This is probably one of the most underrated books I’ve ever read! I rarely hear it discussed anywhere, and think I only discovered it via NPR’s Book Concierge, which is an amazing tool and everyone should check it out (it’s also a lot of fun). The scope is enormous – from Joe’s origins in Nazi Europe to joining his cousin Sammy in New York City to create popular comic books, to their involvement in World War II, and finally ending with them as adults with families.
Most of the book centers on their creative years as comic book writers, following them from complete newbies in the comic world who got paid pennies at a time, to seasoned pros who dreamed up some of the best-selling superheroes of their day. Sammy and Joe are like day and night – Sammy is a goofy-looking quick talker with endless ideas for content (would be a great influencer in this day and age 😆), while Joe is shy and tall, a talented magician and artist both. I can’t say good enough things about both characters because they were so wonderfully developed. I liked spending time with each of them and learning their dreams and secrets and heartaches, and the sense of boyish bravado and optimism really shines through. Even the secondary characters were satisfyingly fleshed out too. It’s a pretty long book so there’s a couple of slow sections, but Chabon is such a brilliant, zany writer that I chugged through those anyway. I just had a feeling that he wouldn’t let me down with the ending, and he definitely pulled through.
If you think it’s not the book for you because you’re not into comics, don’t worry! I’m not either, and almost let that stop me from picking it up, but I’m really glad I gave it a chance. It was worth the long haul, and I wish there were more writers like Chabon.
I like this book for what it is: simple and straightforward. To all the people who try to seek deeper meaning and symbolism from this story, I have only this quote from Hemingway himself to offer:
“There isn’t any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.”
Hemingway, despite all his issues, just can’t be denied as a great writer – it’s evident in the sheer amount of storytelling he can do in 120 concise pages. The narrative has always been disappointing to me, but only because we all want the happy ending where he returns home with the marlin intact and is hailed as the village hero. But life is rarely that perfect, isn’t it? This ending is much more realistic, and Santiago nonetheless still gets some recognition when the other fishermen see the skeleton of the marlin on the beach. I always leave it not happy, but satisfied.
P.S. This 1-star review on Goodreads made me laugh out loud:
This is an outstanding collection of essays examining different aspects of our society. I really enjoy Tolentino’s sharp, incisive cultural critique, even if it tends to digress into side topics and lose the original train of thought, and her writing is very distinctly hers. In particular, her writing is dense. She comes off as intimidatingly intelligent and well-spoken through these essays (and she is – she went to UVA and was accepted to Yale) – the kind of writing that makes you wonder if you’re just not smart enough to understand what she’s saying – and doesn’t shy away from tackling complicated topics with sophisticated language and strong opinions. At the same time, she’s quite graceful in admitting when her perspective is limited, whether because she’s young and attractive (not her words, she’s too diplomatic for that), or because she’s Asian and can’t speak to the white experience, etc.
This is not a book to speed through. The density alone prevents that, but even if not for her writing style, her ideas are engaging enough to make you pay attention as well. I particularly liked the essays Always Be Optimizing (The Guardian has an excellent shortened version of it) about the pursuit of perfection by today’s millennial woman, and We Come from Old Virginia about the 2014 UVA rape case and the countless other unreported rapes that occurred on the one campus alone. The book was most readable when Tolentino made it more personal – sharing her anecdotes from being on reality TV and what it was like growing up deeply religious in Houston (I’m from Houston and recognized a lot of the references!). To help on the accessibility front, I think Trick Mirror could have benefited greatly from a paring down. Simplicity is always preferred over convolution. And there’s no need to rehash stories and events that are public knowledge – I was almost annoyed to see retellings of how Facebook was founded and how the 2008 financial crisis occurred.
This is well-worth the read because her life experiences – Asian in a deeply conservative, religious part of Texas, reality TV exposure, Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan during the coup – give her unique perspectives and she channels them into this furious onslaught of words. But make sure you have the time and patience before you dive in.
P.S. Isn’t the blurb more than a little fatalist though? I mean, “Trick Mirror is an instant classic of the worst decade yet”? And this was published in 2019, before the whole pandemic!
An odd and – dare I say it? – boring little book. The book blurb – glimpses into the lives of ordinary Dubliners – is very accurate…the short stories cover the extremely mundane lives of working-class city folk, and you’d be sorely disappointed if you went in expecting any interesting action.
This book is a total whirlwind to read. I first picked it up one winter break in college, and it immediately grabbed me until I was done just a day later – it was just impossible to put down. I’ve since come back to it a couple times (especially interesting as the restaurant industry has overhauled itself in the past decade or so) and recommended/gifted it to countless people, and I have to say, it’s still as good as it was that first time through.