"The sky was so blue that it
pealed in my ears like a bell."
Wonder Boys

"The night is an orange smear
over Sitka, a compound of fog
and the light of sodium-vapor
streetlights.  It has the
translucence of onions cooked in
chicken fat."
 The Yiddish Policemen's

“The sky in the east was a bright
Superman blue.”  
 The Amazing
Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

"A paisley scarf of
purple clouds and
sunlight trailed
across Ohio to
the West."
Wonder Boys

“The sky just
beyond the window
was veined with fire, and they
heard a sizzle that sounded
almost wet, like a droplet on a
hot griddle,, and then a
thunderclap trapped them in the
deep black caverns of its palms.”
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and

"There was no window, so Litvak
imagined an early star.  A
wheeling duck.  The photograph
moon.  The sky slowly turning to
the color of a gun."  
The Yiddish
Policemen's Union  

“The sky was as blue as the
ribbon on a prize-winning lamb.”
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and

by Ted Gioia

Michael Chabon’s
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a strange, brilliant book
that readers will find difficult to classify. Is it a Zionist Da Vinci Code? A
work of alternative reality in the manner of Philip K. Dick? A hard-boiled
mystery novel? A grand literary effort in the high style? It is, in fact, all
these things, and more.

Twelve years ago,
The Washington Post
dubbed Michael Chabon as “the young
star of American letters.” Chabon, who
turns forty-four in a few days, has lived
up to the early hype. Since the dawn of
the millennium, he has seen his
made into a movie with Michael
Douglas, and won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize
for his novel
The Amazing Adventures of
Kavalier and Clay
. Along the way, he turned
down a chance to appear in a Gap ad, and
People magazine packing when they
wanted to place him on their list of the "50
Most Beautiful People.” (And who says that
serious novelists don’t lead glamorous lives?)

Chabon Tackles Jews With Swords

Gentlemen of the Road
by Michael Chabon

Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Michael Chabon claims that the working
title for this novel was
Jews With Swords.
But when he mentioned the name to
acquaintances, he found they tended to
laugh. “They saw their uncle Manny,” he
noted, “dirk between his teeth, slacks
belted at the armpits, dropping from the
chandelier to knock together the heads of
a couple of nefarious auditors.” Instead
his swashbuckling tale, originally
serialized in the
New York Times, sees light
of day as
Gentlemen of the Road.

The new title is a bit
of a let-down — it
sounds like a manual
from my high school
drivers education
class. But the book
itself does not disap-
point. Chabon takes
the basic formulas of
old-fashioned adven-
ture novels, and
sprinkles them with
the pixie dust of his
charming prose and fervid imagination.
The result is a fanciful narrative, well
plotted and artfully written.

If one were looking for a catch-phrase to
describe fiction in the new millennium, one
might do worse than announcing the
“Return of Storytelling.” Or perhaps, once
could proclaim the “Mixing of Highbrow
and Lowbrow” as the key contemporary
trend, or else the “Arrival of Post-Modern
Genre Fiction.” Chabon is at the center of
all these developments, and nowhere
more clearly than in
Gentlemen of the
. He borrows from the most unlikely of
sources – how many serious writers note
their similarity to Fritz Leiber in their dust-
jacket copy? — but twists the oldest
recipes into surprising new dishes.

The Fourteen Skies of Michael Chabon

by Ted Gioia

I learned long ago not to judge a book by its cover.  Instead, I have found
a much better method:  I judge a book by its skies.  Yes, that’s right, its
skies.  Ever since Homer’s rosy-fingered dawn, writers have look upward
for inspiration. The great writers make their presence known by their skill in
describing the starry firmament.  By the same token, their faults (no matter
what Shakespeare tells you) are also found in the heavens.

At other times an author merely lapses into unwitting repetition.  In J.M.
Waiting for the Barbarians, the reader advances through
countless pages completely free of metaphors, stylish turns of phrase, or
surprising use of language.  Finally we stumble upon a single simile on
page 39: "the sun is suspended like an orange."  Then twenty more pages
of austere prose until we get another simile on page 61: "the sun glows
like an orange." Ah, the similes are so scarce in these pages, even the
single straggler must be recycled.  

But Chabon is the exact opposite.  He has an endless number of
descriptions of the sky at his rosy fingertips.  And they are never long-
winded or boring.  Here are some of my favorites.

