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Bookmarks Issue: 
44-Jan-Feb-2010
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The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son

A-Manhood for AmateursNovelist Michael Chabon won the Pulitzer Prize for The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay in 2001. In 2008 his book The Yiddish Policemen's Union ( 3 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2007) joined the elite list of novels that have won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for science fiction.

The Topic: Michael Chabon is a father of four, and despite his success as an author, he is still willing to define a father as "a man who fails every day." This essay collection might be called an effort to come to peace with his definition, but the effort sounds far too serious for a book that also includes an invective against Captain Underpants and a praise song for Planet of the Apes (the TV show, mind you), as well as reflections on Judaism and the value of Chabon's MFA program. Somewhere between the two extremes, the explorations and epiphanies of earnest father and geeky kid, Chabon finds his voice--and it turns out to be the same one readers already love.
Harper. 306 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9780061490187

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"In his latest book, it's a gift to find that his writing is just as radiant, original, and observant when trained on his own life. ... At the book's best, Chabon spotlights moments so perceptively it seems no one has appreciated them before." Rebekah Denn

io9.com 4 of 5 Stars
"All in all, Manhood for Amateurs is a much geekier book than you might have expected from its title, and yet also a much more personal book than most geeky essay collections. If you've suspected that fandom's signs and collections of ill-fitting clues were markers in someone else's inner cosmology, just as they are in yours, then you will definitely bond with this book." Charlie Jane Anders

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]here are particular moments when I wish Chabon had ditched his eloquent digressions in favor of a more sustained account of his own history. ... For the most part, though, Chabon proves excellent company, an insightful chatterbox, curious, erudite, occasionally profane and ultimately wise to the delusions of masculinity." Steve Almond

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Chabon brings to his autobiographical essays the same things that have made his works of fiction among the most celebrated of the past 20 years--a natural affinity for storytelling; a deep sense of nostalgia; unapologetic celebration of his many geeky, guilty pleasures; sly, often devastating humor; unbending honesty--while at the same time avoiding the pitfalls of self-aggrandizement, cynicism, shallow epiphany and self-pity." Marc Covert

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"[Chabon plays] the role of pith-helmeted archaeologist, excavating the sites of his own private Sahara in search of fragments--Lego bricks, Wacky Packages, baseball cards, Jack Kirby comic books, his father's stethoscope--around which he can weave clever little stories. The results are hilarious, moving, pleasurable, disturbing, transcendent, restless and sometimes a trifle cantankerous--but almost never dull." Jeremy Adam Smith

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 4 of 5 Stars
"Michael Chabon's fine, insightful new collection of short, personal pieces ... is almost too unruly to fit within even the broad embrace of [the] title. ... Still, marriage, fatherhood and childhood are important themes in the collection, along with baseball, cooking, sex, marketing to children, college writing courses, Jews at Christmas, David Foster Wallace, superheroes (male and female), science fiction and Barack Obama's Chicago victory celebration." Harper Barnes

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Rather than a groaning banquet table, this book is a buffet of tasty, tapas-size tidbits that leaves you hungry for more. ... There's something here for everyone, no matter your chromosomal makeup." Chris Tucker

Onion AV Club 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Two timelier pieces, on David Foster Wallace's suicide and Barack Obama's election, lack polish, and suggest the need for further reflection. Still, Chabon rarely shrinks from discomfort with labels and life, and his failures of nerve are remarkably few." Ellen Wernecke

Critical Summary

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.