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Book Review: Chabon's 'Manhood for Amateurs'

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Michael Chabon essays

Book Review: Chabon's 'Manhood for Amateurs'

American novelist publishes volume of autobiographical essays

Michael Chabon is renowned as a premier prose stylist, and in the collection "Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son" he manages to foster that reputation while maintaining a largely self-deprecating tone.

His primary subject is fatherhood, and the complications that arise from trying instill the values one holds dear, while simultaneously protecting, without over-protecting, your children in these seemingly perilous times. Exactly how perilous they really are, compared to, say, thirty years ago, is a subject Chabon debates.

Chabon's essay "The Wilderness of Childhood" is perhaps most representative of the collection at large and touches on a theme that resonates throughout: the lost ability for the modern child to have unsupervised adventure.

Chabon remembers fondly the small patch of forest behind his boyhood Maryland home where he had the freedom to wander and explore. The area was too small to get lost in for more than a moment or two, but those two minutes, Chabon would argue, are a now lost crucible of childhood that allowed a ten-year-old kid to find out a thing or two about himself. As Chabon observes, "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."

Chabon's 2000 novel "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" won the Pulitizer Prize for Fiction the following year. His second, 1995's "Wonder Boys," was adapted for the screen to  critical acclaim. Among other Hollywood projects, Chabon worked on the screenplay for "Spider-Man 2."

Most of these essays have previously appeared in various magazines over a number of years. Here, they are unified by the themes of the corporatization and homogenization of childhood and the effect this new, safety-first world might have on future generations.

"If children are not permitted—not taught—to be adventurers and explorers as children," Chabon writes, "what will become of the world of adventure, of stories, of literature itself?"

Overstated? Perhaps. But this finely constructed collection makes its case in convincing fashion.

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