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Nick Chapman has commented on (13) products.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
Telegraph Avenue

Nick Chapman, January 30, 2013

Brilliant. A tour de force. Recognizably from the author of Kavalier and Clay and Yiddish Policeman's Union, but grounded in the contemporary real world. Particularly in my contemporary real world, as he writes about the area in which I grew up in and still hang out in, and name checks records I owed, donuts I've eaten, even my high school.

But I would love this book even if it didn't have all those powerful connections to my life. It's a moving, complex exploration of relationships: between men and women, before fathers and sons, between friends, between the black and Jewish communities, between people and the neighborhoods they create and inhabit, between men and their pop culture obsessions. Laid out like that, the books interests and engagements have some connection with those of another of my favorite authors, Nick Hornby. But this book is less funny than, say, High Fidelity. While it has moments of genuine humor - I laughed out loud more than once - it also runs very, very deep, and has some real darkness in it. There are endings, and they are for the most part positive, but they aren't really happy endings. This book doesn't tie everything up, it just gets you to the end of its particular journey.

One might make some minor quibbles. I might have like to see the character of Nat fleshed out a bit more, gotten to know him a bit better. Chabon's wives here are much like the women of Yiddish Policeman's Union - their hard resolve, willingness to put up with a lot of shit from the feckless men that they've come to love, their commitment to a vocation. And Gwen does emerge as a very real, fleshed out character. But as with Hornby, women characters do't always seem to have quite the three-dimensional solidity of the men. The plot maybe has a few too many threads. I'd have like to spend more time in Brokeland, listening to people shoot the shit. But these are, like I said, minor quibbles.

What is not minor is the prodigious talent that Chabon unleashes. It's been clear, I think, to most people for a while that he was, and was likely to continue to be, one of America's best novelists. But with Telegraph Avenue, he should have silenced almost any opposition to this view. Rich, densely layered, evocative, with a loose narrative voice that slips easily between jivin' and the sometimes heavily literary voice of his earlier work, summoning up so vividly such an engaging world... Telegraph Avenue is a knockout.
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Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier

Nick Chapman, August 12, 2012

I part of a low-key, but growing and only partly humorous movement to try to haul Neil deGrasse Tyson into the political sphere. His lucidity, sense of humor (about himself as well) and his deep intelligence, and the sense he gives of a very powerful moral compass and reliability, makes him seem like he would be a welcome addition to the political scene.

We've elected business men with law degrees and that hasn't worked out so well. How about a deeply humanistic scientist with a PhD?

Read this book and you'll find out why we're not just joking about wanting him to run for high office. And why he is the most effective and exciting popularizer of science since Carl Sagan.

He's the real thing.
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(2 of 4 readers found this comment helpful)

A Hobbit's Journal: Being a Blank Book with Some Curious Illustrations of Friends & Foes of the Nine Companions (Parchment Journals)
A Hobbit's Journal: Being a Blank Book with Some Curious Illustrations of Friends & Foes of the Nine Companions (Parchment Journals)

Nick Chapman, November 9, 2010

I'm excited about this. I loved The Hobbit - maybe more than my son, but he loves to write and draw, and I think he will really enjoy this.
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Heat Death

Nick Chapman, May 8, 2010


This morning, because the snow swirled deep
around my house, I made oatmeal for breakfast.
At first it was too runny so I added more oatmeal,
then it grew too thick so I added water.
Soon I had a lot of oatmeal. The radio
was playing Spanish music and I became
passionate: soon I had four pots of oatmeal.
I put them aside and started a new batch.
Soon I had eight pots. When the oatmeal cooled,
I began to roll it with my hands, making
small shapes: pigs and souvenir ashtrays. Then
I made a foot, then another, then a leg. Soon
I’d made a woamn out of oatmeal with freckles
and a cute nose and hair made from brown sugar
and naked except for a necklace of raisins.
She was five feet long and when she grew harder
I could move her arms and legs without them
falling off. But I didn’t touch her much -
she lay on the table – sometimes I’d touch her
with a spoon, sometimes I’d lick her in places
it wouldn’t show. She loooks like you, although
her hair is darker, but the smile is like yours,
and the eyes, although hers are closed. You say:
what has this to do with me? And I should say:
I want to make more women from Cream of Wheat.
But enough of such fantasy. You ask me
why I don’t love you, why you can’t
live with me. What can I tell you? If I
can make a woman out of oatmeal, my friend,
what trouble could I make for you, a woman?


