Michael Chabon is the author of several books, including The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Klay, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son and most recently, Telegraph Avenue.

Soul Pleasure

Tanya Holland’s West Oakland restaurant Brown Sugar Kitchen
Oakland—like a swinging party, like an emergency—is happening. Oakland is always happening. From the moment of its founding, in the 1850s, by a nefarious confederation of squatters, opportunists, filibusterers, graft artists, boosters, visionary thieves, and confidence men, Bump City has been happening. And yet, in all that time, Oakland has …

The Crying of September 11

A diner looking across the Hudson River and New Jersey from Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the north tower of the World Trade Center, June 1996
Conspiracy theories insist that we open our eyes and wise up. The fix is in, resistance is futile, and innocence is a kind of benightedness, a handicap to be overcome. Such theories claim to explain everything and may appear to explain a lot but they fall short—bitterly, uselessly—as any parent can attest, when the time comes to answer a question posed by an actual innocent. A good postmodernist, like a 9/11 truther, can afford the luxury of disdain for innocence; a parent is bound to protect it. Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge is best understood not as the account of a master of ironized paranoia coming to grips with the cultural paradigm he helped to define but as something much braver and riskier: an attempt to acknowledge, even at the risk of a melodramatic organ chord, that paradigm’s most painful limitation.

Let It Rock

One day in the late spring of 1983, toward the end of my junior year at the University of Pittsburgh, I stopped by during office hours to see my poetry teacher, Ed Ochester, up on the fifth floor of the Cathedral of Learning. I had just been asked to join …

The Film Worlds of Wes Anderson

Kara Hayward (center) in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, in a scene showing preparations for a production of Benjamin Britten’s opera Noye’s Fludde
The world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is, also, irretrievably broken. We call this period of research “childhood.” There follows a program of renewed inquiry, often involuntary, into the nature and …

Wes Anderson’s Worlds

Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom

From Rushmore to Moonrise Kingdom (shamefully neglected by this year’s Academy voters), Wes Anderson’s films readily, even eagerly, concede the “miniature” quality of the worlds he builds, in their set design and camera-work, in their use of stop-motion, maps, and models. And yet these miniatures span continents and decades. They comprise crime, adultery, brutality, suicide, the death of a parent, the drowning of a child, moments of profound joy and transcendence.

Head or Tale

Henry Fuseli: The Nightmare, circa 1781
I hate dreams. Dreams are the Sea Monkeys of consciousness: in the back pages of sleep they promise us teeming submarine palaces but leave us, on waking, with a hermetic residue of freeze-dried dust. The wisdom of dreams is a fortune on paper that you can’t cash out, an oasis …

What to Make of Finnegans Wake?

James Joyce at Shakespeare and Company, Paris, 1938
Like many admirers of the work of James Joyce, I had imposed strict terms on that admiration, and around the work I had drawn a clear ambit, beyond which I was unprepared to stray. Ulysses and “The Dead”: crucial works, without which life was something seen through a sheet of …

Why I Hate Dreams

An image from Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland

I hate dreams. I hate them for their absurdities and deferrals, their endlessly broken promise to amount to something, by and by. I hate them for the way they ransack memory, jumbling treasure and trash. I hate them for their tedium, how they drag on, peter out, wander off. Pretty much the only thing I hate more than my own dreams are yours.

On ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’

Milo approaching the tollbooth in his bedroom; illustration by Jules Feiffer from Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth
When I was a boy I read, in a biography of Daniel Boone, or of Daniel Beard, that young Dan (whichever of the two it may have been—or maybe it was young George Washington) had so loved some book, had felt his heart and mind inscribed so deeply in its …

‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ and the Wonder of Words

Milo and Tock, from The Phantom Tollbooth

When I was a boy I read, in a biography of Daniel Boone, or of Daniel Beard, that young Dan (whichever of the two it may have been—or maybe it was young George Washington) had so loved some book, had felt his heart and mind inscribed so deeply in its every line, that he had pricked his fingertip with a knife and, using a pen nib and his blood for ink, penned his name on the flyleaf. At once, reading that, I knew two things: 1) I must at once undertake the same procedure and 2) only one, among all the books I adored and treasured, was worthy of such tribute: The Phantom Tollbooth. At that point I had read it at least five or six times.

Obama & the Conquest of Denver

Denver, Colorado I tagged along to the Democratic National Convention in Denver with my wife, Ayelet Waldman, one of five pledged Obama delegates elected from the 9th Congressional District of California. Like every political convention, I suppose, this one was quite a show: a spectacle. But it was more than …

In Priceland

The protagonists of Richard Price’s first four novels suffer from the fatal weakness of character known to moralists, comedians, writers of tragedy, and bullshit artists as New York City. Brash and withdrawn; hangdog and prone to delusions of grandeur; cynical and compassionate; fixated on the quick score, the next hit; …

After the Apocalypse

Charlton Heston and a savagely coiffed vixen, wrapped in animal skins, riding horseback along a desolate seashore, confronted by the spike-crowned ruin of the Statue of Liberty half buried in the sand: everyone knows how the world ends. First radiation, plague, an asteroid, or some other cataclysm kills most of …

After Strange Gods

I was in the third grade when I first read D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths and already suffering the changes, the horns, wings, and tusks that grow on your imagination when you thrive on a steady diet of myths and fairy tales.[^*] I had read the predecessor, D’Aulaires’ Book of …

On ‘The Mysteries of Pittsburgh’

I started to write my first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, in April of 1985, in Ralph’s room. Ralph was the Christian name of a man I never met, the previous owner of my mother’s house on Colton Boulevard, in the Montclair District of Oakland, California. His so-called room was …

The Game’s Afoot

Though today they are often published without the standard prefix, I think it’s important that so many of the fifty-six Sherlock Holmes stories bear the word “Adventure” in their title: “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist.” It has become commonplace to view the Holmes …

Inventing Sherlock Holmes

One hundred and seventeen years after his first appearance in print, in the pages of Beeton’s Christmas Annual for 1887, fans and nonbelievers alike seem to feel compelled to try to explain Sherlock Holmes’s lasting appeal, marveling or shaking their heads at it, or both, as if the stories of …

Dust & Daemons

Pity those—adventurers, adolescents, authors of young adult fiction—who make their way in the borderland between worlds. It is at worst an invisible and at best an inhospitable place. Build your literary house on the borderlands, as the English writer Philip Pullman has done, and you may find that your work …