Michael Chabon – Story Hour in the Library

in January we we inaugurated story hour in the library with a reading by Oakley Hall Micheal Chabon interviewed him also I'd like to read something may 16 2008 Oakley Hall 87 novelist attuned to the Old West is dead Oakley Hall the author of the novels warlock and downhill racers and literary heir to fellow California writers like Wallace Stegner died Monday at his home in Nevada City he was 87 mr. Hall began his career writing tightly constructed mystery novels produced a steady stream of works most set in the American West of which the best known is warlock a fictional reimagining of the gunfight at the OK Corral called one of the best American novels in a holiday magazine review by Thomas Pynchon the book retains a cult following and inspired the name of a rock group Oklahoma Oakley graduated from the University of California Berkeley in 1943 for nearly 20 years until his retirement in 1990 mr. Hall directed the Writing Program at the University of California Irvine where his students included Richard Ford and Michael Schaben in 1969 he helped found the Squaw Valley community of writers in Nevada City a summer Writers Conference where his students included Amy Tan we're dedicating something just briefly tonight in honor of oakley who was our inaugural reader I'd like to read something from warlock this is right at the end of the book and it is a letter from Henry Holmes Goodpasture who was the store keeper to his grandson Gavin who was at Yale and it's dated 1924 San Francisco and whole of the plot of warlock takes place in the early 1880s in the fictitious town of warlock and so good pasture is talking about clay Blaisdell who comes as marshal and he was a gunfighter and also about a gentleman named Caleb Bain who was writing cheap Western fiction he says to his grandson I noticed in a recent volume of Western memoirs that Blaisdell is spoken of more as a semi-fictional hero than an actual man but he was a man I can attest to that who have seen him eat and drink and breathe and bleed and despite the fictions of Bain and his ilk there have not been many like him nor like Morgan Norma Kohn nor John Gannon but sometimes I feel as perhaps you may feel looking back on the stories of these men I told you about when you were a youngin that I myself was a fictionalised with an imagination as active as that of Bain or that of my own mind as old men will do I had gradually stylized and simplified these happenings that I had fancifully glorified these people and sought to give them superhuman stature I cry out in pain that is not so and all the same time come to doubt myself but I kept a journal through these years and although the ink is fading on the yellowing pages it is still legible one of these days if you're interested beyond merely trying to bulwark your arguments with a classmate those pages shall be yours now that your letter has caused me to call to memory all those people and those years I find myself wishing most intently that I had left to me more time and the powers to flesh out my journals into the true history of warlock in all of its ramifications before the man who was Blaisdell and the other men and women and the town in which they lived are totally obscured and so less that Oakley Hall is not totally obscured in this library there are very few but very significant people commemorated one is a picture of Jim Jordan who died in 2002 she's the founder of poetry for the people Josephine miles a wonderful poet and faculty member the poetry alcove is named after her Denis Koran who was an early publisher is has a poetry collection there so we are now going to add to this wonderful collection Oakley Hall and soon we will have a picture to that effect that says Oakley Hall 19 20 2008 author teacher Cal alumnus class of 43 thank you and I hope you join me it's my pleasure tonight to welcome Michael Chabon who really needs no introduction especially in Berkeley so I'll keep it short Michael is the author most recently of the get assha policeman's Union and gentlemen of the road as well as maps and legends which is his first nonfiction work his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and clay won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001 he's won numerous other honors including the Hugo and nebula prizes for the Yiddish policeman's Union there's so much pleasure to be found in Michael's writing the sparkling limber prose the characters who struggles and strivings become as real to us as our own the sweep of his imagination and the breadth of his knowledge but what I love about reading Michael's work most is that I always know that I'm going to get a great story in our literary Age of lyrical navel-gazing and tiny epiphanies it's exhilarating to encounter a writer who revels in the pleasure of story who understands how hard it is to construct plot and who does it so well it's a little strange even to be so entertained by literary fiction because so often we associate entertainment with the mass-produced explosions of Hollywood in his introduction to the best American short stories of 2005 Michael writes about our beliefs about our own pleasures entertainment he says we believe skirts the black heart of life and drowns life's lambent see in a halogen glare intelligent people must keep a certain distance from its productions they must handle the things that entertain them with gloves of irony and postmodern tongs entertainment in short means junk and too much junk is bad for you bad for your heart your arteries your mind your soul may be the reason for the junk enos of so much of what pretends to entertained us is that we have accepted indeed we have helped to articulate such a narrow two based concept of entertainment the brain is an organ of entertainment sensitive at any depth and over a wide spectrum but we have learned to mistrust and