I think I would like to be friends with Michael Chabon.
I tweeted a link to a LA Times interview with Chabon a few weeks ago which spurred me to read his new book (I’ve never read any of his earlier works) entitled Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son, which is his second nonfiction work. After reading it, I’m definitely going to go pick up some of his fiction, and go find his first collection of essays, Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands.
Manhood for Amateurs is a wonderful read, if for no other reason than Chabon is a master writer, with each word, from his most crass to his most lyrical, being perfectly chosen and situated in a sentence such that simply the process of reading his prose is a joy in and of itself. The book collects essays on a variety of topics tied together with Chabon’s personal musings on the subject of manhood, whatever that actually is. His keen wit, beautiful writing, frank honesty about both his accomplishments and mistakes, fallibilities and regrets (or lack of regrets), and love/obsession with pop culture make these essays compulsively readable.
(You don’t have to like comic books, SciFi stuff, or be a geek to appreciate Chabon’s pop culture obsessions, since they also include baseball, the radio and music, TV and movies, but if you do like comics, SciFi, or are a geek, you will find Chabon a kindred spirit).
I see myself, or who I’d like to be as a father, husband, and adult male, in much of what Chabon writes, and perhaps that may be why enjoyed the book so much. Manhood for Amateurs is not a manifesto for a way to be a man. Nor is it an apology for male actions. Instead, it is what it is: an example of one male trying to be a man (father, son, husband) and not necessarily the best possible or representable case of a man (in any of those categories), but instead a man comfortable, happy, and satisfied with himself. It is a statement, through funny, thoughtful, idiosyncratic, pop culture infused prose, that there is no right way to be a man, just the right idea of the attempt to be the man you are – with all of your faults, obssessions, geekiness, successes, failures, lies, truths, ups, downs, hates, and loves.
While reading, I lauded his looks back on how he lived his life (in his best moments and his most asshole-ish) without regret, but instead an acceptance of that is how he became the man he is. I understood his sense of, if not actual isolation, solitarity, as a son. I appreciated the love he feels for his wife. I embraced fully his example of fatherhood as it resonates so strongly with how I hope to father my hypothetical children (hopefully soon to be actual children).
I laughed out loud frequently. I nodded knowingly.
When I was done, I felt like I knew Michael Chabon better than many of my male friends, and wished that I did know him in actual life.
I have a feeling at least a few of my male friends will be getting this book for Christmas.