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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chabon gets personal and universal Sept. 16 2009
By J. Tobin Garrett TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Michael Chabon starts off his book with a quote from G.K. Chesterton: "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly". This quote is aptly chosen, as each of the essays contained are full of a self-conscious ponderings on Chabon's small successes, and many failures, in his journey into manhood as a father, son, and husband. He approaches each topic with a delicate and candid hand, never overbearing in theme and never preachy, just simple and thoughtful musings on what it means to be a man. There are 39 essays contained in 307 pages of this book, and there was only one essay that I thought I could've done without (the one near the end titled 'Xmas').

The best essays are near the beginning, which have Chabon ruminating on the evolution of Lego, the worlds we create as kids and how parents obsessed with safety are set to infringe on these worlds, the bastardization of childhood by consumer culture and corporate movies that package and sell children's imagination back to them. He then goes on to essays about his childhood, his sexual awakenings, his difficulties as a father dealing with such subjects as drugs, sex, and faking how to install the towel rack in the bathroom. Chabon literally covers pretty much every angle that masculinity can be approached from, and he does so with flair and originality, coming at topics that we've heard of so many times before at different angles and making you see them in a new light. He's also hilarious, and deeply philosophical at times. The writing sometimes poetic, but often conversational as if a friend has taken you aside to let you in on a secret.

I will definitely be keeping this book for a long time, as these are essays that I know I will turn to time and time again for inspiration, laughter, and nostalgia.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Journey Into Manhood Nov. 24 2009
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Reading Chabon's latest collection of essays on the trials and tribulations of becoming a man serves as a powerful reminder that the process involved in such a transformation is anything but cut and dried. If his intimations about his personal upbringing are anything to go by, there are many subtle and not-so-subtle familial forces out there working to impede the ideal journey of discovery and maturation most boys should take on their way to manhood. Often, the end result of a fatherless boy struggling to become a man in a woman's world is a frighteningly dysfunctional messed-up adult who is emotionally immature, sexually confused and physically inept. Tack on the fact that many people automatically assume that such an individual is ready to take on the responsibilities of parenthood suddenly thrust on him. Emotional, physical and social maturity, as measures of growing up and making it a man's world, are really only fallacies visited on many of us by overanxious or maladjusted parents betraying our trust and spoiling our chance to enjoy life. The particular stories about Chabon's struggles as an often `inept' parent who needed to bond more effectively with his children stems from those moments in his past when he was forced to live as a boy growing up in a predominately female domain. Consequently, most of his early adolescent attitudes reflected a heavy reliance on the sexual influence of older women in his impressionable life. Many of his childhood fantasies were worked out through Captain Marvel comic book heroines who represented `women on fire' who passionately pursued their prey in the form of vulnerable men too weak to resist the temptress's power. Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  68 reviews
56 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Exquisite Blend of the Mundane and the Mind-Blowing Oct. 13 2009
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Moms who like to read (and write) about motherhood have had it pretty good over the last decade or so. Led by a cadre of "mom bloggers" and others, women have found new ways to connect over the minutiae, the often thankless drudgery, and even the dark side of modern motherhood. No longer are images of motherhood isolated to the hazy pink aisles of Hallmark's Mother's Day section; instead, moms have discovered camaraderie amid chaos as they read brutally honest confessions of the anguish, boredom and terrifying love to which mothers can now admit. Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon's own wife, Ayelet Waldman, has become famous (or, in some circles, notorious) for her own brilliantly written but painfully honest writings about marriage and motherhood.

And while it's fantastic that moms have avenues for them to connect and to converse, dads have had to work much harder to find thoughtful writing about fatherhood that doesn't idealize, essentialize, or talk down to them. Now, Chabon has filled that niche admirably with MANHOOD FOR AMATEURS, a wide-ranging but thematically focused collection of his autobiographical writings (many previously published in Details magazine and elsewhere). Here, Chabon touches on many of the motifs that he has explored in his other nonfiction writing and in his novels --- baseball, comics, sex, writing, religion --- but inevitably circles back to what is, for him, at the center of it all: his family.