despise our human aptitude for being entertained and in that sense we get the entertainment he does we deserve but he adds I read for entertainment and I write to entertain period a writer to whom we can turn to not only for edification but also pleasure as a writer to be cherished please join me in welcoming welcoming Michael Chabon thank you thank you Wow now I feel like that the lyrics from that Nirvana song are coming to mind here we are now entertain us I probably won't be able to now so I apologize in advance um I just wanted to say before I get started thank you all for coming and but I just wanted to second what David was saying about Oklahoma was my teacher at UC Irvine and was a very important teacher in my life and a very important writer and that book warlock that David read to you from is a wonderful wonderful novel and everyone should go out and buy it immediately before I begin the last thing that I want to say is just I forgot to put my Obama pin on my lapel so just imagine imagine that there's a slope in this as hope right there while I'm reading so I didn't this I didn't do a book tour for this book gentleman in the road because it came out the same year as you – policeman's Union which came out in May of oh seven and this came out in November of October of oh seven and I just couldn't face the prospect of doing another book tour so I didn't so i I've never read from this book out loud and so this is the first time I'm going to do it tonight I hope I'm up to it has long sentences I wrote this novel originally as a serialized novel that was published in the New York Times Sunday magazine they called me and asked me if I would be interested in trying that it was a fourteen part novel each part had to be exactly 2,000 words long and no longer and I had this idea to do something that would be set in the world of the kazars the Hazare's were were the people they were a Turkic people related to present-day people's living in like Kazakhstan and that part of the world and some point in about the year eight or nine hundred they converted more or less on mass to Judaism and they became this Jewish Kingdom in the Caucasus area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea for like five hundred years and they were a hugely important powerful empire and then they faded into history and were largely forgotten and and as soon as I got this call would you do this serialize novel thing for some reason I thought right away of them and I decided to try to write a novel that would be set against that backdrop so gentlemen of the road chapter one on discord arising from the excessive love of a hat for numberless years a miner had astounded travelers to the caravan Surrey with its ability to spew indecencies in ten languages and before the fight broke out everyone assumed the old blue tongued devil on its perch by the fireplace was the one who maligned the giant African with such foul Ness and Verve engrossed in the study of a small ivory shatranj board with pieces of Ebony and horn and in the stew of chick peas carrots dried lemons and mutton for which the caravan Surrey was renowned the African held the place nearest the fire his broad back to the bird with a view of the doors and the window with its shutters thrown open to the blue dusk on this temperate autumn evening in the kingdom of Aran in the eastern foothills of the Caucasus it was only the two natives of burning jungles the African and the Minor who sought to warm their bones the precise origin of the African remained a mystery in his quilted gray balm bokkeum with its frayed hood worn over a ragged white tunic there was a hint of former service in the armies of Byzantium while the brass eyelets on the straps of his busken's suggested a sojourn in the West no one had hazarded to discover whether the speech of the known empires khanates Emirates hoards and kingdoms was intelligible to him with his skin that was lustrous as the tarnish on a copper kettle and his eyes womanly as a camel's and his shining pate was its ruff of wool whose silver hue implied a seniority attained only by the most hardened men and above all with the air of stillness that trumpeted his murderous nature to all but the greenest travelers on this minor spur of the Silk Road the African appeared neither to invite nor to promise to tolerate questions among the travelers at the caravan Surrey there was a moment of admiration therefore for the birds temerity when it seemed to declare in its excellent Greek that the African consumed his food in just the carrion scarfing way one might expect of the bastard offspring of a bald pate adventurer and up Barbary ape for a moment after the insult was hurled the African went on eating without looking up from the shatranj board indeed without seeming to have heard the mark at all then before anyone quite understood that calumny so fine went beyond the powers even of the minor and that the bird was innocent this once of slander the African reached his left hand into his right buskin and in a continuous gesture as fluid and unbroken as that by which a falconer looses his fatal darling into the sky produced a shard of bright Arab steel it's crude hilt swaddled in strips of hide and sent it hunting across the benches neither the beardless stripling who was sitting just to the right of its victim nor the one-eyed out who was the striplings companion would ever forget the daggers keening as it stung the air with the sound of a letter being sliced open by an impatient hand it tore through the crown of the wide brimmed black hat worn by the victim a fair-haired scarecrow from some fog-bound land who had ridden in that afternoon on the Tiflis road he was a slight thin shanked fellow gloomy of countenance white as tallow his hair falling into golden curtains on either side of his long or face there was a rattling twang like that of an arrow striking