Drop City by T.C. Boyle

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The 150-word Review: Nature’s ability to occasionally usurp modern mankind has been a major theme in T.C. Boyle’s oeuvre. Ever since a chimpanzee stole a man’s wife in “The Decent of Man,” Boyle has sought to remind us of our insignificance in the face of a merciless natural world. In “Drop City” Boyle returns to this notion via the unforgiving Alaskan interior.

Drop City is a commune, located along the Russian River in Northern California, that seems to embrace all of the capricious excesses of the waning counterculture and little else. When the deplorable sanitary conditions (and civic pressures) make Drop City uninhabitable, the gang moves their utopia north to Alaska, where they encounter another fringe community: a mostly-male menagerie of bush pilots, Vietnam vets, and modern transcendentalists. As the Alaskan winter looms, the peace-and-love platitudes are stripped bare and only the most basic human condition that has dominated for millennia remains: survival.

Having this book on your shelf will impress: Christopher McCandless, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, Henry David Thoreau, Les Stroud, and Thomas More.

This book will go great with: home-made wine and moose jerky.

Set the mood with: Truckin’ by The Greatful Dead.

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, the “real” Drop City was located in Colorado from 1965 to 1968.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

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The 150-word Review: If the novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” with its themes of escapist fiction and stylized bygone eras, hinted at Michael Chabon’s interest in genre, then “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” is the result of a focused treatment of the 40’s noir genre using his considerable literary talents. It is, however, more than a straightforward hardboiled detective story; it is also an ambitious piece of historical fiction.

For more than two-generations, Jewish refugees have lived in the Federal District of Sitka, located on the Alaskan panhandle. Created as a “temporary” safe-haven for the Diaspora, it has become a vibrant Yiddish city, where only fanatics speak Hebrew. Meyer Landsman, a washed-up homicide detective, must tackle his last case before Sitka reverts back to Alaskan control; one that sends Landsman, and his half-Tligit partner, on a classic noir mystery where the bad guys wear black hats for more reasons than one.

Having this book on your shelf will impress: Hassidic Godfathers, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Yids, femme fatales, chess fanatics, fans of Yiddish slang and hardboiled dialogue, and anyone who’s familiar with an eruv.

This book will go great with: Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon

Set the mood with: anything klezmer.

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Interesting fact Norm, Secretary of the Interior under F.D.R., Harold Ickes, did propose a plan to move European Jews to Alaska in a report, commonly referred to as the “Slattery Report.”