Orion Reads
a diary of books etc.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Yiddish Policeman's Union

I'm nearly done with Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union, and it's great.
I read Kavalier and Clay a while ago, and it was good, but i didn't think it was great. The Yiddish Policeman's Union is great. Where K & C seemed to go astray and lose itself in filling the requirements of a pulp comic book, the YPU is much more focused, tighter, and the characters and story-telling benefit from it. I still have some complaints - for example i don't think it was necessary to have the protagonists own personal story turn out unexpectedly to be intimately tied up in the story of the antagonists: doing so sort of dilutes the .. pedigree of the hero's motives, imo, and is unnecessary.

Here's the overview:

the year is 2008.
the place is Sitka, Alaska. The past is one in which we're not sure who won World War II, but we do know that the Jews were thoroughly rousted from Israel and were generally unwelcome the world over, including in the US, and in the late 40s Sitka was essentially turned into a giant Jewish ghetto. .. With the proviso that after 60 years, the chosen people would have to vacate Sitka and move on to places unnamed. So it's 2008, and the next rousting is due.
our hero is a hardboiled cop mourning his lost marriage and the upcoming eradication of a culture he both loves and derides. in good hardboiled cop tradition, he is now living in a flop house, and exploring mourning through the lens of cheap and strong booze. His partner is also his cousin, who is racially half Indian (American) and culturally 100% Jewish, and has a poor but flourishing family.
There's a murder, there's plots, there's backstabbing, there's surprises. There's lots and lots of Jewish words and Jewish this and Jewish that, which i love. I guess it's about one third [Jewish] political story, one third adventure story, and one third Jewish cultural portrait. It's a great mix, and Chabon's prose has only improved since K&C.

Other recent books:
The Crying of Lot 49 - reading this in half-page sprints while lounging on the can. That's the only way i can possibly swallow this stuff.

Words and Rules by Steven Pinker - this is a whole book about irregular verbs. i love irregular verbs, and so does Steven Pinker. but i'm not going to finish the book because he loves them exactly as far as they promote the pedagogical agenda of his theory of cognition.

The Night People by Jack FInney - this came up one day when Vivianna and Mike Plotz and i rode bikes over the golden gate bridge and down into Tiburon, a route which takes you through Strawberry, which is the sleepy little town from which the hijinx of The Night People radiate. It's a great story. It's in a collection titled 3 by Finney, and seems to be the clear best of the lot.

I read The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, by Diana Jones. This calls for a picture. .. Yeah. It was actually pretty fun, a temporary trip back to junior high.


re DFW.
it's ironic:
i was having a rough few days and had been feeling poopy for a while and was pondering ways to de-poopify my outlook on things, and i said to myself "maybe i should re-read IJ again. that always cheers me up." and it's true: without fail sitting down to read a page or twenty in IJ has never failed to make me feel like a slightly snazzier person. as if i were granted a temporary gift of some small part of DFW's wit and outlook. the additional irony here is that i was considering this rereading that very thursday just before his death. that evening i was out on the town and both myle and kevin texted me late in the night with the bad news.
one is reminded a bit of Richard Corey, of course. it's eerie and intimidating that someone as smart and definitively successful as DFW could eradicate his own map, as he might say. especially in view of the obvious wealth of knowledge DFW had around depression itself. (If you don't know, IJ deals with many many topics, among them is Depression with a capital D, and its treatment of it is highly informed and insightful) and of course one is also reminded of the constant theme in IJ about the danger and stress of achieving success, of making the cover of Tennis Annual or whatever, of creating one's opus. In many passages the entire raison of the enfield tennis academy is to prepare players to survive their own success in "the show". Haunting and intimidating.

Well, i have more to say but don't really feel like saying it here.

rest in peace, david.

here are the unknown words from that third reading.
many, many more than from the second, curiously.
my rules were: "words which i either don't know at all or i'm not confident enough with to deploy them in a sentence. excluding medical terms and other jargon."
i think this last time around i was more honest about the second part: it wasn't sufficient for a word to merely be familiar: if i would be scared to use it in conversation, then it went in the list. i think also i was more patient and dilligent about actually writing words down.
click to enlarge
also there were six additional words i ran out of room to write in the back cover so they're in the front, unphotographed:
p. 952 tucking ("billow and pop like a tucking sail")
p. 952 seraglio
p. 953 kyphotic
p. 965 piaffer
p. 967 Carmelite
p. 969 practicum