a tree the Hat flew off the Scarecrow's head as if registering his surprise and stuck to a post of the Dobb wall behind him as he let loose an outlandish syllable in the roomy jargon of his homeland in the fireplace a glowing castle of embers subsided – the mout heard the iron ticking of a kettle on the boil in the kitchen the benches squeaked and travellers spat in anticipation of a fight the Frankish Scarecrow slipped out from under his impaled hat and unfolded himself one limb at a time running his fingers along the parting in his yellow hair he looked from the African to the Hat and back his cloak trousers hose and boots were all black in sharp contrast with the pallor of his soft hands and the glints of golden whisker on his chin and cheeks and if he was not a priest then he must thought them out for whom a knowledge of men was a necessary corollary to an understanding of elephants be a physician or an exegete of moldering texts the Frank folded his arms over his bony chest and stood taking the Africans measure along the rule of his bony nose he wore an arch smile and held his head at an angle meant to signify a weary half amusement like that which plagued a philosophical man when he contemplated this vain human show but it was apparent to the old mout even with his one eye that the Scarecrow was furious over the injury to his hat his funeral clothes were of rich stuff free of travel stains suggesting that he maintained their appearance and his own with fierce determination the Frank reached two long fingers and the thumb into the wound in his hat grimaced and with difficulty jerked out the dagger from the post he turned the freed hat in his hands suppressing the urge to stroke it it seemed to them out the way he himself would stroke the stubbled croup of a beloved damn as she expired now tis a an elephant guy an elephant wallah with an air of incalculable gravity as if confiding the icon of a household God the Frank passed the hat to the stripling and carried the dagger across the room to the African who had long since returned to his bowl of stew I believe sir the Frank informed the Africans speaking again in good Byzantine Greek that you have mislaid the implement required for the cleaning of your hooks a Franck jabbed the point of the dagger down into the table beside this shatranj board jostling the pieces if I am mistaken as to the actual nature of your lower extremities I beg you to join me in the courtyard of this house at your leisure but preferably soon so that with the pedagogical instrument of your choice you may educate me the Franck waited the one eyed my out and the stripling wandering waited by the door to the inn by the door to the inn yard where the Ostler leaned whispered odds were laid and taken and the Mount heard the clink of coins in the squeak of a chalk wielded by the Ostler a swan who disdained the distinction between turning a profit from seeing to the comfort of his guests and that of turning one from watching them die I'm sorry to report the African said rising to his feet his head brushing the beams of the sloping roof speaking in the lilting bastardized Greek used among the mercenary legions of the Emperor at Constantinople but my learnt by hearing shares in the general decay of the broken-down black asked old wreck you see before you the African yanked the shard of Arab steel from the table and with it when in search of the Franks Voicebox ending his quest no farther from the pale knuckle of the Franks throat than the width of the blade itself the Frank fell back bumping into a pair of Armenian wolf actors at whom he glared as if it were some clumsiness of theirs and not his cowardly instinct for self-preservation that had cost him his footing but I take your gist the African said returning the dagger to his boot on the ostlers slate the odds began to run heavily against the Frank and since this is story hour I'll show you there's a picture beautiful illustrations by the great Gary Gianni who does the Prince Valiant comic strip nowadays the African restored the shatranj board and pieces to a leather pouch wiped his lips and then pushed past the frank past the craning heads along the benches and went out into the inn yard to kill or be killed by his insulter as the men trooped after him into the torchlight courtyard carrying cups of wine wiping their bearded chins on their forearms the weapons belonging to the combatants were fetched from a rack in the stable if because of his immensity the span of his arms and his homicidal air and despite his protestations of senescence which were universally regarded as gamesmanship the betting had been inclined to favor the African before the weapons were fetched the arming of the two men decided it the Frank carried only a long absurdly thin bodkin that might serve in a pinch to roast a couple of birds over an open fire if they were not too plump the travellers had a good laugh at the tailor with his needle and then pondered the mystery of the Africans choice of sidearm a huge Viking axe its haft an orgy of interpenetrating runes the quarter moon of its blade glowing cold as with satisfied recollection of all the heads it had ever locked from spouting necks under the full moon of the month of May er with the torches hissing the African and the Frank circled an ambit of packed earth the Frank minced and scissored on his Walkingstick legs the tip of his bod can indicating the heart of African glancing from time to time at his own fine black boots as they threaded a course through the acapella of camel and horse turds African employed an odd crab wise scuttling style of circling knees bent eyes fixed on the Frank the axe held loosely in his left fist the awkward almost Fond way they went about readying themselves to murder each other moved the old man out who had trained a thousand war elephants to kill and so recognize the professional