Tag Archives: Michael Chabon

Book by book, I’m reverting to type

Actual books.

Actual books.

Burn the Kindle.

Trash it, recycle it, get rid of it. In recent months, slowly and silently and after long afternoons spend in Portland bookstores (often, but not exclusively, the labyrinthine Powell’s) this is the conclusion I’ve arrived at.

My Kindle, gifted to me by my wife some years back, is likely outmoded at this point. But it’s crammed full of books – titles I bought and read during in a golden year or two when I believed that e-readers – with their convenience, their ability to store notes, the searchability of text they offered – were the future.

They were not. As time passed I increasingly found myself reverted to type (so to speak), buying and reading physical books (very often used copies, which I’d pick up after hours trawling the shelves). Not only that, but I’ve also found myself buying second copies (hardback, paperback with a different cover or a nicer typeset) of books that I already own.

My plan, vague at present but soon to be locked down (I promise myself) is that the shelves in our home will eventually boast a perfectly-curated browsing experience; visitors will come and marvel at the smooth thematic transitions, the pristine Collected Yeats, the Michael Chabon with the Marvel-esque cover. And this is no books-as-interior-design-feature plan: I’ll only shelve what I’ve read.

My wife, sensibly, points out that this grand scheme may require, at most, a structural refit of our home and, at least, a serious purge of the piles of my existing titles. So be it – but what will remain will be distilled, pristine, our own Library of Babel.

Which reminds me, I need to upgrade my battered Borges…

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The Swing Thing

A line I recently read in Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay resonated with the jazz fan in me.

Describing one night in a ‘Golden Age’ in the history of New York Chabon writes:

“Tommy Dorsey’s band were playing. Sammy sat and watched and listened, eyes half-closed, aware, as were all devotees of big-band swing in 1941, that it was his privilege to be alive at the very moment when the practitioners of his favorite music were at the absolute peak of their artistry and craft, a moment unsurpassed in this century for verve, romanticism, polish and a droll, tidy variety of soul”.

Unsurpassed, and unrepeated too. The line prompted a thought – how come I rarely hear swing these days? This was a music which propelled American out of the Depression, tore through Britain and Germany and was halted only by a world war. MI0002461970

It revolutionised pop culture, soundtracked the lives of a generation of teenagers (before that term existed) and even went some way to racial integration, on stage at least.

And yet, with the exception of the odd track I might overhear once a year, it’s almost as if it never existed, at least from where I’m standing. Maybe it didn’t hit Radio Eireann way back when. It certainly never had the effect of the blues, a music which, like swing, defined a generation – albeit through the prism of  white players and not their black antecedents.

Perhaps Gene Krupa rimshots and Benny Goodman’s searing clarinet sound too sharp to the modern listener. Maybe the sound echoing down the decades from Carnegie Hall and similar long-departed dancehalls and studios is just too antiquated.

That’s what occurred to me this week when I watched BBC4’s excellent docu The Swing Thing, which revisited the music’s golden age.

A confession, however. All that said I, for one, couldn’t listen to swing all the time. But every now and then my shuffle throws up this opening horn blast, and I’m there, in a gleaming era of metropolitan romanticism and polish. And as for Chabon’s ‘droll soul’, I just don’t hear it.

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