I guess the fact that I read Michael Chabon’s book of essays on being a guy, Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son, underscores the fact that I’m a huge fan of his writing, seeing as how I’m not a guy and all. But the fact that I’m not involved in being a husband, father, or son, or the fact that I have a lot of differences of opinion and preference than Chabon, didn’t diminsh my enjoyment of this book at all.
First, I think it’s quite refreshing to read about a man who unabashedly enjoys his family and spends time thinking about how to be a great father and husband. Some of the things he considers, such as how to foster imagination in children when we keep them so sheltered, whether or not pop culture allows for imagination and creativity, as junk art did in the 1970s and 80s, or whether it’s too CGI now and limiting, and so on, are things I think about myself. Other issues he contemplates, like how to balance being honest with protecting kids from danger, aren’t likely to come up in quite the same way at our house, but his conclusions are interesting and thought provoking.
Along the way, Chabon writes touchingly about things like dads and baseball and riding bikes without helmets and other things that will probably resonate with you if you grew up in the ’70s and ’80s.
I particularly loved the way he described the day his parents brought his little brother home from the hospital:
I had been alive for five years, three months, and fifteen days. In that time I had known love and sorrow. I had lived in Silver Spring, Staten Island, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Flushing, and now we were back in Maryland. I had learned to work a record player, tell lies, read the funny pages, and feel awkward at parties. But it was not until that morning, in early September 1968, that my story truly began. Until my brother was born, I had no one to tell it to.
Another topic that really grabbed me was the issue of how friendships can be lost over significant others. I don’t mean two guys fighting over one girl, but rather what happens when a good friend marries someone you REALLY don’t get – it throws the entire friendship into question. I mentioned this to a friend (we both feel like this sort of thing happened in our little group of friends) and she thinks maybe the phenomenon is limited to best friends from the college/early 20s stage of life but who knows. Here is Chabon’s conclusion:
That’s what gives the process of losing a friendship over a woman such a lasting sense of distress and confusion: The loss obliges you to confront the fundamental mystery of another man, one whom you believed you knew as well as you knew yourself. But there is something in the guy, something crucial and irreducible, that you do not understand at all, and She is the proof. You have no access to that innermost kernel of him, and you never did. And in turn, this leads you to question everything you ever thought you knew, not only about him but about the man you though you knew as well as you knew your best friend – yourself.
I don’t know if that resonates with anyone else, but I thought Chabon put it well in his essay.
Although I wish Chabon would write another novel, I did enjoy this book because he is such a masterful writer and because I enjoy learning how other people think and view the world, even/especially if those thoughts and views differ from my own. That said, if you are not a huge Chabon fan, can’t filter for occasional bad language and pot and sex references, or don’t care to plumb the depths of other people’s perspectives on life, this book may not be for you. If you’re not a Chabon fan yet, I’d recommend his other books (links are to my reviews):
- The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
- The Final Solution
- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
- Gentlemen of the Road
- Maps and Legends
- Summerland (scroll down in link for review)
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