quality of the interest these two combatants were taking in the fight but the other travelers jostling under the eaves and archways of the inn-yard who knew nothing of the intimacy of slaughter grew impatient they jeered the combatants urging them to hurry so they could all finish their suppers and file off to bed half maddened by boredom they doubled their wagers word of the duel had reached the village down the hill in the gate of the inn yard was lively with women children and sad-faced lean men with heroic moustaches boys climbed to the roof of the inn shook their fists and hooted as the Frank and the African emptied their heads of last regrets then backs humming seemed to drag the African toward the belly of the Frank its blade caught the torchlight and scrawled an arcing rune of fire in the gloom the Frankish scarecrow dodged and watched and ducked when the axe came looking for his head he dropped to his shoulder rolled on the ground surprisingly a droid for a scatter limb scarecrow and popped up behind the African kicking him in the buttocks with a look on his face of such childish solemnity that the spectators again burst into laughter it was a contest of stamina against agility and those who had their money on the former began with confidence in the favorite and his big Varangian axe but the African angered goo gross and undiscerning in his axe play he shattered a huge clay jar full of rainwater soaking a dozen outraged travelers he splintered the wheel spokes of a hay wagon and the solemn Frank danced rolled and thrust with his slender body and the berserker axe bit flagstones shedding handfuls of sparks the torches guttered and the tinge of blood drain from the moon as it rose into the night sky a boy watching the fracas from the roof leaned too far out tumbled and broke his arm wine was fetched mixed with clean water from the well and handed in bowls to the duelists who staggered and reeled around the inn yard now bleeding from a dozen cuts then tossing aside the wine bowls they faced each other the watchful mahout caught a flicker in the giant africans eyes that was not torchlight once more the axe dragged the African like a charger trailing a dead cavalry man by the heel the Frank tottered backward and then as the African heave passed he drove the square toe of his left boot into the Africans groin all the men in the inn-yard squirmed and half willing sympathy as the African collapsed in silence onto his stomach the Frank slid his preposterous sword into the African side and yanked it out of him after thrashing for a few instants the African lay still as his dark though not someone determined black blood muddied the ground the Ostler signaled to a pair of grooms and with difficulty they dragged as dead the dead giant out to a disused stable beyond the present walls of the Caravan Surrey and through an old camel skin over him the Frank straightened his cuffs and hose and re-entered the caravan Surrey declining to accept the congratulations or good-natured japery of the losing betters he declined to take a drink to and indeed melancholy seemed to overcome him in the wake of the fight or perhaps his natural inclinations toward northern gloom merely resumed their reign over his heart and face he chewed his stew and took his leave he wandered down to the stream behind the caravan Surrey to wash his hands and face then slipped into the derelicts a table doffing his ruin'd hat as if in tribute to the bravery of his opponent how much he said as he entered the stable 70 the Giant African replied stringing the laces of his felt BAM back Ian it's counterfeit blood stains washed away in the horse trough to the Horn of his saddle he rode a red spotted Parthian horse tall and thick muscled whose name was poor fury Jean enough for a doesn't find new black hats when you get to rages don't even say the word hat I beg you the Frank said gazing down at the hole in the high crown it saddens me admit it was a fine throw not half so fine as this hat the Frank said he laid the hat aside and opened his shirt revealing a bright laceration that ran beaded with waxy drips of blood across his abdomen flows of blood swagged his hollow belly he looked away and gritted his teeth as the African dabbed at him with a rag then applied a thick black paste taken from a pot that the Frank carried in his saddlebags I loved that hat almost as much as I loved Hillel at that moment the animal in question a woolly stallion with a Roman nose and its neck a rampant arch stubby leg and broad in the croup the product of some unsupervised tryst between an Arabian and a wild tarpon gave a warning snort and there was a scrape of leather sole against straw the Frank and the living African turned to the door expecting the Ostler thought the old elephant trainer with their share of the take which included four of them how its own hard one dear Holmes you men just sons of bitches the MAL howard said admiring li reaching for the hilt of his sword that's the end of that chapter thank you so I'm just for fun and we have some time I'm gonna actually I'll take questions when I'm done here too and I know it's warm in here but I thought I would just read the very short after word that I wrote for this novel at the request of the publisher I mean I wrote at the request of the publisher they don't know I'm here today the original working and in my heart the true title of this short novel was Jews with swords when I was writing it and happened to tell people the name of my work-in-progress it made them want to laugh I guess it seemed clear that I meant the title as a joke it has been a very long time after all since Jews anywhere in the world routinely war or wielded sorts so long that when paired with sword the word Jews unlike say Englishman or Arabs claims with anachronism with humorous incongruity like samurai Taylor or Santa Claus conquers the Martians