Someday I want to do an anthology, maybe just a chapbook, of poems about varieties of porridge. There’s that classic of early American literature, “Hasty Pudding,” and Galway Kinnell’s poem on oatmeal, and I am sure there are more… Maybe an anthology of breakfast foods, with a section on porridges.

I really like Heat Death, the volume from which this poem comes. I think a big part of what I enjoy about these poems is Dobyns’ style, which is very intelligent and very poetic and crafted (in things like line breaks and word choice – all that) but at the same times reads so naturally, like prose, vernacular. It makes me think these would be interesting poems to teach to kids, to help them think about poetry in new ways – not as something alien, in form and content, but as no different really from the forms of speech and writing with which they are already familiar.

Language that has been shaped – a little – but mostly that has been rendered powerful through some subtle process – subtle in the doing, though, rather than in the outcome. I might use Niedecker’s term to refer to it – “this condensery” – except that Dobyns’ language doesn’t seem that condensed. Like I said, it feels much more natural, much more vernacular. Though of course when you look closely the rhymes and rhythms and breaks all add up to real craft, hard work to make something simple.

Not perfect. Near the end, when the women says “what has this to do with me,” that diction is anything but natural. And I feel like the word “soon” recurs a bit too much, though the deadpan delivery of the first line in which it appears – “Soon I had a lot of oatmeal” – is one of the great moments in the poem. As is the line break here, which is like a moment of hesitation in a striptease:

sometimes I’d lick her in places
it wouldn’t show.

Overall, “Oatmeal Deluxe” has a kind of magical realist quality to it, starting off mundane – what could be more mundane than oatmeal? – but then descending, or ascending, into strangeness, before finally saying “enough of such fantasy” and coming clean on its intentions. It’s his way of saying “No” to a woman who loves him. How much better than “I like you – as a friend,” or “it’s not you, it’s me” is the ending:

If I / can make a woman out of oatmeal, my friend, / what trouble could I make for you, a woman?
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The Execution Channel by Ken Macleod
The Execution Channel

Nick Chapman, May 26, 2009

In "The Execution Channel," Ken Macleod breaks from the far distance future worlds of his recent books, the "Engines of Light" series, "Newtons' Wake" and "Learning the World," to return to Earth, and Scotland, and the very near future, a time and place much closer to where Macleod started in "The Star Fraction," the first book in his "Fall Revolution" series.

"The Execution Channel" follows a father and his young adult daughter as their lives are caught up in an escalating crisis after an apparent nuclear explosion at a US air base in Scotland. The daughter had been at a peace camp outside the base and is pursued by the authorities to find out what she knows. The father has secrets of his own, that soon make him a wanted man as well.

The "Execution Channel" of the title is a cable/satellite TV broadcast that consists entirely of short snippets showing executions, deaths under torture and the like, gathered from news and security camera footage from around the world. Initially of uncertain origin, the anonymous murder porn of the "Execution Channel" plays a pivotal role in the trajectories of the main characters, and eventually its source is revealed.

The truth behind the apparent nuclear explosion is also revealed in the end, and it takes the book back into the more imaginative science fiction realms of Macleod's other books - but in a very satisfying fashion.

Along the way, Macleod uses the near-future setting to explore some of the tensions of our present - in particular, relations between the US and Europe, Western military adventurism in the Middle East, the covert world of renditions and waterboarding, ubiquitous surveillance, computers and blogging, and so on.

Ken Macleod is one of the most exciting writers in science fiction today. His always amazing and inventive and very, very human writing and his return to Earth and the pointed political observations of "The Fall Revolution" make this a book not to be missed.
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