Book Review: 'Wonder Boys,' By Michael Chabon | It's literary awards season. The Nobel, the National Book Awards shortlists, and the Man Booker Prize were all recently announced. Author Jason Sheehan recommends some reading on all this reading.


After A Flurry Of Literary Awards, A Book On The 'Wonder' Of Words

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ARUN RATH: It is award season for books. Last week, the Nobel Prize was announced. This week, it was the Man Booker prize and the National Book Award short lists. For our series This Week's Must-Read, author Jason Sheehan recommends some reading about all this reading.

JASON SHEEHAN: Listen to this quote. (Reading) Although it was only nine o'clock, he'd already gone once around the pharmacological wheel, stolen a tuba and offended a transvestite. And now his companions were beginning with delight and aplomb to barf. It was definitely a Crabtree kind of night.

That is one of those lines for which books were invented, for which awards were invented - to bestow temporary graces on those romantics and idiots who believe that telling stories for nickels is worthwhile. I am one of those idiots, and so's Michael Chabon, who wrote those lines as a kind of mid-chapter mike-dropper in his novel "Wonder Boys."

The books main character is Professor Grady Tripp. A one-time bright star of the book world, he's now an old writer, perpetually stoned, teaching at some perfect little liberal arts college in Pittsburgh and too scattered to finish his second book. His foil is, of course, a young writer, a student named James Lear. He's a mopey, damaged goof, but also wickedly talented. And then there's Grady's editor, Crabtree, in town to get his hands on the manuscript of Grady's next novel, a rambling mess currently clocking in at 2,611 pages.

"Wonder Boys" is a book about precisely them - about old writers and young writers and people who care deeply about words and book awards, even if they suspect, sadly, that no else does. In the long, deep and generally awful canon of writers writing books about writers and books, "Wonder Boys" is my favorite by a mile, and I don't mean that as faint praise. The genius of "Wonder Boys" is in the way it walks a knife edge between being a serious meditation on the lonely and sadly desperate lives of writers and northeastern academics and an out-and-out farce, gut-ripping that same preciousness.

Everyone is drunk in "Wonder Boys" or stoned or both. James shoots a dog. Crabtree steals that tuba. There's even a car chase of sorts. And while it would be perfect to be able to say that "Wonder Boys" went on to win some heavy, important award, that wouldn't be true. Michael Chabon would have to wait a few years for that, for "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," which won him the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2001.

RATH: Jason Sheehan is the author of "Tales From The Radiation Age." He recommended "Wonder Boys" by Michael Chabon.

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