Road Trip Readings: Swanwick and Chabon

17 06 2008

So, in four weeks on the road, I have managed to read one and a half books. You’d think that with twenty-four hour stretches in the bus driving across places like Utah and Nevada, I’d be able to get more reading done, but it’s hard to concentrate on a book when you’ve been living in a thirty-foot school bus with ten other circus performers. It’s only been in this last week that we’ve had downtime and space to stretch our legs—and of course, I got a new book— the as of yet unpublished The Best of Michael Swanwick—that begs to be read.

I’ve never encountered Michael Swanwick (website and blog) before. The collection is a real delight. It is a collection of short stories spanning his entire career as a writer, including his first published stories through his most recent one. I’ve found that each story is at least as good as the one before it, if not better. I’m rarely able to get through collections of short stories. Something about them generally leaves me unsatisfied. The last collection of shorts that I read cover to cover was I, Robot by Asimov—but I think that was back in middle school. I will probably finish this one before we hit Montana on our return trip (tomorrow!), and I think that speaks to how good Swanwick’s stories are.

When this book hits the shelves, you should buy it!

The other book I read was The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon. It’s been nominated for a Hugo this year. I’m trying to pay attention so I thought I’d read it—plus, they were giving away free copies to registered Hugo voters.

I thought the book was a lot of fun to read. It’s sort of Jewish Noir. It’s very Jewish—the story is set in an alternate earth in which Jews were given a piece of land in Alaska as a safe haven during World War II. They’ve lived and worked and grown family and culture for the past seventy years, and now the treaty is up and the Jews are being kicked out. At the same time, it’s a story about a middle-aged Jewish detective, Meyer Landsman, whose life is falling apart while the whole community is slowly decaying, and who is trying to uncover the murderer of man who lives in the same building. It’s very literary, full of amazing metaphors and great detail—I wish I had the book in front of me to give you some examples.

At UChicago, I met a guy who thought the book was too cutesy. I have to agree, yes, it is a little cutesy. It’s also funny—hilarious at times—and very sharp. I would call it witty. I highly recommend reading it. I doubt you’ll be able to put it down after the first chapter.

I am unable to say if it deserves a Hugo or not because I haven’t read the rest of this year’s nominees. Sadly, they are disadvantaged, because I don’t have print copies of the others. I do hope to read them.

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