2018 in Reading: April – June

Michael Chabon is one of the best writers working today. “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay” is probably my favorite book of the last 20 years, and the guy just keeps on producing novels, magazine pieces and memoir. The uniform quality of his output is seriously intimidating, and I read two of his books this year: “Manhood for Amateurs” in audiobook format and “Moonglow.” “Manhood for Amateurs” is the more straightforward of the two works. It’s a collection of previously-published and new essays about his relationship with his parents as a young boy up through his own marriage and fatherhood. He and I were similar in many ways as children, nerdy and bookish, comic-book obsessed, and he tells his story with wisdom and humor.

“Moonglow” is an interesting beast. It’s a fictionalized memoir of the author’s grandfather’s life in World War II and in America beyond. There’s a “Big Fish” quality to the story, where it’s not always altogether clear what’s real and what’s imaginary, but that is really what makes the whole thing so fascinating. The book is billed as “Moonglow: A Novel,” which helps to free the reader, and I suspect the author, from being bound strictly to facts. Per typical Chabon, it’s beautifully written.

Hey, look, more Dan Brown. “Origin” popped up as available in Overdrive, so I downloaded it and, of course, tore through it. This time, know-it-all Robert Langdon is doing something to do with human evolution or some-such nonsense. Same deal goes with “Inferno” (which was better) – if you like this stuff, it’s more of the same. It’s not great literature, but it goes down easy enough. It’s a tube of Pringles in book form.

I read Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” for my book club, and found it just okay. Dick’s works always seem to adapt better to film or TV than the novels themselves, and this is no different. It’s an alternate history where the US lost World War II and the country is divided in half between the East Coast, governed by Germany, and the West Coast, governed by Japan. There’s a sci-fi/supernatural element to the whole affair that, honestly, comes off a little half-baked. I find it hard to recommend – Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America,” with Nazi-sympathizing Charles Lindbergh beating FDR for the presidency, is a much more cohesive book.

Last for this quarter was Robert Crais’ “The Monkey’s Raincoat,” a modern LA detective story featuring a lot of the tropes one would expect from the genre. Truthfully, it’s pretty terrific, with a main character, Elvis Cole, who almost certainly had some inspiration for The Dude in The Big Lebowski, and one of my favorite side characters in the straight-laced Marine Joe Pike (who has his own spinoff series). There are a whole bunch of these novels now, but this is the first and, so far, the only one I’ve read. If you like offbeat detective stories, it’s highly recommended.

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