Author: Michael Chabon
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Release Date: 11 May 2010
Date Finished: 8 July 2010
Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid
Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Reading Resolutions, Hogwarts Reading Challenge, Non-Fiction Five,
The Short and Sweet of It
In 39 well-written and insightful essays, Chabon reflects on what it means to be a man, circumcision, raising daughters, divorce, honesty in parenting, the loss of childhood freedom, murses, and I'll stop now. His beautiful prose and relatable anecdotes along with his observant and astute ideas make this a definite finalist for my best of 2010 list.
A Bit of a Ramble
In my review of Dostoevsky's House of the Dead, I talk about how I sometimes miss the artful weaving of words common with classic novels when I read contemporary texts. Well, Manhood for Amateurs is making me sort of contradict myself. Chabon masters language, and the prose in this collection of essays impressed me with its sesquipedalian but unpretentious use of words. While I'm not a fan of the ostentatious and unnecessary inclusion of $10 words, I am a fan of the perfectly correct use of words, and sometimes it is the less everyday speech that offers specificity and clarity. Hmm..I guess what I'm trying to say is that the way Chabon tells a story rocks.
The basic concept of the book is that it is a collection of essays on being a father, husband, and son, on what it means to be a man. Chabon makes women nod in agreement almost immediately as he talks about how disparate the criteria for good fathering and good mothering are. While he is praised for doing nothing more than buying groceries with a kid on his arm, he's convinced that a woman would have to "perform an emergency tracheotomy with a Bic pen on her eldest child while simultaneously nursing her infant and buying two weeks' worth of healthy but appealing break-time snacks for the entire cast of Lion King, Jr." in order to receive the same praise. Exactly.
Alongside this focus on manliness, he has also included various essays discussing contemporary methods of parenting on childhood, and it is these essays I found most interesting. It is always nice to see one's own ideas expressed articulately on the page, especially when so many seem to disagree, and that occurred for me on page 63.
The thing that strikes me now when I think about the Wilderness of Childhood is the incredible degree of freedom my parents gave me to adventure there. A very grave, very significant shift in our idea of childhood has occurred since then. The Wilderness of Childhood is gone; the days of adventure are past. The land ruled by children, to which a kid might exile himself for at least some portion of every day from the neighboring kingdom of adulthood, has in large part been taken over, co-opted, colonized, and finally absorbed by the neighbors.
I remember being separated from the watching eyes of adults for long stretches of time in my youth, converging on expanses of grass and trees where I and my friends were sheltered from watchful adult eyes. Playing baseball and kickball, putting pennies on the tracks in the hope of a train smooshing it all to unreadability, walking the tracks (like in Stand by Me except with no leeches or dead bodies), and playing imaginary games like pirates seeking treasure, explorers on an island inhabited by overly large-toothed beasts, etc. Many times, I even played in these places by myself, fully immersed in a world I had created. No adults allowed. Today I see my friends' kids barely allowed to play in the fenced-in backyard without supervision, and I'm saddened. It seems Chabon is as well.
...our children have become cult objects to us, too precious to be risked. At the same time they have become fetishes, the objects of unhealthy and diseased fixation...Art is a form of exploration, of sailing off into the unknown alone, heading for those unmarked places on the map. If children are not permitted - not taught - to be adventurers and explorers as children, what will become of the world of adventure, of stories, of literature itself?
We do a great disservice to children when we protect them to the point of smothering, of inhibiting their ability to create something all their own or to face dangers real and imaginary. But if I say this, I am just condescendingly reminded that I can't possibly understand because I don't have children. Well ha! Here is someone with children who agrees with me. *insert totally childish, sticking-out-tongue face here* Oooooh, found one....
On a side note, this book was my first for sticky notes, and I quickly discovered a problem. I was slapping a sticky note on practically every page. I forgot how often I write in good books, how much marginalia graces the pages and how many sentences are underlined by the time I'm finished. I had to stop myself only 50 pages in or I would have gone through almost all of my new freaking sticky notes! I may have to go back to writing in books... for the really thoughtful ones at least.
The Filmic Connection
One essay I would really like to see put up on screen is "I feel good about my murse", a lovely piece on the social stigma of and personal necessity for some sort of man bag. I can see an Indie short featuring the progression from wallet to black masculine diaper bag to pink and girly diaper bag to messenger bag to murse. I love it.
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Question: What are your thoughts on murses?