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Manhood for Amateurs, Michael Chabon

2011/03/05

I must confess that I have never read any of Chabon’s extremely popular novels. This particular book caught my eye as I was shelving and straightening books at work. Subtitled, “The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son,” it is a collection of loosely chronological essays regarding Chabon’s experiences and thoughts of being male, from childhood through parenthood.

The first story is all about discovering “the knowledge that failure stalks everything you do… nobody gets past the age of ten without that knowledge.” With this cheerful beginning, Chabon moves on to “Techniques of Betrayal,” “Exercises in Masculine Affection,” and “Studies in Pink and Blue.” In another essay, Chabon makes the observation, “The handy thing about being a father is that the historic standard is so pitifully low.” He also addresses parenting woes such as talking to his children about drugs and sex, what to do with the countless pieces of artwork littering the fridge, and the overwhelming waves of crappy entertainment and mindless pastimes available to them. As he wrestles with hanging a towel rack in his bathroom, Chabon wields a “cordless Makita in its blue high-impact case… racheting screwdriver, a nice Sears Craftsman hammer, a mechanical pencil with a good eraser and a spirit level,” yet still feels woefully inadequate. Other essays relate anecdotes about being a husband, being an adult and relating to parents, attitudes towards women.

Although I found many of the essays to be interesting (a favourite was called “I Feel Good About My Murse”), Chabon often veers into the profane and vulgar, which turned me off of his writing, and may offend gentler readers. The chapters are short — five to ten pages — and can be read sporadically or out of order. The topic and tone may catch the attention of the elusive teen boy reader; however, Chabon’s audience for this work are more likely to be twenty-somethings.

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