Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son

( 48 )

Overview

Ashy manifesto, an impractical handbook, the true story of fabulist, an (entire life in parts and pieces, Manbood for Amateursis 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: as a series of reflections, regrets and re-examinations, each sparked by an encounter, in the present, that holds some ...

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Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son

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Overview

Ashy manifesto, an impractical handbook, the true story of fabulist, an (entire life in parts and pieces, Manbood for Amateursis 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: as a series of reflections, regrets and re-examinations, each sparked by an encounter, in the present, that holds some legacy of the past. In the process, he illuminates what it means to be a man today.

At once dazzling, hilarious, and moving, Manhood for Amateurs isdestined to become a classic.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
A few years ago, Entertainment Weekly painted a word picture of married novelists Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman working back-to-back at opposite desks in a backyard writing cottage that smells of Spanish cedar, "a famous-and famously in love-writing pair like Nick and Nora Charles with word processors and not so much booze." That idyllic image doubtless sold books (and magazines), but the truth, of course, is much more complicated. During his hectic career, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Kavalier & Clay has survived one divorce, several critical controversies, a major novel mishap, and several encounters with Hollywood. In Manhood for Amateurs, he revisits the particulars of his experiences, including generous portions of both pleasure and regret.
David Kamp
A lot of Dad Lit makes me cringe, and, worse, makes me think less of writers I'd previously admired…So it's a relief to say that Manhood for Amateurs isn't really Dad Lit, at least not in the Xtreme sense that its user's-manual-like handle indicates. While it bears some of the hallmarks of the genre…the book is a closer relation to Joan Didion's White Album. That is to say, it's not a chronicle, but rather a vaguely themed collection of thoughtful first-person essays…that capture a certain time and mood. The theme: maleness in its various states—boyhood, manhood, fatherhood, brotherhood. The time: now, juxtaposed frequently with Chabon's 1970s childhood. The mood: wistful…Ultimately, what makes this collection so melancholically pleasurable is not the modern-dad stuff but Chabon's ready and vivid access to his own childhood.
—The New York Times Book Review
Michiko Kakutani
…for the most part in these pages [Chabon] manages to write about himself, his family and his generation with humor and introspective wisdom. As in his novels, he shifts gears easily between the comic and the melancholy, the whimsical and the serious, demonstrating once again his ability to write about the big subjects of love and memory and regret without falling prey to the Scylla and Charybdis of cynicism and sentimentality.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Chabon delivers a polished, subtle, and enjoyable rendition of his first major work of nonfiction. In plumbing his own experiences as husband and father of four to explore masculinity in all its messiness and promise, Chabon offers a powerful paean to family life. Whether describing his boyhood, his years of dedicated marijuana smoking, the evolution of comic book heroines, his children’s art projects, his marriage, or his career, Chabon is a relaxed and likable reader: his nuanced narration enhances his prose and offers the listener a window into his inner life that deepens the potency and meaning of these essays. Reflective but never indulgent, emotional but never sentimental, and philosophical while remaining funny to the core, this is richly rewarding listening. A Harper hardcover (Reviews, July 20). (Nov.)
Children's Literature - Jody Little
The author creates a unique memoire by compiling individual essays. His first chapter is a funny recap of his attempt at forming a comic book club at the age of ten. He then moves to thoughts on being a father, husband, son, and man. He has a keen insight on the perceptions of fathers in America beginning with his statement, "The handy thing about being a father is that the historical standard is so pitifully low." He shares his disappointment in the essence of childhood today, where Lego blocks come in tightly structured designs leaving little room for imaginative play, and where kids no longer spend hours outdoors exploring their environment. His section titled "Styles of Manhood" contains some very funny pieces on being a man, including the male impulse to refuse to admit one's inadequacy, and the principle that "no man, ever, ought to carry a purse." Chabon's writing is blaringly honest, at times self-condemning, but always thought-provoking. There is sure to be at least one treasured essay for every reader of this book. Reviewer: Jody Little
Library Journal