true Jewish soldiers fought in the blade era battles of Austerlitz and Gettysburg notoriously Jewish boys were stolen from their families and conscripted into the Czarist armies of 19th century Russia any of those fighting men or any of the Jews who served in the armed forces particularly in the cavalry units of their homelands prior to the end of World War one might have qualified I suppose as Jews with swords but hearing the title nobody seemed to flash on the image of doomed Jewish troopers at in Carmen and Tetum or the sum or of dueling arabised Jewish courtiers at Muslim Granada or even say on the memory of some ancient warrior do like Bar Kochba or Judah Maccabee famed for his prowess at arms they saw rather an unprepossessing little guy with spectacles and a beard brandishing a saber the pirate muddled Ken's i''m they pictured Woody Allen backing toward the nearest exit behind a barrage of wisecracks and a wavering rapier they saw their uncle Manny Dirk between his teeth slacks belted at the armpits dropping from the chandelier to knock together the heads of a couple of nefarious auditors and okay so maybe I didn't look very serious when I told people the title yet I meant it sincerely or half sincerely or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I could not have entitled this book any more honestly than by means of anachronism and incongruity I know it still seems in Congress first of all for me or a writer of my literary training generation and pretensions to be writing stories featuring anybody with swords as recently as 10 years ago I had published two novels and perhaps as many as 20 short stories and not one of them featured weaponry more antique than a lone Glock 9-millimeter none was set any earlier than about 1972 or in any locale more far-flung or exotic than a radio studio in Paris France most of those stories appeared in sedate respectable and generally sword free places like The New Yorker and Harper's and featured unarmed Americans undergoing the eternal fates of contemporary short story characters disappointment misfortune loss hard enlightenment moments of bleak grace divorce death illness violence random and domestic divorce bad faith deception and self-deception love and hate between fathers and sons men and women friends and lovers the transience of beauty and desire divorce I guess that about covers it story more or less of my life as for the two novels they didn't stray in time or space any farther than the stories or for that matter any deeper into the realm of Jewishness both said in Pittsburgh liberally furnished with Pontiacs and Ford's scented with marijuana Shalimar and kielbasa featuring Smokey Robinson hits and Star Trek references and starring Gentiles or assimilated Jews many of whom were self-consciously inspired instructed and laid low by the teachings of rock and roll and Hollywood but not for example by the lost writings of the Tzadik of Regensburg whose commentaries are so important to one of the heroes gentlemen of the road I'm not saying let me be clear about this I am NOT saying that I disparage or repudiate my earlier work or the genre late century naturalism it mostly exemplifies I'm proud of stories like house hunting as angel werewolves in their youth and son of the Wolfman and out of all my novels I may always be most fun of wonder boys which saved my life kind of or save me at least from having to live in a world in which I must forever be held to account for the doomed second novel it's supplanted I'm not turning my back on the stuff I wrote there late in the 20th century and I hope that readers won't either it's just adhere and gentlemen of the road as in some of its recent predecessors you catch me in the act of trying as a writer to do it many of the characters in my earlier stories art Beck Stein Grady trip IRA Wiseman were trying longing ready to do I have gone off in search of a little adventure if this impulse seems incongruous in a writer of this serious literary kind for which I had a longtime hope to be taken it might be explained as I think the enduring popularity of all adventure fiction might be explained with simple reference to the kind of person I am I have never swung a battle axe or a sword I have never thank God killed anybody I've never served as a soldier of Empire or fortune infiltrated a palace or an enemy camp in the dead of night or ridden an elephant who I have barely and without the least confidence or style ridden the horse I do not laugh in the face of death and danger far from it I've never survived in the desert on a few swallows of acrid water and a handful of scorched millet never escaped from prison the gallows or the rowing benches of a swift Caravelle never gambled my life and fortune on a single roll of the dice if I lose a hundred bucks at a Las Vegas craps table it makes me feel like crying this is not to say that I have never had adventures I've had my fill and more of them because adventures befall the UH adventuresome as readily if not as frequently as the bold adventures are logical and reliable result and have been since at least the time of Odysseus of the fatal act of leaving one's home or trying to return to it again all Adventure happens in that damned and magical space wherever it may be found or chanced upon which least resembles one's home as soon as you have crossed your doorstep or the county line into that place where the structures laws and conventions of your upbringing no longer apply or the support and approval but also the disapproval and repression of your family and neighbors are not to be had then you have entered into adventure a place of sorrow marvels and regret given a choice I very much prefer to stay home where I may safely encounter adventure in the pages of a book or seek it out as I have here at the keyboard in the friendly wilderness of my computer screen I guess what I'm