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Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son Hardcover – October 6, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
An entertaining omnibus of opinionated essays previously published mostly in Details magazine spotlights novelist Chabon's (The Yiddish Policemen's Union) model of being an attentive, honest father and a fairly observant Jew. Living in Berkeley, Calif., raising four children with his wife, Ayelet Waldman, who has also just published a collection of parenting stories (Bad Mother), Chabon, at 45, revisits his own years growing up in the 1970s with a mixture of rue and relief. A child of the suburbs of Maryland and elsewhere, where children could still play in what he calls in one essay the Wilderness of Childhood, he enjoyed a freedom now lost to kids, endured the divorce of his parents, smoked a lot of pot, suffered a short early marriage and finally found his life's partner, who takes risks where he won't. The essays are tidily arranged around themes of manly affection (his first father-in-law, his younger brother); styles of manhood, such as faking at being a handyman; and patterns of early enchantment, such as his delight in comic books, sci-fi and stargazing. Candid, warm and humorous, Chabon's essays display his habitual attention to craft. (Oct.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Already less than awed by "alternative" parenting memoirs by moms and dads, many critics seemed primed to dislike Manhood for Amateurs. But Chabon comes out on top, impressing reviewers with his usual balancing act: on the one hand, a multitude of finely examined details, anecdotes, and references; on the other, a solid core of a story. That he could extract such a core greatly impressed some reviewers, although a couple noted that a few of the essays felt as if they had been written for men's magazines—for which they indeed already had. Others found his balancing act not so exceptional in an era of confessional fiction; nevertheless, they were impressed that Chabon could pull it off without falling into the usual pitfalls of the form.
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The best thing about these essays is how much they ring true, particularly to a man of Chabon's generation. The flexibility of fact and truth is problematic in his other essay collection, Maps and Legends, but here, almost everything hits close to home.
Essentially, these essays center on what it means to be a man in all his incarnations in 21st century America. All of them are engaging but some were real high points. In "William and I" he takes off from a complement on being a good father to discuss how the standards for good fatherhood are still low compared to what it takes to be considered a good mother. In "I Feel Good About My Murse" his muses over getting a bag in which to carry all his stuff. In "The Amateur Family" he reclaims the meaning of the word amateur to describe his efforts to bring up four children as "geeks". Along the way he also talks deeply about his own childhood, his experiences as a divorced/remarried man, and his writing career, among other things.
Overall, there's hardly a sour note in the book. It is an excellent and easy read, particularly for a man of a certain age (and the women who want to know him better).
The essays on how childhood has changed for his children compared to his own were the most compelling. A world of playing in the "wilderness" free of adults has been taken over by play dates, structured team sports and much more with parents tagging along. The simple ride around the neighborhood on a bike has all but disappeared with our fear of kidnappings and disappearance. He admits he has also fallen into this even though the number of child kidnappings has remained fairly constant over the last 30 years.
The collection is touching but mostly funny and for those of us in the same age group it brings back many memories about our youth, parents, hometowns, colleges and now our spouses and children. His ability to put words together in a way that is both informative and something to behold continues to impress just like his earlier books.