Archive for the ‘Michael Chabon’ Category

I love to read books by male authors.  Growing up, much as I loved L.M. Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott, my first favourite author was A.A. Milne, followed in later years by Roald Dahl and Rudyard Kipling.  Other girls read about Malory Towers and the Chalet School while I was busy reading Gordon Korman’s Macdonald Hall books, set at a fictional boy’s boarding school.  And, for the first 6 years of my life, when your friends are those who live nearest to you, I was surrounded entirely by boys.

All of this is to say, the male perspective fascinates me and so when Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs, a series of essays on “The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son”, was published, it went immediately onto my TBR list.  Like Chabon, I resent the view that “there is some mystic membrane separating male and female consciousness, some nebulous difference between men’s and women’s minds, when people are people and minds are minds, and, if you want to get down to it, I don’t really understand what goes on inside anybody’s head apart from (in moments of grace) my own” (p. 229).  But also like Chabon, I acknowledge that there are usually differences, though I can’t explain them and though they may be remarkably subtle.  I maintain a perhaps naïve hope that by reading books by male authors, particularly personal memoirs like this, I will gain some sort of insight into the male psyche (yes, laugh if you must), or at least a reassurance that there is not that great a difference between the genders.  I was not disappointed. 

The essays are eclectic, covering everything from star-gazing to cougars (human not feline), OCD to Doctor Who.  While I skipped a few of the essays (they are, as a rule, short), I found the volume as a whole engaging and entertaining, humourous and sweet.  It wasn’t too sentimental or too nostalgic – the balance of emotions was perfect.  It’s Chabon’s essays on parenting and his children that come closest to the saccharine, but by the point this happens I was already too emotionally invested to care.  Indeed, it’s these essays that pleased me the most: the maternal role is clearly and rather too rigidly defined in our culture while the paternal role is evolving faster than literature can keep up.  To hear the male perspective is endearing and reassuring.  Right at the beginning of the book, Chabon is told by a woman in the grocery store that she can tell he is a good father.  Chabon appreciates this unsolicited flattery but knows at the same time that no matter how often he fails as a father, he will always get this response because of how rare it still is to see the men doing the traditionally female activities associated with child-rearing.  No one, on the other hand, would ever think to tell his wife that she was a good mother, just on the basis of seeing her in the checkout line with children in tow.  It’s this kind of feminist aside that particularly endeared Chabon to me (well, those asides and this quote: “…I have never found anything more reliably sexy in a woman than a passion for 1) reading difficult novels and 2) me.” p.17).

Other favourite essays?  The Amateur Family (which includes the aforementioned Doctor Who references), Cosmodemonic (about how Chabon was inspired by the women in his MFA program to mature beyond the callowness of youth), Art of Cake (his history as household chef, from Bisquick recipes to the present) and, my absolute favourite, The Hand on My Shoulder (the story of Chabon’s short but wonderful relationship with his first wife’s father).

I had never read any of Chabon’s novels before, had never really picked up any of his books to even determine what they were about, despite the universal raves over The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.  However, now that I’ve developed a fondness both for Chabon himself and his writing style, it might be time to consider reading his other works, or at least taking an interest enough to figure out what they are about!

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