Chabon, a father of four young children, uses his writing to constantly define what it means --- and what it could mean --- to be a husband, a father, and a man in the early years of the 21st century. He defines his own role in comparison to his well-meaning but distant father and also in the context of society's (embarrassingly low) expectations of what fathers can and should accomplish. Chabon's writing is unapologetically male-oriented (female readers will learn what fanboys are really thinking when looking at those buxom, Amazonian comic book heroines). But he writes in a way that continually questions the implications of masculinity. For example, he speaks appreciatively of his forced adolescent introduction into the culinary arts when his mother returned to work and of the implications of a man carrying a (gulp) man purse, or "murse."

Throughout, Chabon utilizes the kind of wry observations and exquisite literary craft that have made his novels both popular and critical sensations. Almost all the essays are simultaneously thoughtful, cohesive, and very, very funny. But Chabon's writing is most affecting and emotionally open when he's writing passionately about his wife and beloved children (even when he's commenting on their odorousness or their tendency to ask difficult questions about embarrassing subjects). His observations on marriage and parenthood are specific enough to resonate with other parents but universal enough to speak to any reader who has considered thoughtfully the role of the family in American life or the changing responsibilities and expectations of the sexes.

I used to have a hard time finding gifts for friends about to embark on the journey of fatherhood; most in my circle would just roll their eyes at a sugary gift book about the meaning of fatherhood. But Michael Chabon's new memoir is so much more than that: it is an exquisite blend of the mundane and the mind-blowing, all broken down into short essays just the right length to read while giving Theo a bottle or waiting for Sadie's soccer game to start --- the perfect book for young dads to stash in their murses.

--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl
32 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Whiny Feb. 3 2010
By anonymous - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I'm a father in my late 30s with two daughters and have had plenty of the "I don't know what the hell I'm doing!" moments in my life, but reading 300 pages of someone else saying the same thing is hard to take. It starts out great with an essay on the insultingly low expectations for fathers, and maybe that got my hopes up too high for more great insights. There were some fine moments - a memory of Chabon's relationship with his ex-father in law that touched me, how a random song on the radio can bring you back like a time machine, how no one seems to think about the future any more and a comic book testimonial to the fighting spirit of his wife were some of my favorites. However, some of the essays about animal cruelty, Jose Conseco (huh?) and having sex with his mother's drunk friend at age 15 just left me scratching my head. Obviously everyone's life experience bring you different insight, but this book really wasn't as enlightening as I might have hoped, or the rave reviews might lead you to believe. Glad I borrowed it from the library instead of buying it.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, Amazing Collection of Essays by A Gifted Writer March 25 2010
By Jennifer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Chabon's book is basically a collection of essays on being a man. The subtitle is "The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son." The theme is a perfect counterpoint to his wife's book (Ayelet Waldman's "Bad Mother"), but while Waldman's book stayed on track, Chabon's book takes delightful side-trips into the lands of comic books, baseball and listening to the radio.

My Thoughts

As much as I didn't want to compare their writing (which strikes me as horribly unfair), I got a lot of food for thought from Waldman's book but I fell in love with Chabon's book. His writing pleased me immensely. The way he puts words together thrilled me and amused me and touched me. So much so that I think I'll just spend the rest of this review cramming as many little excerpts in as I can. Why listen to me go on and on about how much I loved this book when you can experience it for yourself?

Consider his essay the "Splendors of Crap." Have you ever heard a more accurate description of modern children's movies than this:

At least once a month I take my kids to see a new "family movie"--the latest computer-generated piece of animated crap. Please don't oblige me to revisit the last one even long enough to name the film, let alone describe it. Anyway, you know the one I mean: set in a zoo, or in a forest, or on farm, or under the sea, or in "Africa," or in an effortlessly hilarious StorybookLandTM where magic, wonder and make-believe are ironized and mocked except at the moments when they are tenderly invoked to move units. I believe but am not prepared to swear that the lead in this weekend's version may have been a neurotic lion, or a neurotic bear, or a neurotic rat, or a neurotic chicken. Chances are good that the thing featured penguins; for a while, the movies have all been featuring penguins. Naturally, there were the legally required 5.5 incidences of humor-stimulating flatulence per hour of running time. A raft of bright pop-punk tunes on the soundtrack, alternating with familiar numbers culled with art and cruelty from the storehouse of parental nostalgia.

