Harper Perennial ($16.99)
by Erin Lewenauer
On the heels of his 2018 book Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces, Pulitzer-prize winning author Michael Chabon follows his non-fiction writing trail with Bookends, a series of brief essays, introductions, afterwords, and liner notes about things he holds dear. The core of Chabon’s heart has always revolved around the concept of fandom, and here he honors everything that concept carries with it: its importance, its inherent nostalgia, its death grip.
Fandom, of course, is nurtured in the soil of childhood. Revisiting his own childhood with a fine-toothed comb, Chabon writes,
An entire world of superheroic adventure could be dreamed up by a couple of boys from Columbia, or Cleveland. And the self you knew you contained, the story you knew you had inside you, might find its way like an emblem onto the spot right over your heart. All we needed to do was accept the standing invitation that superhero comics extended to us by means of a towel. It was an invitation to enter into the world of story, to join in the ongoing business of comic books, and, with the knotting of a magical beach towel, to begin to wear what we knew to be hidden inside us.
The author also examines his attraction to D’Aulaire’s Norse Myths (“Loki was the god of the sloppily colored lineaments of my own childish mind, with its competing impulses of vandalism and vision”) and the films of Wes Anderson, which he finds “like the boxes of Cornell, or the novels of Nabokov, understand and demonstrate that the magic of art, which renders beauty out of brokenness, disappointment, failure, decay, even ugliness and violence—is authentic only to the degree that it attempts to conceal neither the bleak facts nor the tricks employed in pulling off the presto chango.” And he analyzes the process behind the writing of his acclaimed second novel (though first to be published), The Mysteries of Pittsburgh:
The truth was that I had come to a rough patch in my understanding of what I wanted my writing to be. I was in a state of confusion. Over the past four years I had been struggling to find a way to accommodate my taste for the fiction I had been reading with the greatest pleasure for the better part of my life—fantasy, horror, crime, and science fiction—to the way that I had come to feel about the English language, which was that it and I seemed to have something going.
While there are many moments that glitter with Chabon’s enveloping, beloved fairy dust, Bookends at times feels like a diluted version of what he says more imaginatively in his fiction. Still, while other artists influence and surround Chabon’s writing—as do his family, his pets, his location, and his upbringing—his own, of-the-moment voice, thankfully, always makes itself heard from above.