               *        *        *        *        *        *        *
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Quick Takes
Sometimes their descriptions are
tedious beyond endurance -- I
still recall page after boring page
from Claude Levi-Strauss's
Tristes Tropiques,
describing a  lingering sunset.  
“The night was moonless, and
a fog lay over the river like an
arras drawn across by a
conjuror’s hand.”
 The Amazing
Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

"The Sitka sky is dull silver
plate and tarnishing fast."
Yiddish Policemen's Union

“When he walked outside
again, the sky was shining like
a nickel.”
 The Amazing Adventures
of Kavalier and Clay

"Metal-slat blinds leak the
disappointed gray of a
November afternoon in
southeastern Alaska.  It's not
light oozing through so much
as a residue of light, a day
haunted by the memory of the
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

"He stands by the window,
watching the sky that is like a
mosaic pieced together from
the broken shards of a
thousand mirrors, each one
tinted a different shade of
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

"The winter sky of
southeastern Alaska is a
Talmud of gray, an
inexhaustible commentary on
a Torah of rain clouds and
dying light."
 The Yiddish
Policemen's Union  

"The view outside the windows
was pure cloud blank, a gray
woolen sock pulled over the
top of the building."
 The Amazing
Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Michael Chabon
Michael Chabon on The Simpsons, along with
Jonathan Franzen, Tom Wolfe and Gore Vidal

by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon is
fascinated by the
figure of the
superhero, and
finds the fallible and
elements hidden
behind the mask of
Chabon is a brilliant
story-teller and a
skilled prose stylist.
  Yet his characters
remain mysterious,
despite all his
probing.   Their
actions constantly
thwart our
expectations of
their character and
drives.  Perhaps
this is the flaw in
Chabon's own
powers -- or
perhap the sign of
an even deeper
insight on his part:  
namely, that
individual destiny is
always surprising,
even to the
individual, and
never an obvious
extension of past
personal history.

by Michael Chabon

Too many modern
novels are set at
universities -- a
sad commentary on
the limited range of
experience of most
creative writing
professors.  But
every once in a
while, a campus
novel appears with
such vitality and
wit that it validates
the whole
category.  Think,
for example, of
Kingsley Amis's
Lucky Jim or A.S.
Wonder Boys ranks
with these master
works, and helped
establish Michael
Chabon as one of
our leading
novelists.  We
follow writing
teacher Grady Tripp
as he lives in
constant denial of
all the failures in
his life -- from his
limping marriage to
his even less
unfinished novel.  
Funny, beautifully
is one of the
finest novels of
recent times.

Mario Vargas Llosa [click here]
Denis Johnson [
click here]
Philip Roth [
click here]
Ann Patchett  [
click here]
Junot Diaz [
click here]
Matt Ruff  [
click here]
Ryszard Kapuściński  [
click here]
Roberto Bolaño  [
click here]
Jack Kerouac
 [click here]
John Leland
 [click here]
Ian McEwan [
click here]
Khaled Hosseini  [
click here]
Don DeLillo  [
click here]
Michael Chabon  [
click here]
Haruki Murakami  [click here]
Jonathan Lethem  [
click here]
Michael Ondaatje  [
click here]
Steven Hall  [
click here]
Recommended Links:

Grumpy Old Bookman
Arts & Letters Daily
Great Books and Classics
Books, Inq.
The Great Books List
The Reading Experience
"Writers, unlike most people, tell their best lies when
they are alone."
Michael Chabon

"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of
Jorge Luis Borges

Make no mistake, those who write long books have
nothing to say.  Of course those who write short books
have even less to say."  
Mark Danielewski

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend.  Inside
of a dog it's too dark to read."  
Groucho Marx

"Never judge a book by its movie."  
J.W. Eagan
Contact Ted Gioia at

Visit his web site at

Great Books Guide is an
Amazon.com associate
quick TAKES
Norman Mailer is remembered by Gore
Vidal, E.L. Doctrow, Gay Talese, Joan
Didion and others.

Papercuts shares some bizarre books.  

A survey finds which books British
readers are most likely to re-read.  
top positions go to works by Jane
Austen, Charlotte Bronte, J.R.R. Tolkien
and J.K. Rowling.   
Read the entire list

Mark Twain's family kept his Letters
from the Earth
hidden from view for
more than a half century following his
death --
fearful that his combination of
sacred and profane views would prove
too shocking to his admirers.  

Let's hope this one isn't appealed to the
Supreme Court:  
A Federal judge has
ruled on what constitutes a poem.

Meanwhile Kristin at spam-poetry.com
has found a new source of poetic
. . . namely, the spam emails
she receives each day.  

For example:  

You Can Make It Happen!
Your refinance application has been accepted.
Your Palms Hotel 3 Night Stay is Confirmed
Your Home Value.
Your health, your care
Your health support
Your Guide to Wealth . . .

