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What I’m Reading (No. 106): the power of illustration
This week I finished a memorable and ambitious award winner from the early ‘00s: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
The other title I’m featuring this week has been billed as a children’s book, but it’s long-ish and more meaningful than you’d usually find in that genre. While I’ve not read it cover to cover, it’s incredibly fun to page through and randomly open when you need a pick-me-up.
Both titles show the power of illustration and were illuminating in their own way. Let’s get to it.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2000, 636 pages)
“Forget about what you are escaping from. Reserve your anxiety for what you are escaping to.”
Published in 2000, this book won all the awards, is considered Chabon’s magnum opus, and is even labeled by some as THE great American novel. It was about time I gave it a shot, though I admit to being nervous heading into it, given the universal praise. Could it really live up to all that hype?
This sprawling, ambitious, epic of a novel is long — there’s no denying that. It’s often wordy too; at first, I wasn’t sure I’d get into it. Ultimately, though, even if it did take a couple hundred pages to really get hooked, I thoroughly enjoyed it and had a hard time putting it down.
It’s hard to fully convey what the book is about — while the timeframe isn’t terribly long (the bulk of it takes place over the course of only a few years), there’s so much that happens.
On the surface, it’s about Sammy Clay and his cousin, Joe Kavalier, as they look to make a career in the budding comic and superhero industry. Sammy writes the stories, Joe draws ‘em. They create a character — The Escapist — who ultimately becomes quite popular.
Beyond that, though, it’s about so much more: work, art, entertainment, New York City, war, love, identity, mid-century America, making it, friendship, partnership, place.
Yes, the plot pulled me in, but so did Chabon’s unique writing. He dabbles with various styles and points of view within the book, even giving us superhero backstories, which you only even realize near the end of those chapters. Between long chapters and short chapters and globe-spanning place settings, Chabon kept me on my toes as a reader — in a good way. And I definitely had no idea where the plot was going to end up, which I always appreciate.
Kavalier and Clay is certainly literary; there were plenty of words I didn’t know and it wasn’t a dialogue-heavy, plot-driven page turner. And yet, it’s accessible enough that I think it would appeal to a lot of people. It’s as memorable a novel as I’ve read in quite a while. That said, it’s not a book I think everyone will enjoy; just give it a little longer than you otherwise might and see if it hooks you in the way it did me.
A Comic/Graphic Novel Reading List
Graphic novels and comics, curated by my best of friends, Jonny Craig, since I have yet to get into comics myself. Though our conversation about these titles made me want to dive in . . .
The Sheriff of Babylon by Tom King
Mister Miracle by Tom King
Watchmen by Alan Moore
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
Saga by Brian Vaughan
Batman by Scott Snyder
Saga of the Swamp Thing by Alan Moore
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy (2019, 128 pages)
This cross between children’s book and graphic novel is as touching a book as you’ll ever encounter. The combination of beautifully drawn illustrations and potent dialogues between these four characters is nearly enough to move you to tears.
There’s not really a story as much as a series of observations based on the unlikely friendships and wanderings of a hope-seeking and doubt-filled boy, a cake-loving mole, a fox, and a horse (who seems the wisest of all).
The best way to really convey the book is to share a few pages with you:
Seriously. So good. Get the hardcover and read it with your kids, read it without them, open it up when you need some inspiration. You’re welcome.
That’s all for me this week. Thank you, as always, for the time and inbox space.