Chabon has a gift for writing about the little moments of life and making them instantly familiar and relatable but then layering on his own unique style and viewpoint in a way that makes these essays as delicious and satisfying to read as dark chocolate or a warm roll with butter (or substitute your guilty delight here). As my Little One embarks on his school career, I've begun to realize that the sheer amount of papers he'll generate in the coming years could account for an entire forest of trees dying. So I thoroughly enjoyed "The Memory Hole," in which Chabon writes about dealing with the creative works of four children. Let's read a little of it, shall we?

Almost every school day, at least one of my four children comes home with art: a drawing, a painting, a piece of handicraft, a construction-paper assemblage, an enigmatic apparatus made from pipe cleaners, sparkles and clay. And almost every bit of it ends up in the trash. My wife and I have to remember to shove the things down deep, lest one of the kids stumble across the ruin of his or her laboriously stapled paper-plate-and-dried-bean maraca wedged in with the junk mail and the collapsed packaging from a twelve-pack of squeezable yogurt. But there is so much of the stuff; we don't know what else to do with it. We don't toss all of it. We keep the good stuff--or what strikes us, in the Zen of the instant between scraping out the lunch box and sorting the mail, as good. As worthier somehow; more vivid, more elaborate, more accurate, more sweated over.

In typing that last excerpt, I realized that what makes Chabon's writing so good is how specific he is. He doesn't just say "We throw it in the trash and make sure it is buried deep." He describes the art ("laboriously stapled paper-plate-and-dried-bean maraca"--who among us has NOT made one of these or had one given to us?) and the trash ("the collapsed packaging from a twelve-pack of squeezable yogurt"). It is this specificity and detail that delights me and creates such memorable and relatable writing.

Yet I think Chabon's true genius is taking a specific event like dealing with the flood of artwork from your children and turning it into a deeper, more philosophical musing. Consider the end of the essay excerpted above:

The truth is that in every way, I am squandering the treasure of my life. It's not that I don't take enough pictures, though I don't, or that I don't keep a diary, though iCal and my monthly Visa bill are the closest I come to a thoughtful prose record of events. Every day is like a kid's drawing, offered to you with a strange mixture of ceremoniousness and offhand disregard, yours for the keeping. Some of the days are rich and complicated, others inscrutable, others little more than a stray gray mark on a ragged page. Some you manage to hang on to, though your reasons for doing so are often hard to fathom. But most of them you just ball up and throw away.

I wish I could keep going; I must have marked at least 30 other passages that I thought were particularly memorable or amazing or just spoke to me. Like his essay "Radio Silence," which talks about how listening to the radio can suddenly make you a time traveler--winging you back to the first moment you heard that song.

I had every intention of giving this book away for a giveaway when I was done with it, but I can't. This is a keeper. This is a book I want to keep close by: to dip into when I need to be reminded what good writing is, or when I face the inevitable moment when my son asks me about my past and I need to walk the same tightrope Chabon does when his kids ask him whether he's ever tried drugs1, or when I just want to relax and revel in what a gifted writer can do with English language.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Manhood May 16 2012
By A fellow with a keyboard - Published on Amazon.com
On the positive side, this book has a scattering of beautiful sentences and paragraphs. It's a pleasant read with short, easily digestible chapters. It's sometimes funny. Sometimes touching.

Also on the positive side, Chabon doesn't make the mistake of defining manhood as the opposite of womanhood. The meaningful comparison to men is not women but boys. Chabon seems to understand this.

But on the negative side, Chabon makes little effort to say anything about manhood. Instead, it's mostly a collection of musings and complaints about being a father and about how the kids these days are living in a world that suppresses their imagination and they're probably going to grow up to be automatons working for a consumer-driven machine that doesn't care about art or creativity but only greed and profit and oh boy back in my day it was different because we appreciated baseball cards and at least our bad TV shows were fuzzy around the edges so that we could think and dream and be interesting unlike today's youth who are just a bunch of gooberheads. That's paraphrasing, but that's basically Chabon's POV.

