My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a reassuring book and collects essays that been elsewhere. I think in terms of Chabon’s overall work this is something anyone who follows his work should read. However collected here the overall tone of the essays Chabon is trying to be reassuringly erudite) just doesn’t work. On one hand, he strikes me as an honest essayist who allows his ignorance, knowledge, enthusiasm, and secrets to just hang out there. This doesn’t feel like a front, or as manipulation, and in this way, these essays read conversationally and they are great. However he is either holding back, or is taking on more than he can chew. In almost every essay I wanted him to get in there and do something instead of just amiably chat about the subject, and so the essays often promise those freakishly insightful moments that make Roland Barthes or Walter Benjamin lift their essays beyond some ruminations about collection books or watching detective movies. In Chabon’s case, they the essays remain as chatty ruminations.
In thinking about this now, there are authors whose books of essays are some of favorite books although they are often typically thought of novelists. William Gass, Charles D’Ambrosio,and David Faster Wallace have collections of essays that would displace all of their fiction if I was forced to choose just one book by those authors.