Listening to The Yiddish Policemen's Union

finished the audio book, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union last night. It’s by Michael Chabon and it’s about a crime that happens in a made-up community of Jewish people in Alaska who originated there because of WWII and the American Government giving them a safe haven. It’s a crime novel but in the third person and it was hard to follow as I was listening to it at work and loud interruptions are a given. But Chabon is so good at details and tying themes together that I enjoyed every minute of it.

His themes of salvation, evil, and faith would be tired if not from a Jewish perspective. With his created community, he is able to make the Jewish faith real to me in a fresh way, especially since I don’t know any practicing Jews as I live in West Michigan. It really is a beautiful and complicated and heartbreaking religion.

After the book, there was an interview with Chabon who talked about the process of writing the book. He wrote it in first person as his first draft, which is typical for crime novels, but then realized it’d be better in third person. He talked about Raymond Chandler and how he rereads his books all the time, and how that was the first author that really grabbed him.

It made me think of what authors have really grabbed me, that make me happy to own their books. John Steinbeck pretty much changed my life. I read Grapes of Wrath in high school and East of Eden and recently, The Pearl. I’m afraid if I reread The Grapes of Wrath I’ll hate Steinbeck. I change a lot year by year. A lot. Was it just the dustbowl vernacular I loved? Am I over that? I should just try.

Flannery O’Connor has had almost the identical effect, but in college. I should reread The Violent Bear It Away. She was a better short story writer. I should take after her and read up on philosophy and theology. What a brainy.

Anyway, listening to books has improved my writing. To hear how a book sounds really helps and because it’s read to me, I can remark about devices the author is using and the structure of the novel. It helps that Chabon is so careful.

Next on my list is Candide, which I downloaded in audio form from the library. They need to get all audio books to do this, because right now the selection is tiny and it’s so much easier to download a book then to get the CDs, burn them on your computer, and sync them to your iPod. My poor laptop can’t take all that work. My past experience with Candide was awful. It was taught to me poorly in a rushed college class and I read it before I learned how to read comprehensively. So this will be good. I already listened to the first few chapters. This will hit the spot. It’s what I need right now.


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