The Greatest Book Ever
I read my favourite book in the middle of 1997, 12 years ago in the way-back machine. It was Stephen King’s The Shining and it absolutely knocked my socks off, at my tender age of 15. I had never read something that seemed so perfect to me. I had loved Roald Dahl, and continued to, and I was just about to start dabbling with Philip K Dick, I was nearly finished with Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, I had poured through a lot of Star Wars fiction, and I would say that I had yet to truly discover ‘literature’ as it were, I had knocked in some John Wyndham, George Orwell, Ray Bradbury and the book I read before The Shining was John Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men. And that’s a bloody good book, but The Shining became everything I wanted from a reading experience. It was instantly my favourite book of all time.
I must say that I had already book through a fair pile of King fiction at that time, The Stand, The Talisman, The Eyes of the Dragon, ‘salem’s Lot, The Green Mile, The Bachman Books, and others. I wasn’t just wowed by my first few lines from the master. I knew my King business, but The Shining was it. I had always liked, almost loved, the Kubrick film, but the book was so much better. It had so many more layers, and was much more complex, and the characters weren’t caricatures. I would say that The Shining was easily my favourite book, but it was also, possibly with a little bias, the best book I had ever written. The story is so well laid out, the dialogue and interaction is great, and the characters are so masterfully set out that I was in awe. Jack Torrence is a great literary character, and his back and forth play with the Overlook Hotel is mesmerising and scary and everything that a good terror novel should have.
The Shining has reigned supreme as my top book for twelve years and I always wondered if anything would ever overtake it. My favourite movie was something I saw in 1997, Chasing Amy, and I also wonder if it will ever be eclipsed. I doubt it, and I had always doubted The Shining’s chances of being knocked off. It was just too good. Many books tried, Harper Lee couldn’t do it, Michael Ondaatje also failed, Jostein Gaarder never got past the line, Cormac McCarthy and Anthony Burgess failed. There have been many awesome books pass in front of my eyes but nothing could steal me away. The Shining was ‘the book’ for me. But it no longer is.
I just finished reading Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and I have to wholeheartedly admit that there’s a new lover in town. I am stamping down my foot and stopping a dozen years’ worth of history by unequivocally stating that Kavalier and Clay is my favourite novel, and easily the best book I have ever read. It takes what I want from a reading experience and shows me how it could be so much better.
I found myself reading the book and not wanting to read too much at any one time because I wanted to soak it in, I wanted to swirl it around my snifter and enjoy the light’s refractions through the thin sheen on the glass wall. I also didn’t want to finish the book too quickly, in fact, I never wanted it to end. Each time I sat down, or laid down, to read I found the chapters melting away in front of me like someone was pouring boiling water on them. It was sad but also so much unbelievable fun.
Kavalier and Clay was written exactly as I wish I could write. The extended metaphors and similes, the extended sentences with maps of commas that take a beautiful mind to traverse and not get lost. It wraps up perfect chapters that serve so well as little tales, but still work as interconnections for the piece as a whole.
The book, for those who don’t know, was written in 2000 and managed to win Chabon the Pulitzer Prize. This fact made me think he must be well seeped into his end-game years, Thomas Wolfe-style. But he’s not; he’s 46 and he’s pitched stories for X-Men and Fantastic Four movies, which sadly were not taken up. The guy was published straight out of his thesis, and has managed to win awards, critical acclaim, and my respect in the coming years. I have only reasd one of his books but it would appear that he is a genius, a master, and an awesome mind. I am jealous and in love all at once, much as I am with this book.
Kavalier and Clay is about two Jewish cousins who create a comic character in the late 30′s to rival Superman, the character is called the Escapist, who is actually a pretty cool character in his own right. One cousin, Clay, is doing it out of a want to create strength that he does not have but his strong-man father had in droves, though he lacked maturity and a decent family ethic. The other cousin, Kavalier, is doing it simply to raise money and get the rest of his family out of Germany-riddled Europe before they are killed. The story that then passes over the proceeding two decades shows savant boys creating an empire of which they are not allowed to rule, one man’s strange journey through a war, one lady’s strange journey through a family, and the power of creativity to fuel and destroy people as they try to simplify and figure out how they should live, not just how the characters they put on the page should, and would. It’s a great story that could brings tears, laughs, or outright hatred. It goes for the motions and gets them every time.
One things I loved, and must give its own paragraph to discuss, is how Chabon writes the scenes that he sets in the four-colour world. He writes a straight chapter that you soon find out is actually the story of the characters being created by Kavalier and Clay. His word use and overall image building in these chapters is superb. He nails the feel of the old school comics, with an early Stan Lee vibe running through it. He doesn’t let too much get in the way of a good yarn, and they never did back then. Chabon manages to juggle these passages in and still make them seem better written than any book I have read lately, which includes some fine literature, check out The Pulp List to the right if you don’t believe me.
Halfway through the book I had a sneaking suspicion that this was something great. This was something monumental. By the end of the last page I knew it. This was the best book I had ever read. The only problem with it is, I didn’t want it to end. There were about forty years worth of material that I wanted mined. I wanted to know every little detail, but you don’t get that. It reminds me of the end to The Shawshank Redemption. You just have to know that everything’s going to be fine, you don’t have to know exactly how. It’s annoying but also very well done.
If I thought The Shining was hard to beat then I don’t know what could possibly beat The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. But I’ll keep searching. It took twleve years to get here, and it was damn fun searching for the right soul mate, but it’ll be just as much fun looking for the next. The search never ends, I’m not married to the book, we just really had some fun together.
I cannot recommend this book more to anyone else out there who appreciates the English language, loves a good story, knows how to read, or needs to kill five minutes. This book is great for all occasions.
I feel better having read it, but I’m still uncertain of whether it has inspired me to go out and read more, it shown me what I can never do and killed my useless little spark. I’ll just have to keep writing and see how I cope.
Posted on August 30th, 2009 by ryan
Filed under: books