In his second essay collection, following Maps and Legends (2008), justifiably acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Chabon (www.michaelchabon.com) ponders such topics as childhood, sex, love, marriage, divorce, fatherhood, feminism, baseball, comic books, and mortality. Generally, Chabon's comments on popular culture are more interesting and revealing than those involving his private life. His slightly nasal voice and unpolished reading take some getting used to, but his enthusiasm is infectious, as with his joyous account of his children's devotion to Doctor Who. Recommended for Chabon's fans, appreciators of popular culture, and those (especially males) who grew up in the 1970s. [The Harper hc received a starred review, LJ 8/09.—Ed.]—Michael Adams, CUNY Graduate Ctr. Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
A charming collection of autobiographical essays-on childhood, parenthood and lifelong geekhood-from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist. In modern classics like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000) and The Yiddish Policemen's Union (2007), Chabon (Gentlemen of the Road, 2007, etc.) gave genre writing literary heft, and he does much the same here. His material is the stuff of folksy, small-town newspaper columns, but he applies an unusual level of wit and candor to the form. In his essay on Legos, he drills deep into the tactile pleasures they provided him as a child and the frustrations that their current complex, imagination-killing designs give him as a parent. Writing about cooking, he patiently runs through the details of the first crumb cake he successfully baked as a nine-year-old. "A Woman of Valor" looks at Big Barda, a little-loved comic-book superheroine. It's a sharp essay on the definition of sincerely powerful women and why they rarely appear in pop culture. Chabon's tone is nostalgic, funny and self-deprecating, though the memories are often bittersweet: the strange, brief fling he had with a friend of his mother's when he was 15, bad experiences with women his own age, a botched first marriage, a drug-addicted acquaintance slipping away from his efforts to help. Chabon discusses life as a writer only glancingly. He briefly notes, for instance, his struggle to create an authentic female character in Kavalier & Clay-eventually gutting 400 pages of effort-within the context of misogyny in pop culture, and mentions David Foster Wallace's suicide only as a launchpad for an essay on his wife's bout with depression. Even his defense of MFAs says more about theemotional maturity he received pursuing the degree than anything about craft. Only once, in a forced bit of punditry about Jose Canseco and steroids, is he off his game. He'd much rather discuss sharing Doctor Who with his kids, and he's clearly having so much fun being a dad-and thinking about what it means to be a dad-that it's a wonder he has time to create such excellent novels. Wry and heartfelt, Chabon's riffs uncover brand-new insights in even the most quotidian subjects.
Jeremy Adam Smith
“Hilarious, moving, pleasurable, disturbing, transcendent, restless. . . . And seemingly by accident, Chabon ultimately does create a composite image of ideal manhood, one that is modest, responsible, bemused, empathic, and thoughtful.”
Lev Grossman
“Chabon brings his prodigiously entertaining verbal intelligence to a very personal investigation of what it means to be a father, a son, and a husband.”
Douglas C. Lord
“Both lyrical and side-splittingly funny. . . . Readers seeking the intelligence of Updike; the gentle, brainy appeal of Sedaris; or the literary virtuosity of Nabokov will thoroughly enjoy.”
Jerry Eberle
“Chabon takes a big, fat swing at the essay form with his second collection and achieves success. . . . These warm and thoughtful essays underscore just how good a wordsmith Chabon is-regardless of the form he chooses.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061490187
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/6/2009
  • Pages: 306
  • Sales rank: 607,519
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Chabon is the bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Summerland (a novel for children), The Final Solution, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, and Gentlemen of the Road, as well as the short story collections A Model World and Werewolves in Their Youth and the essay collections Maps and Legends and Manhood for Amateurs. He is the chairman of the board of the MacDowell Colony. He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife, the novelist Ayelet Waldman, and their children.

Biography

In 1987, at 24, Michael Chabon was living a graduate student's dream. His masters thesis for the writing program at UC Irvine, a novel called The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, was not only published -- it was published to the tune of a $155,000 advance, a six-figure first printing, a movie deal, and a place on the bestseller lists. Mysteries, a coming-of-age story about a man caught between romances with a man on one side, a woman on the other, and the shadow of his gangster father over it all, drew readers with its elegant prose and an irresistibly cool character, Art Bechstein, racing through a long, hot summer.

