novelty company, finds that Josef is an accomplished artist, which feeds into his own ambition to get into the new phenomenon of comic books. Together, they create The Escapist and enter the highly competitive world of comics in the Golden Era of the genre -- the late 30s and 40s. I won't belabor the plot points and descriptions of other characters. It is, above all, a wonderful story -- fully developed characters inhabiting a world, rich in detail -- the landscape of New York in the 40s providing the backdrop for Chabon's fertile imagination. I chose the picture of the Empire State Building above because it figures so importantly in the mythology and action of the novel.

The book that I chose as my first ebook download from our local library was Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It was a quick read and entertaining. I would recommend it as a vacation-friendly book, nothing too taxing.

I can't imagine giving up my physical library -- there's too much pleasure to be had from the handling of books that you love, especially those from authors that are favorites. And there's also the weird, limbo-land of digital "ownership." Is it really yours? It's pretty hard to loan books to friends and family this way. And if I were not a particularly savvy person who didn't back up my library safely, how much trouble would it be to retrieve the books that I lost even after I legitimately purchased them, not to mention the issue of changing formats, if I decided I like the Nook or some other reader better? But, for books that you want to read but aren't that interested in adding to your library, or for out-of-copyright, freely-available books that you can download -- the Kindle certainly is a convenient and lightweight alternative. It's probably worth it's price just for traveling with an adequate library to hand. I'll just be looking for a nice edition of Chabon's Kavalier and Clay in its antique form to grace my physical bookshelves.

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