When you fancy yourself a writer, it complicates the pastime of reading for pleasure. Like it or not, you end up judging every book with the eye of a technician. I inevitably have one of two reactions: “Hell, I could do better than this” (to which the inner voice replies, “then why didn’t you?”); or “I could not write this well in a million years” (to which the inner voice replies, “You’re finally starting to get it”).
I’m having the second reaction to “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union,” which I mention below. While I’m thoroughly enjoying this book, it’s also kind of depressing to be reminded so forcefully that there is such a thing as innate talent, and that some people have a lot more of it than others. Michael Chabon puts more pathos, humor and insight into a single paragraph than I’ve been able to do in a thousand of them. He’s a fine writer to read, but a daunting one to compare oneself against.
I guess it’s more helpful to reflect on the thousands of lesser writers who are filling up Barnes and Nobles all over the country, and who are making nice livings despite their lesser talents. We can’t all be excellent, but we can aim for it. And now, back to the book.