On manhood, about the only thing that Chabon has to say is that men are characterized by feigned competence. They don't know what they're doing but it's their manly proclivity to pretend that they do. Er, okay, thanks for that insight. (Can I have my 7 hours back?)

I suspect the reason Chabon doesn't have much to say about manhood is because his values are so cartoonishly, Berkleyishly liberal. My values are fairly liberal, too, but I am at least able to acknowledge the existence and merits of the conservative POV. And I must say that a healthy dose of conservativism seems necessary to talk meaningfully about manhood. Words like duty, loyalty, sacrifice, responsibility, and discipline seem to be the main qualities that separate men/adults from boys/children, and yet they are completely absent from Chabon's vocabulary. Instead, he'll talk about passion and imagination and open-mindedness and tolerance. Fine qualities to be sure, but, uh... things that tend to characterize children more than adults.

Bottom line: I would give this book 3 stars if it were re-named to "Opinions on the Demise of Our Vulnerable Children in a Capitalist, George-Bush-Era Society (Plus 5 bonus chapters on how incompetent I am / men are!)".

P.S. - Michael Lewis's Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood was, for me, a much more interesting and insightful look at fatherhood. And William Deresiewicz's A Jane Austen Education was easily the best book I've read on what it means to be an adult.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love and other mysteries of being a man Nov. 5 2010
By Timothy J. Bazzett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If I were just ten or fifteen years younger I'd probably have given this book 5 stars (vs the 4 I assigned). Because the truth is this guy is so hip and knowledgeable about all things related to pop culture of the past thirty years or so, that, quite frankly, there are references here I probably didn't "get" at all. I probably could have researched some of this stuff online, but I didn't, so I stayed uncomfortably in the dark here and there. And I was okay with that, honest.

I have only read one other Michael Chabon book, his first novel, Mysteries of Pittsburgh - probably 15 or 20 years ago, and I really enjoyed it. Of course, I was younger then. The thing is, I seem to have gotten so much older since then; Chabon has only aged at about half-speed while I was full-speed ahead. Or so it seemed as I was reading these lovely essays. And they really are wonderful examples of writing - wise, witty, funny, moving and just plain GOOD, ya know? But what impressed me the most were the things he had to say about his mom and dad, who divorced when the author was only 11 or 12, and yet he still has such loving things to say about both of them, and how much he owes to them. So many children of divorce tend to whine about how awful it was for them and blame all their problems on them. Not Chabon. He figures he owes his slight OCD tendencies to his dad, who was a collector and a man of eclectic and idiosyncratic interests. Now Chabon is that kind of man, and is passing the excitement of such interests along to his own children. He even appreciates his mom's ex-boyfriends, who filled certain voids for him while they were around. He credits his mom with turning him into something of a cook and baker, because she was working, and left him to feed the family. There's other stuff like that in here, but the thing is he so obviously STILL LOVES his mom and dad. His brother, five years younger, also gets some print here. Same thing. The guys seem to genuinely LOVE each other.

He even has kind things to say about his first wife and his first father-in-law. This is a guy who confesses to being perhaps too much of an optimist for most of his life, who is made content and happy by simple things. How can you not like a guy like this. His devotion to his wife and four children shine through almost everything he says about them in these pieces, though he is brutally honest about how they all function - or don't - as a family.

I am a person who reads encyclopedically and in great volume. For the first 50 years or so of my reading life I read mostly fiction. Now I read a bit more non-fiction, mostly memoirs. This book, Manhood for Amateurs, is probably about as close as you'll get to a memoir by Chabon. And maybe it's enough. What a talent this guy has!

In one essay, "I Feel Good About My Murse," it hit me why I like this guy and his writing so much. He talks about wishing for a bag to carry his stuff in and finally getting one, a man-purse, or 'murse.'

"It holds my essential stuff, including a book - for true contentment, one must carry a book at all times ..."

There it is. Chabon loves books. Me too. Now I know I'm gonna have to start reading his other novels. I know my son has the one that won the Pulitzer, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. I'll start with that one. Or maybe first I'll try his other collection of essays - the one about books and writing, called Maps and Legends.

Damn! My to-read list just keeps growing. Ain't life grand? - Tim Bazzett, author of BOOKLOVER
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