Following this auspicious debut, Chabon penned a follow-up short story collection, then hit a serious snag. After five years of fits and starts, he abandoned a troublesome work in progress and began work on another novel, a wry, smart book about, natch, an author hoplessly stuck writing his endless, shapeless novel! With 1995's Wonder Boys and its successful film adaptation by Curtis Hanson, Chabon found both critical praise and a wider audience.

In the year 2000, Chabon rose to the challenge of attempting something on a more epic scale. That something was The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, the story of two young, Jewish comic book artists in the 1940s. Like Chabon's other books, it explored a relationship between two men and dealt with their maturation. But unlike his other books, the novel was grander in scope and theme, blending the world of comic books, the impact of World War II, and the lives of his characters. It won a Pulitzer, and secured Chabon's place as an American talent unafraid to paint broad landscapes with minute detail and aching emotion.

Chabon's ability to capture modern angst in funny, intelligently plotted stories has earned him comparisons to everyone from Fitzgerald to DeLillo, but he has fearlessly wandered outside the conventions of the novel to write screenplays, children's books, comics, and pulp adventures. Clearly, Michael Chabon views his highly praised talent as a story that hasn't yet reached its climax.

Good To Know

Chabon usually writes from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.

He has a side interest in television writing, having written a pilot for CBS (House of Gold) that did not get picked up, and a second one for TNT.

Chabon also has an interest in screenwriting; he was attached to X-Men but dropped from the project when director Bryan Singer signed on. Now he is adapting The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay for the big screen.

After slaving for five years on a book called Fountain City (parts of which can be read on his web site), Chabon finally decided it was not going to jell and abandoned it. At a low point, he switched gears and began Wonder Boys, the story (of course) of an author hopelessly stuck writing his endless, shapeless novel.

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    1. Hometown:
      Berkeley, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 24, 1963
    2. Place of Birth:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Pittsburgh; M.F.A., University of California at Irvine
    2. Website:

Table of Contents

I Secret Handshake

The Losers' Club 3

II Techniques of Betrayal

William and I 11

The Cut 21

D.A.R.E. 29

The Memory Hole 37

The Binding of Isaac 43

III Strategies for the Folding of Time

To the Legoland Station 51

The Wilderness of Childhood 59

Hypocritical Theory 67

The Splendors of Crap 75

IV Exercises in Masculine Affection

The Hand on My Shoulder 87

The Story of Our Story 95

The Ghost of Irene Adler 105

The Heartbreak Kid 111

A Gift 119

V Styles of Manhood

Faking It 127

Art of Cake 135

On Canseco 143

I Feel Good About My Murse 151

VI Elements of Fire

Burning Women 161

Verging 169

Fever 175

Looking for Trouble 179

A Woman of Valor l85

VII Patterns of Early Enchantment

Like, Cosmic 197

Subterranean 205

X09 211

Sky and Telescope 217

VIII Studies in Pink and Blue

Surefire Lines 225

Cosmodemonic 231

Boyland 239

A Textbook Father 245

IX Tactics of Wonder and Loss

The Omega Glory 253

Getting Out 261

Radio Silence 267

Normal Time 275

Xmas 281

The Amateur Family 291

X Cue the Mickey Katz

Daughter of the Commandment 301

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Interviews & Essays

Michael Chabon
An email conversation with Cameron Martin

Michael Chabon's newest book, Manhood for Amateurs, is a collection of personal essays that charts the course of his experiences as a son, husband, and father. His ruminations range from poignant memories of a lonely childhood in which imagination helped salve the bitterness of his parents' divorce, to the frank thoughts of a successful man filling some of the duties traditionally left to women. In a recent email exchange with Barnes & Noble Review contributor Cameron Martin, Chabon, who won the 2001 Pulitzer for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, discusses the art of the personal essay, his plans for a second children's book, and the subject and setting for his upcoming novel, which will be "more mainstream than my recent work."

Barnes & Noble Review: The majority of the essays in this collection first appeared in Details magazine. How did that column originate? Did you and the editors hash out a template for the type of material you'd regularly address or were you given carte blanche?

