Saturday, December 19, 2009

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon [audiobook]

This is a collection of riffs on different topics that circle around boyhood, fatherhood, and the bridge that ties the two. Chabon, who grew up with a good but distant father, now has four boys of his own and, as the title suggests, doesn’t always feel like he knows exactly what he’s doing. I’m not a father myself, but it’s easy to enjoy and relate to many of Chabon’s observations, and his honesty (both the honesty with which he writes and the honesty with which he deals with his kids) is admirable. Chabon’s refreshingly modern version of manhood calls into question the traditional ideas of masculinity (his mother pokes fun at him for carrying a man purse) as well as the traditional roles of the father (he’s not much of a handyman and prefers drawing superheroes with his kids to throwing the football with them). And he and his wife (who has written to much acclaim on the topic of motherhood) work as a team of equals as they tackle the dilemmas of parenthood (should they have their boys circumcised? how do they answer questions about drugs?). But the best part of the book is the exuberance with which Chabon embraces the concepts of childhood (imagination, superheroes) while at the same time lamenting the things that have changed since his own childhood (why did they have to go and add so many strange colors to Legos? what ever happened to kids being able to explore the neighborhood freely and alone?). This book would be a great gift for a young father, but it has enough insight and witty observation on the changing landscape of American suburbia to be relatable for anyone. Chabon’s writing, as always, is top notch, and he balances humor, serious criticism and poignancy very well.

If there were anything to criticize here, it would be that I found the author's reading voice slightly irritating at first. But the content is great.

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