Which, honestly, is only a couple steps
below "Of Mans First Disobedience, and
the Fruit  of that Forbidden Tree . . ." or
"April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land . . ."

Meanwhile, I am awaiting the Federal
judge's ruling on spam poetry.

But Kristin is not alone in making high
culture cuisine from spam
. . .  artist
Lizzie Hunter is relying on spam poetry
for inspiration in the visual arts.  

Writing about writers:  In Philip Roth's
latest novel,
Exit Ghost, protagonist
Nathan Zuckerman takes verbal potshots
at biographers of famous literary figures.  
But how does Roth deal with his own
hand-picked biographer?  “I make up the
stories, ... and now he's going to make
up a story about me,” the author noted
in a recent interview.  But Ross Miller
(nephew of Arthur Miller, and the scholar
working on the Roth book)
sees things

Many literary stars are currently
-- a list that
(according to the
New York Times)
includes Cormac McCarthy, E. L.
Doctorow, Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison,
Thomas Pynchon and Salman Rushdie,
among others.  Hard to believe in this
age of degraded literary theory -- when,
one might hope, a budding academic
would look for a project with substance --
that no scholar has stepped forward to
tackle the job of chronicling these
fascinating lives.  Yet, as
another writer
quips "the Mitford sisters have had more
biographers than some of us have had
hot dinners."

Can I get that quote as my ring tone?  
Semiotician Umberto Eco sees the
"imbecile" who bleats into his iPhone, as
"in reality strutting around like a peacock
with a crown of feathers and a
multicolored ring around his penis."  

Next question:  What is a semiotician?  
Quick answer:  It is an "imbecile strutting
around . . ." etc. etc.   

More quick TAKES here
The Nobel Prize in Literature
from an Alternative Universe

by Ted Gioia

"I had a hunch a woman writer living in
Britain would win the Nobel Prize in
Literature this year.  But I still wasn't
prepared for the thrill I
experienced when I
learned that J.K. Rowling
had won the coveted prize.  
After all, who has done
more for the cause of
reading in recent decades?  
The last time a British
woman snagged this honor
was back in 1966 when Dame Agatha
Christie shared the award with Jorge Luis
Borges.  I expect Rowling's acceptance
speech will rank among the most memorable.
 (Although it's hard to imagine anything
topping that moment in 1997, when Dr.
Hunter S. Thompson mounted the podium in
Stockholm to share his surprising sentiments
with the audience.) . . ."

No, this is not the real Nobel Prize in
Literature,but the way the award might exist
in an alternative universe . . . read about it

See the complete list of Nobel Prize
winners from the alternative universe.
J.K. Rowling
The novel of ideas is dead.  Of course,
we never read the obituary.  It was one
of those deaths that is hushed up, kept
out of the newspapers.  It happened
around the time Moses Herzog started
writing those crazy philosophical letters
to dead people.  Ideas, once the gold
standard of the “serious novelist” – ah,
the very phrase seems so quaint these
days -- became the currency of the
unhinged.  The mantra of the MFA
programs in creative writing became
“Don’t tell us, show us.”  And the novel
of ideas was too much in the “tell us”

Exhuming Robert Musil
A Fresh Look at
The Man Without Qualities

by Ted Gioia
Hamlet Wore Ladies
and Other Literary
Secrets Outed  

“J.K. Rowling Outs
Hogwarts’ Headmaster:
Tells Audience Albus
Dumbledore is Gay”
(recent news headline)

Of course, this news
brought with it the even
more shocking revelation
that fictional characters lead
lives outside the pages of
their books. We can now
wonder what King Lear ate
for breakfast, or where Mr.
and Mrs. Darcy went on
their honeymoon. In fact,
we anticipate that Ms.
Rowling’s bold move will set
off a whole string of literary
surprises. We share some of
them in imaginary headlines

       *        *        *        
*        *        *

“Ian Fleming Admits 007
Never Had License to Kill:
‘Gun Loaded Only With

“Strike Four: Mighty Casey
Implicated in Mudville
Steroid Scandal”

“Say It Ain’t So! Carroll
Claims Alice Made Up
Wonderland Story”

“Cervantes Tells All:
Quixote – Windmill Fight
Was Fixed!”

“Author Hints at Existence
of Two More Mohicans"

“Now It Can Be Told:
of the Flies
was Reality
Show ‘Gone Badly Wrong’”

“'Me Tarzan, You Jane, She
Jane’s Best Friend': Author
Reveals Tarzan’s Torrid


For more click here