Marie’s Reading: “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” by Michael Chabon

the-amazing-adventures-of-kavalier-clay-book-coverHow am I only just reading this now?

Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay has actually been on my to-read list for a while.  People rave about this one, and lots of people I know call it one of their favorite novels of all time. After reading it, I see why.  It’s got everything.

It’s complex and intricate, but approachable and funny.  The characters are three-dimensional and, while not always likeable, always human. The whole saga has a leisurely pace that manages to be sweeping and compelling.  It’s got pathos and atmosphere and brilliant historical detail, including cameos by historical figures.  It’s got World War II, comic books, escapists and magicians, a story frame which treats Kavalier and Clay as actual figures in the golden era of comics, and a poignant family story.

The basic story is this: In 1939 New York City, Joe Kavalier, a refugee from Hitler’s Prague, joins forces with his Brooklyn-born cousin, Sammy Clay, to create comic-book superheroes.  The two form Empire Comics, and create a character called The Escapist.  The story follows Joe and Sam through the war years and into the mid 1950’s, when superhero comics are going out of fashion.

Chabon takes a lot of time exploring all of the inspiration and fantasies that go into Sam and Joe’s creations as they mature and grow as people, and as the world changes around them.  The history of comics in America figures into the plot quite a bit.  Most of all, the themes of heroism and escapism (two big appeal factors for superheroes) shine through the most in this meaty novel.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is an amazingly rich, detailed, intelligent and entertaining story.  I’d suggest it if you’re after a novel to immerse yourself in, if you enjoy novels about the Jewish experience in World War II, if you enjoy novels about New York City, and if you enjoy family-saga type stories.  Really.  It’s got a little something for everyone.



December Simply Books! Meeting

A fresh new year means fresh new reads from the Simply Books! group.  Though technically, this was our December meeting, I’m counting it as 2015.

Here are the titles we talked about last Saturday!  I’ve included the reader’s comments and descriptions, which I noted to the best of my ability.  (It’s hard to take notes with this crew, they’re so fast and funny and smart, I always miss a few things….a good problem to have):

War in Val D’Orcia, 1943-1944 by Iris Origo
Origo wrote this diary during WWII, and it  was published largely unedited in 1947.  Origo wanted to keep the emotional immediacy of  her experiences, and it was well worth the effort. During the war Origo and her husband  owned a 4,000 acre farm complex in Tuscany, where they took in twenty-three children from the city as well as housed and protected deserters and travelers.  She wrote every day  for two years, describing their activities on the farm, the visitors they’d had, the  German inspections. Her story of life “on the ground” during wartime makes you think  about what war does to people–how many soldiers are just regular people who would rather  not be where they are, and how sometimes war can bring out the best in people.

Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life by Roxana Robinson
This was a re-read of the hefty but rich  biography of O’Keeffe.  The artist was a fiercely independent extreme introvert who loved nature, and felt that art comes from feeling and intuition (which made her a bit of a maverick in the art world of her time).  Her nuances and complexities make her a  compelling subject for biography.  Robinson also includes a lot of discussion about  schools and theories of art, which adds to the already rich life story.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
This modern classic centers on an impeccable  butler named Mr. Stevens, who has spent his life in service to one Lord Darlington at  Darlington Hall.  The plot centers on Mr. Stevens taking a road trip (with his new  employer’s car) to retrieve the housekeeper he used to work with.  Along the way,  disturbing, rattling memories begin to surface, as well as the realization that the man  Stevens idolized wasn’t as wonderful as he seemed.  A fascinating character study as well as an instructive meditation on the human ability to self-deceive.

The Four Graces by D.E. Stevenson
A delightful, charming, witty story of a vicar and  his four daughters in a small quirky village in England during the second world war.   It’s fun but not frivolous, very much of its time.  A lovely read.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
A novel which tells the story of Jacob’s only daughter,  Dinah.  This fictionalized account of her life is very rich in Biblical history, womens’  issues, and relationships (the red tent is where the women of the tribe go in times of  menstruation and childbirth, to receive guidance and support from fellow tribeswomen).   It’s nice to hear a Bible story from a woman’s perspective, and to learn more about daily  life in that time and place.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
The reader had just started this novel, but had read  The Kite Runner and was very impressed with Hosseini’s phenomenal job of portraying  both a woman’s perspective and that of modern Afghanistan.

Revival by Stephen King
He did this story at least twice already, and did it better  and scarier in Pet Sematary, and better and more heartrending in The Green Mile. Namely, the exploration of grief and what comes after death–in this story, it has to do  with a former minister broken by loss and grief and obsessed with what he calls “secret  electricity.”  All of the good elements of King are there, his characters and compelling  storytelling ability.  What’s missing is either drama or horror this time around, at least not in the usual doses.

There you have it!  If you’d like to join us for our January meeting, bring your latest greatest read to the Jean Picker Room on Saturday, January 24th at 2pm.



Marie’s Reading: “The Painted Girls” by Cathy Marie Buchanan

painted girlsSet in Paris in the late 19th century, The Painted Girls tells the story of the Van Goethem sisters, Marie, Antoinette, and Charlotte.  The family is in dire straits after their father dies.  Their mother takes work as a laundress, but drinks up most of the profits.  It’s up to Marie and Antoinette to take care of themselves, each other, and Charlotte.  Marie becomes a dancer at the Paris Opera, while Antoinette takes a job at a theatre.  Eventually Marie winds up as a model for the artist Degas, and Antoinette falls in with a young man who is not as wonderful as he seems.  Through hardships, challenges, and betrayals of many kinds, Marie and Antoinette remain devoted to one another, leading eventually to a relatively happy ending.

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Marie’s Reading: “The Woman Upstairs” by Claire Messud

the woman upstairsNora Marie Eldridge is angry.  She’s not crazy, she assures us.  Just angry.  Really, really angry.  She’s a Woman Upstairs–a single woman of a certain age who feels her life has passed her by.  And then, wonderfully, magically, she meets a family whose members fill her every emotional need.  She loves each and every one of the Shahids–Reza, the boy who is one of her third-grade students; his brilliant professor father, Skandar; and then Sirena, Reza’s accomplished artist mother.

Nora finds herself pulled into their world (or perhaps she pulls herself in), and from there her life is entangled with those of the Shahids.  Nora’s story is one of obsessive love, the building up and loss of identity, and, above all, seething anger.

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