If you like Mark Chabon (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t?) then you’ll probably like Manhood for amateurs. It’s just great.
His collection isn’t bounded by much more than the theme implied in the title – what is manhood, and how do you get there?
The answer, if I can summarise anything from a set of excellent essays that sweep across more topics than you can shake a stick at, is by trying hard and being vulnerable. The first, perhaps, is one of those things that’s obvious but worth repeating.
Chabon is trying, trying so hard to be a good father, a good husband, a good brother and son (it’s an excellent reflection on the book, I think, that a lot of how he frames the questions is in relationships). He thinks about different relationships, he struggles to overcome his own weaknesses – it’s not the foremost element, but it’s there – this is hard work.
The other thing that I really like about Chabon’s accounts is the vulnerability that’s in them. This is a man who’s willing to acknowledge his own mistakes – more than that, sees it as crucial that he does so. But it isn’t a masochistic, self flagellating confessional – it’s an outgrowth of the value he places on honesty in relationships.
When I became a father, I made a promise to myself not to pretend to knowledge I did not possess, not to claim authority I plainly lacked, not to hide my doubts and uncertainties, my setbacks and regrets, from my children. And so I have tried to share them over the years as I have been fired from screenwriting jobs or proved wrong or led to look a fool. I have made a point (until the recent advent of GPS) to stop and ask for directions.
The closest he comes to a code (thus far in my reading) is a simple statement when he’s discussing baseball players:
according to the conventions of my own garden-variety morality of consistent effort,altruism, and personal integrity defined as the keeping of one’s promises to other people.
And finally, there’s one other thing I really enjoyed – people laugh at me for this sometimes, but it just makes sense to me:
for true contentment, one must carry a book at all times