trying to say is if there is incongruity in the writer of a piece of typical New Yorker marital discord fare like that was me a story of my second collection turning out a swords and horses tale like this one it's nothing compared to the incongruity incongruous bounty to be harvested from the actual sight of me sitting on a horse for example or trying to keep from falling out of a whitewater raft or setting off as I have done from time to time with sinking heart and in certainty of failure but goaded into wild hopefulness by some treacherous friend or bold stranger in search of a Springsteen ian something in the night this incongruity of writer and work suggests of course that classic variant of the adventure story found in works as diverse as Don Quixote and Romancing the stone in which a devoted reader or author of the stuff is granted the opportunity or obliged to live out an adventure in real life and it is seen in this light that the association of Jews with swords of Jews with adventure may seem paradoxically less in Congress in the relation of the Jews to the land of their origin and the ever extending ever thinning cord braided from the freedom of the wanderer and the bondage of exile that binds a Jew to his home we can make out the unmistakable signature of adventure the story of the Jews centers around one might almost say that it stars the hazards and accidents and misfortunes and disasters the feats of inspiration the travail and despair and intermittent moments of glory and grace that entail upon journeys from home and back again for better and worse it has been one long adventure a 5000 year Odyssey from the moment of the true first commandment when God told Abraham la flaca thou shalt leave home thou shalt get lost thou shalt find thou shalt find slander oppression opportunity escape and destruction thou shalt by definition find adventure this long long tradition of Jewish adventure may look a bit light on the Conan's or d'Artagnan 'he's our greatest heroes less obviously suited to exploits of derring-do and arms but maybe this ill-suited 'no sone Lee makes Jews all the more ripe to feature in or to write this kind of tale or maybe it is time to take a look backward at that tradition as I have attempted to do here and find some shadowy kingdom where a self-respecting Jewish adventurer would not be caught dead without his sword or his battle axe and if you still think that are something funny and the idea of Jews with swords look at yourself right now sitting in your seat let's say on a jet airplane in your unearthly orange polyester and neoprene shoes listening to digital music crawling across the sky from Charlotte to Las Vegas and hope to lose yourself your home your certainties the borders and barriers of your life by means of a bundle of wood pulp sewn and glued and stained with blobs of pigment and resin people with books what in 2008 could be more incongruous than that it makes me want to laugh if you like Thanks so there's a little time for questions if anybody's got a question I'm happy to answer they don't have to be about my writing or anybody's writing it could be like dating advice or yeah when did I know that I wanted to be a writer I was 11 and our teacher in my teacher in junior high school assigned us to write a short story and I was really into Sherlock Holmes at the time and I and I just read this novel by Nicholas Merrick the 7% solution which was Nicolas mayor's own version of a Sherlock Holmes novel and everybody seemed to think that was a legit thing to do so I thought I would try the same thing and so I wrote my own Sherlock Holmes story and it was about Holmes meeting Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and yeah I had such a great time doing it I got so involved in it and it was only supposed to be a couple pages long and I ended up writing 12 pages and and I had to type the whole thing on this thing we had back then called a typewriter I just I I was so transported by the experience and then I got an A and like my parents said it was good so I thought okay this this will work for me cuz it's fun and I got praised so that's what I'm gonna do oh yes what am i reading now I am I'm very fortunate I am being I've been permitted to have a look at the I had a draft of Johnathan Liam's next novel his follow-up to what was it you don't let me yet but his what's really the follow-up to the fortress of solitude and I'm about halfway through it it's pretty cool yes sir whose books to movies my books and movies or just in general well the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and clay that's the one you really asking about right it's yeah I mean I mentioned Woody Allen in my afterward just there to quote Woody Allen that we have a dead shark it's not moving so yeah nothing's really happening with that it got to a point it was very close we had a cast and director and script which I wrote and production designers and all those kinds of people and people had taken their children out of school in Los Angeles and put them in school in England where their production was gonna be the interiors are gonna be shot there and I was already you know shopping for my Oscar tux and then just literally the last possible minute that studio pulled the plug and they just got cold feet so yeah that's showbiz Yiddish policeman's Union is slated right now as far as I know to be the movie that the Coen brothers make after the one that they're making right now that's pretty exciting their new one just came out which I haven't seen yet and then they're working on another that's something man I can't remember it's commies serious man thank you thank you obviously someone who goes to Ain't It Cool News way too often and and that ones like getting rolling and supposedly you just policeman's unions supposed to be after that and I so that would be awesome I really hope it happens but