Michael Chabon: I was first approached by the magazine's editor in chief, Dan Peres, back in early 2001. At the time I didn't feel that a monthly column was a burden I wanted to assume. When Dan came back to me four years later with the same proposition, I eagerly accepted. Evidently something had changed during the interval. The births of two more Chabon children, with their associated expenses, may have had played a certain part.

From the beginning there was no set subject or theme. Peres and Details were incredibly generous and tolerant and supportive, and I never got any kind of directive orguidance to try to tailor my pieces to please a particular readership, or anything like that.

BNR: In "The Story of Our Story," you said the birth of your brother, when you were five, signaled the beginning of your storytelling career. "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." If you'd been an only child, how do you think your interest and confidence in storytelling would have evolved? Would it have developed later, as you made school friends? Were other influences -- your parents, other relatives -- in line to foster this interest, or do you think it would have been nipped in the bud without the presence of a younger sibling who saw you in a "heroic light"?

MC: This is one counterfactual that is really difficult to imagine. Certainly many of our best storytellers have been only children, so it's not like it's a sine qua non. And for the first 5+ years of my life, I was an only child. I think that gave me a certain confidence and poise with adults -- I was always the kid who stayed at the dinner table to be with the grownups when everybody else went off to watch TV after dessert. But the first stories I ever told, the first deliberate attempts at producing extended works of fiction for the purpose of entertainment, were the stories I told my little brother. He still remembers and talks about them. His patient, willing, eager audienceship played a crucial role in my idea of who I was and of what I was able and wanted to do.

BNR: In several works you lament the over-regimented lives of your four children, who aren't experiencing and cherishing the freewheeling aspects of childhood -- hours roaming the neighborhood without adult supervision, for one thing -- that fed your own imagination. Were there any parts of your own childhood that you wish had been less regimented or overseen, that with looser strictures would have spurred your imagination even more?

MC: That, too, is hard to imagine. In the summertime sometimes I walked out the door after breakfast, said goodbye to my Mom, and came home in time for dinner. The only part of my childhood that was overly regimented was school, and even there, at least for the first few years of elementary school, I knew greater freedom than a lot of kids, because in that era the public schools of Columbia, Maryland employed a lot of radical new late-60s ideas like Open Classrooms and Media Centers and Team Teaching. Most of that had disappeared by the time I reached middle school, at which point there really was a clampdown, and things turned kind of gray. Summer never lost its sense of infinite liberty, though.

BNR: What personal essayists do you enjoy reading?

MC: Essayists whose work shaped my idea of essay writing, or to which I return continually for inspiration, in no particular order: Roland Barthes, Jonathan Lethem, Susan Sontag, Geoffrey O'Brien, David Foster Wallace, Walter Benjamin, Jorge Luis Borges, Greil Marcus, S. J. Perelman, Roger Angell, Ursula K. Le Guin...

BNR: In these essays you're reticent about the details of your parents' divorce and your own divorce from your first wife, yet frank about your second wife's bipolar condition and about having sex as a teenager with your mother's thirtysomething friend. What informs your decision to describe certain situations or events while withholding the details of others? Beyond the divorces, are there topics in your life you don't feel comfortable detailing in your essays?

MC: Well, I'm not out to embarrass anybody or to engage in recrimination or payback. In the case of my wife's bipolar disorder, I was following well after her own open and candid writing on the subject; in the case of the second piece you mention, I don't name any names or give any telling details. I don't think there's really much more to say about my divorce; it wasn't really that interesting. As for my parents' divorce, the most painful, central truth of it is one that I freely divulge: that I felt my father had abandoned me. Nothing else I could say would be worse than that, from my child's-eye point of view.

BNR: Do you still resent your father's actions in regards to the divorce? Has being married and divorced and raising your own family at all caused you to see him and his actions in a different light? You say as a child that you felt your father abandoned you when you parents divorced. This book about Manhood is dedicated to your brother, Steve. Why the decision to dedicate this particular book to him?

MC: Oh, yeah, that was all a long time ago. The verb was in the past tense for a reason. Those were different times, to quote Lou Reed.

