Book of

Manhood for amateurs : the pleasures and regrets of a husband, father, and son; by Michael Chabon

Dispatches from a native of FanBoyLand, as he tries to feel out the borders of masculinity.

actual post date: Nov. 16, 2009.

reading notes:

The boys in our house spend a lot of time drawing men. Not the girls — the girls mostly draw girls, but if their theme requires it, they will draw a necessary boy, and they never seem to run into any difficulties, or rather, the problems they encounter have nothing to do with their gender or that of the figures they’re attempting to depict. The only trouble they have is the usual trouble with feet, noses, hands, poses, and proportions … My older daughter is reasonably competent in drawing in the style of the Japanese comic books she loves … My younger daughter is more into drawing hamsters, flowers, and disturbing hybrids thereof, so the question rarely arises. But for my sons and for me, it’s pretty much an unvarying repertoire of male superheroes, male cyborgs, and male costumed action heroes of one kind or another.[p.225]

Over the years I have worked very hard to create in my fiction living, fiery female characters to match the life and fire of various real women I have known … And yet each book that resulted has come under a certain amount of deserved criticism from female readers for being a boy’s book, guy lit, for never quite presenting a female character to match the novel’s men.[p.228-29]

on why he loved Henry Miller from ages 16-19:

But at the time I thought *women* was a category, a field, like post-Parker jazz or the varieties of marijuana, that you could study and master and “know something about.” If you are a callow young man at twenty — and I think the man of twenty pretty much defines the term–then your callowness consists almost entierly in this type of belief, that life is made up of mastering the particulars, memorizing the lineups, accumulating the trivia and lore …[p. I forgot to write it down]

so, he admits he was a homosocial misogynist “little shit”. But I don’t think anyone has done a better job of connecting the dots between FanBoyism, Nice Guys™, and the profitable “pick-up artist manual” market, which purports to teach men to “score” with as many women as possible.

But when I showed up at Irvine to start my first year as the youngest member of the MFA fiction workshop, I was not ready for what I found there: a roomful of grown-ups, over half of them women. .. Without taking themselves half as seriously as I did, they were all twice as serious about what they were doing.

and it is from them that he learned to write well and take his work seriously.

In the end, I think that’s the only cure for the little shit: regular exposure to the healing rays of healthy disillusion, in particular the hard-earned skepticism of grown women. Call it the Yoko Ono effect.

In the chapter/essay “The Ghost of Irene Adler”, about The Woman and how she comes or can come between two men: at a workshop where he wrote a story along those lines, he met Alexis, a gorgeous pool-playing young woman who told him that his male characters were in love with each other. “Yeah”, I said, uncertain. A bit uneasy. “Oh, yeah, you bet”.

But over time, he comes to think that it’s more existential: the fact that your buddy, your Holmes, falls in love with a woman you don’t get (& v.v.) means that there was something in your buddy that you never got: this leads you to question everything you ever thought you knew, not only about him but about the man you thought you knew as well as you knew your best friends — yourself.

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