I've been obviously been been down this road before a lot can happen until you're actually sitting in the theater watching the movie yeah you can't really count on it even then they could probably find a way to break your heart it gives like only release it in two states and yes sir yeah well I didn't know him well I only met him once at a political event four years ago at Dom in Los Angeles it was a Kerry event and a bunch of writers were there to read and raise money for the Kerry campaign and I just met him backstage there I was very intimidated by him unfairly I mean he was seems like have been a very sweet man he's he was big and and he was so damn smart and I just like it was very tongue tied and I felt like I needed to say something that he would you know find suitably impressive in I just really did not come up with anything so I was very disappointed in myself and I even I mean that had God knows I had no inkling but I just had this feeling of like well there was your chance to talk to David Foster Wallace and you blew it you know now sadly I didn't realize just how true that was going to be but um he I always thought of him as his first novel was published in 1987 I was just finishing graduate school at UC Irvine and I had a novel finish that was shortly thereafter it was published that was my first novel the mysteries of Pittsburgh so I always felt a thought of him as being very much a contemporary and coeval of mine but I uh I but I also always felt like our work was very different in a lot of ways and his project in my project felt very different but I loved his especially his nonfiction work there were his reporting the piece he wrote about McCain the cruise ship piece the porn Awards convention Beast lobster piece I mean those are things I've read over and over and over again and when I'm trying to write nonfiction myself I I read is that stuff just to show me the right way to do it how it's best done his novels met somewhat less to me I had a hard time getting access granting access to him but for all that I was very interested to read and some interviews that recorded after it you know when I was reading obituaries and tributes to him after his death he had this theory about literature that the purpose of a literature I suppose you could say as a means of of escape in a sense of breaking out of the prison of your own consciousness and and being granted access I think is a word he used to the mind of another person and the only way that's really possible it was through literature and you know that I always talk about escape and being and and and making those connections even in what Melanie read tonight there was no sense of that and the word entertainment itself comes from this root word that means two things growing together in twining together two trees that are in entertained are trees that are intertwined and so and after I read that it made me realize maybe we were we're actually all doing exactly the same thing any other questions yeah your writing seems to take place outside or outside but so much as I was wondering about the process of transforming your books display oh I see what you're saying well when I was writing and I was trying to adapt the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and clay I took me five and a half years to get to a final draft of the script but when we thought we were gonna film and I really came to despise the author of the novel in the course of that process because he did not give a moment's thought to the poor schlep who's gonna have to come along and try to adapt that stuff for the screen I mean I actually I loved writing dialogue and I work very hard on my dialogue in my novels and I and I you know I love to write it's a scene that has a lot of dialogue in it but even so you're right I mean it's it feels very crippling to me when I move into writing you're doing screenwriting and to realize all I have is dialogue and a little bit of action you know pecos over opens the door and it's his mother that kind of very simple language and you have to keep it sure and you're all you're up against is this the perpetual curse of 120 pages it can't be any longer than that can't even really be that long anymore and so therefore you're just always taking out taking out taking out and I'd have a very very powerful sense of constriction while I'm working writing screenplays partly because the space is so constrained and partly because I am limited to dialogue essentially the manuscripts into the screenplay affect the way that you really like am I trying to make it easier on the poor slept next time when he well Yiddish policeman's Union is a little bit pared down a little bit leaner compared to what preceded it so maybe but I was that was more because I was trying to employ a kind of hard-boiled detective idiom there so it seemed it might be more of the fact that there's some kind of historical connection between screenwriting and hard but detective fiction and that somehow and and that and Hemingway's influence sort of lie in the back of of both of them that might be more of an explanation for the similarity there but no the big sense of relief that I had was in writing this book after finishing me there's policeman's Union because I in that novel I really did in Yiddish I really did try to keep my sentences a lot shorter my natural period is very long and I'm always fighting against that a little bit but in the Yiddish policeman's Union I was just really severe with my sentences and my paragraphs and my chapters and everything I tried to keep them much tighter and more focus and less complicated and when I literally was in a week of finishing that book I started writing this one and I mean you it just came out like this I'm just gonna see if I can get six dependent clauses in a sentence you know I had this I mean like when people when people have commented