I already dedicated a book to my father - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. You have to, you know, spread the love.

BNR: Is the monthly essay something you look forward to writing, either as a way to organize some thoughts about your life or to revisit past episodes? Or is it something that usually comes together under the threat of deadline?

MC: It pretty much routinely alternated between those two poles. But I actually thrive under deadline... some of my favorite pieces in the book were written in a panic. Many times I began a column at leisure, with a clear idea of the thoughts I wanted to "organize" as you put it, and a week to go, only to find myself a day late with nothing any good -- and then I would pound something out lickety-split, on an impulse, and have it turn out well. I should mention that I have written my last column for Details, it's in the current issue, I believe.

BNR: Many of the essays in this collection contain detailed descriptions of products and entertainments from your childhood. Do you ever find that a hazy memory sends you off to research a product, movie or television show from your past, and in researching you unlock a memory or a detail you'd otherwise have forgotten and which in turn becomes the focus of an essay?

MC: Absolutely. The one that comes immediately to mind is the one triggered by the Captain Underpants series of books, which led me to research and explore the old Wacky Packages trading cards.

BNR: You published a 15-part serial in the New York Times magazine, "Gentlemen of the Road," in the first half of 2007. What was the overall reaction from fans? Did they enjoy the tantalization of the installments or were they impatient for the whole package? Do you think fiction readers want more serials, and would you like to try your hand at it again?

MC: I was not overly conscious, let's say, that there was a fervent mob of readers hanging on the end of every installment, ready to charge down to the wharves to greet the ship bringing in the latest chapter... I think the serial is still viable, in theory. But I don't think people turn to the Sunday Times Magazine looking for, or expecting to find, fiction there, and I'm not sure that the layout, design and format of the magazine really lent themselves to the presentation of a short serialized novel. There's something diffuse about it, vast pages of tiny type...

BNR: Did having children encourage you to write Summerland, your first children's novel, and do you intend to revisit this genre? Were the ideas for it in place before your children were born, or did they grow from specific experiences you had while raising them?

MC: I had been kicking around vague notions of writing a novel based in American folklore, as so many classic novels for children are based on Northern European folklore, since I was about 12. Having children, and not being able to find any really great fiction about baseball to read to them, impelled me to try my own baseball book, and to merge it with that other, ancient idea of mine. And yes, I do plan to return to the field again -- before too long, I hope.

BNR: You've written novels, short stories, essays and film scripts. Which type of writing provides you with the greatest joy or satisfaction, taking into account the process itself and the end results?

MC: They all provide identical joy on the day that I complete them. I take my satisfaction in writing sentences and paragraphs, so they all qualify, even scripts -- but as a reader I love novels most. As a writer, I can't ignore that love.

BNR: When can we expect to read your next novel-length work of fiction? What genre will it be in? And what can you tell us about the plot, settings and characters?

MC: 2011? It's more mainstream than my recent work, set in present day Berkeley and Oakland. I am having fun writing it -- most of the time.\
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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 48 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    The BEST book for New Dads. Maybe in forever.

    I can't praise this collection of essays more highly. I read it while in the hospital caring for my baby in the Alta-Bates NICU. The book has left me with plenty to chew on, and is a fantastic and fun read to boot. I will probably be re-reading it many times, to tease out more wisdom and revisit someone's past that is not my own. Thank you Michael Chabon.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 8, 2010

    Wonderful writing as usual!

    Anything he writes is colorful and provocative. He is fortunate to have a nice family life and be able to write about it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2010

    Not what I had hoped

    Not absorbing. Pretty boring. I'm not sure why Chabon would feel others were interested in all this.

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2013

    So enjoyable

    I am not a father but still I enjoyed reading this delightful collection of essays from Michael Chabon. I have read three of his novels but this is my first attempt at his non-fiction. I found it engaging and a joy to read. Easy to follow, I finished this in a day and a half. It is a wonderful glimpse at a family making its' way through life during this century we are all gently entering.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2013

    Manhood for Amateurs

    Excellent stories with insight to youth and maturity. Great language, Chabon is a master.

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