The Pulitzer Prize-winning author-- "an immensely gifted writer and a magical prose stylist" (Michiko Kakutani, New York Times)--offers his first major work of nonfiction, an autobiographical narrative as inventive, beautiful, and powerful as his acclaimed, award-winning fiction.Read more...
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The Pulitzer Prize-winning author-- "an immensely gifted writer and a magical prose stylist" (Michiko Kakutani, New York Times)--offers his first major work of nonfiction, an autobiographical narrative as inventive, beautiful, and powerful as his acclaimed, award-winning fiction.
A shy manifesto, an impractical handbook, the true story of a fabulist, an entire life in parts and pieces, Manhood for Amateurs is the first sustained work of personal writing from Michael Chabon. In these insightful, provocative, slyly interlinked essays, one of our most brilliant and humane writers presents his autobiography and his vision of life in the way so many of us experience our own lives: as a series of reflections, regrets, and reexaminations, each sparked by an encounter, in the present, that holds some legacy of the past.
What does it mean to be a man today? Chabon invokes and interprets and struggles to reinvent for us, with characteristic warmth and lyric wit, the personal and family history that haunts him even as--simply because--it goes on being written every day. As a devoted son, as a passionate husband, and above all as the father of four young Americans, Chabon presents his memories of childhood, of his parents' marriage and divorce, of moments of painful adolescent comedy and giddy encounters with the popular art and literature of his own youth, as a theme played--on different instruments, with a fresh tempo and in a new key--by the mad quartet of which he now finds himself co-conductor.
At once dazzling, hilarious, and moving, Manhood for Amateurs is destined to become a classic.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 131.
- Review Date: 2009-07-20
- Reviewer: Staff
An entertaining omnibus of opinionated essays previously published mostly in Details magazine spotlights novelist Chabon's (The Yiddish Policemen's Union) model of being an attentive, honest father and a fairly observant Jew. Living in Berkeley, Calif., raising four children with his wife, Ayelet Waldman, who has also just published a collection of parenting stories (Bad Mother), Chabon, at 45, revisits his own years growing up in the 1970s with a mixture of rue and relief. A child of the suburbs of Maryland and elsewhere, where children could still play in what he calls in one essay the “Wilderness of Childhood,” he enjoyed a freedom now lost to kids, endured the divorce of his parents, smoked a lot of pot, suffered a short early marriage and finally found his life's partner, who takes risks where he won't. The essays are tidily arranged around themes of manly affection (his first father-in-law, his younger brother); “styles of manhood,” such as faking at being a handyman; and “patterns of early enchantment,” such as his delight in comic books, sci-fi and stargazing. Candid, warm and humorous, Chabon's essays display his habitual attention to craft. (Oct.)
The mysteries of manhood
In popular culture, when men talk about being men they follow a certain formula. We’re probably going to hear about the protagonist looking deeply into the eyes of his firstborn child, his wild single days and the emotional rigors of being a husband. There’s almost a sense that men live the same life; just the names of the primary characters change.
Novelist Michael Chabon’s book of essays, Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son, fits into that paradigm, but not perfectly. Thank goodness. Chabon focuses on the almost-overlooked moments of his life, and the result is a sparkling, clear-headed collection that provides a glorious look at the makeup of a man.
The Pulitzer Prize winner (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay; Wonder Boys) waxes poetic about the creative benefits of the crappy TV shows and movies of his youth, compared to the polished, CGI-animated treats of today, which “don’t leave anything implied, unstated, incomplete.” He talks about the growing sense of doom accompanying his daughter’s blossoming into womanhood and how getting a men’s purse, or “murse,” represents one of the key benefits of getting older—not caring what other people think. Chabon also installs a towel rack, worries about his wife and examines other wonders of childhood: getting lost, the seductive power of basements and the shattered world of scatological humor.
As has been observed repeatedly, Chabon is an awesome talent. He’s blessed with observational shrewdness and a gift for nimble wordplay, but that never obscures the points he makes. (That last talent has served him well as a novelist, and it’s especially helpful here.) The essays, most of which previously appeared in Details, are nostalgic, funny and introspective while never straining for style points or wallowing in sentiment. It’s the kind of writing you read twice, not to get a better understanding, but to better appreciate the man’s abilities. Chabon is a regular guy—except that he can expertly explain himself with smooth, embracing eloquence. The rest of us have to stick to the same old story.
Pete Croatto is a New Jersey-based freelance writer.