When I learned what my July Numbers Challenge book was, I was happy. I’ve been a devoted buyer of Michael Chabon’s books for years now, since I saw the movie version of Wonder Boys about a hundred years ago, but I’ve never actually read one of them, which is the major reason I put this one on my list. For some reason, I remember precisely when and where I bought this book, and who was with me when I did it. I bought it at the Borders at Stonestown Galleria in the fall of 2001. I was with my now husband and my friend Rosanna. We were meeting our other friends for lunch, either at Olive Garden or Chevy’s. It was either right before or right after 9/11, though I’m pretty sure it was after. When I think about this gathering of my high school friends, I have feelings of needing to see friends no matter how busy our lives are, because who knows when something awful is going to happen (which is why I think it was after 9/11). Thinking about what a production it’s become these days to see my high school friends, it makes our “busy” lives in 2001 seem positively leisurely. We should have been able to see each other at least once a week back then. I know I didn’t just buy The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay that day, because I don’t know that I ever bought just one book at Borders ever, but this is the one I remember buying. I felt like a fancy grown up reader because I was buying a book that had won the Pulitzer Prize, but at the same time I was being subversive because I was buying a book about comic books.
I haven’t gotten that far in this book yet, only about sixty pages out of over six hundred, but I am enjoying it quite a bit. The book opens in 1930s Brooklyn, when Sam Clay meets his Czech cousin, Josef Kavalier, for the first time. They become fast friends, and then we flash back to Joe’s life in Czechoslovakia. Joe is Jewish, and his family spends their entire savings to get him out of the country before Hitler’s veil falls completely. There are complications with this plan, and Josef goes to his former teacher, Kornblum, for assistance in exiting the country and getting to America. Turns out Kornblum is a magician/escape artist like Houdini. Josef took lessons from him until he attempted an escape and almost got himself and his younger brother Thomas killed. Where I am currently, Josef and Kornblum are readying for the great escape, which I believe involves a coffin and an ancient Jewish relic.
Somehow 2014 is becoming the year in which I read a lot of books about World War II. Portions of The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, and Life After Life take place during WWII, and all of The Book Thief did, and The Polished Hoe happened right after WWII. It’s been really interesting to get all of these perspectives on this era. My friend Katee said that she loves reading about World War II, or rather reading books that take place during World War II, and I can see why—it’s a fascinating, emotionally charged time. Modern, but not contemporary, a simpler, but also more complicated time. (A brief aside: I’ve also been reading books with really long titles this year….)
I’m hopeful that I’ll make a significant amount of progress on The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay over the next couple of days, but I have a feeling I’ll be spending the next few weeks to a month or more with Joe and Sam. I think that’s probably okay.