on this book and they said you know that the prose is maybe supposed to be a tribute to the purple writing of Pulp Fiction or you know classic adventure fiction and but it was much more of an accident than that it just came out this way as a natural is like a young king Cohoes you know and just flood of prose came pouring out so two more questions okay two more questions if there are two more questions yes as one writer Giron recently really sitting in one the new award which is of course for science fiction and it's implement sort of genre tropes within your literary fiction what do you think about the future of genre fiction of the very efficient as separate do you think they're going to diverge more maybe sure do you think that they're sort of coming together in something well I don't I don't I think they will always be separate to a degree and I think they should be separate to a degree because there are things that you can say critically about science fiction that just don't come up when you're talking about Thomas Hardy or something like that and vice-versa and you know they have their own tropes and their own conventions and and all of that but what I would like to see happen what I hope is happening a little bit is that people don't that write writers don't with self-censor that they don't restrain or restrict what they do because they fear you know a critical division that has typically traditionally been bestowed on writers of detective fiction and science fiction and so on or fantasy fiction so I imagine I can't be the only writer out there who thinks of him or herself as you know serious literary writer and yet love science fiction less fantasy once to write science fiction fantasy but has a certain anxiety let's say about doing that and sort of committing to that when you know that your school might be setting yourself up for for being banished to the ghettos of the bookstore and so I would like to see that go away and that because I think people should be able to write whatever they want to write and then I also hope from the other side that that just that that people who typically say to themselves I don't like science fiction I don't want to read science fiction I don't know I don't like fantasy I don't like detective fiction might begin to encounter works like Cormac McCarthy's the road for example or or China my evils great works of sword art science fiction fantasy whatever you want to call them or David Mitchell's novel well ghost written or Cloud Atlas works that are just that really challenge your assumptions about what is and is a jabra and they actually you do love science fiction if it's done well you do love fantasy if it done well it doesn't um I mean I think I oh I hate the idea of it's true with comics as well that you I hate to see a medium or genre condemned on the basis of a few examples that are sort of cherry picked for their crappiness you know there's nothing about science fiction or or mystery fusion that is inherently unlit ireri that's just stupid to say so one more question yes what what what what wait York used to know what I do with oh oh oh whoa about the the kazars oh I thought you said I'm curious to know what you do with huh SARS I don't know how that rumor got started but I don't I had nothing to do with those huh SARS the dragoons isn't never matter you know I hurt my kid like my grandfather told me about the Khazar I think there's Arthur Kessler book came out in 1973 called thirteenth tribe and it caused kind of a it was a popular book at the time and he advanced he sort of gathered together every all the little that was known about about the kazars and he put it into fairly reasonable shape and then he advanced this theory that after that the Khazar Empire collapsed those people have migrated into Europe eastern and northern Central Europe and where they became the Ashkenazi Jews and that therefore Jews were not Semites at all they were descendants of this Turkic people and and this was Arthur kessler's theory and it has a you know since since DNA came along it's been completely discredited and has no basis in fact although people do think maybe some because ours did end up mixing into a population of Jews in Europe but you know I just something about the idea of this loss Kingdom of Jews you know just glad you just put the words Lost Kingdom in front of almost anything and it sounds good and especially that there that there before Israel there was at least amino and before modern Israel and after biblical Israel there was this other Jewish land was that no longer exists was just really enchanting to me and aside just you know every thereafter whenever I encountered any little tidbit about them I always took an interest in it and so I guess that's it it's just sort of a lifelong footnote of history I tend to get interested in footnotes in history and that's what led me eventually to write the Yiddish policeman's Union too because at some point I read about this crazy proposals to let Jewish refugees I mean not so crazy it was would have been great I wish they had done it but that to let you settle in Alaska in 1940 that was a real thing and it really was really proposed and you know did not come to pass so it was another sort of footnote footnotes to Jewish history I bet there's a book that's even called that I my grandparents probably gave it to me for Hanukkah one year well thank you all very much for coming I really enjoyed community and popular culture it's so much

3 thoughts on “Michael Chabon – Story Hour in the Library

  1. Kavalier & Clay is one of my favorite books, ditto Werewolves In Their Youth.

  2. I once met Michael Chabon at a signing. Very nice man, highly eloquent, and more social than authors tend to be. I've written more about that experience on my blog called coreysbook on wordpress.

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