Truth be told, I am not the biggest Michael Chabon fan. Any of his novels from the past eighteen-ish years which I’ve tried to read just haven’t done it for me. I really wanted to like Telegraph Avenue, but I couldn’t even get through the whole thing. But I do like several of his older titles: I like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, I love Summerland, and I love, love, love The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.
To this day, I’m not sure if I love that book so much because of the book itself, or because of when I first read it—the summer of ‘04. I read Summerland first, and wanted to read more Chabon; I chose Mysteries because I had fallen in love with Pittsburgh that summer, and was reading anything I could find which took place there. And I fell in love with the book in that heart-rending, this book is everything way that was so much easier for me when I was younger.
(It was the same way with music, film, art; hell, the world. It’s not that I never fall in love with new books, music, films, etc. nowadays, but it doesn’t happen as often, and even when it does it’s never in the all-consuming way it happened during my teens and early-to-mid twenties. I think of a Sarah Manguso quote: The first beautiful songs you hear tend to stay beautiful because better than beauty, which is everywhere, is the memory of first discovering beauty.)
I’ve re-read the book several times in the seventeen years since, and I still love it just as much as I did that first time, but I wonder: do I really love the book itself that much, or do I love it because it reminds me of my own dizzy-stupid, lovely, dire summer? Especially that final paragraph, which I think of whenever I write anything about the great summer of aught-four:
When I remember that dizzy summer, that dull, stupid, lovely, dire summer, it seems that in those days I ate my lunches, smelled another’s skin, noticed a shade of yellow, even simply sat, with greater lust and hopefulness—and that I lusted with greater faith, hoped with greater abandon. The people I loved were celebrities, surrounded by rumor and fanfare; the places I sat with them, movie lots and monuments. No doubt all of this is not true remembrance but the ruinous work of nostalgia, which obliterates the past, and no doubt, as usual, I have exaggerated everything.
—Michael Chabon, final paragraph of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh