Michael Chabon for Amateurs

What do you think of when you hear the name, Michael Chabon? Comic books? Coming of age? Judaism? Pittsburgh? Movie adaptations? Chances are marijuana was probably not on that list. So when the lights dimmed in Lisner Auditorium this past Friday night and Chabon cracked the spine of his new collection of nonfiction essays, Manhood for Amateurs, to read about this particular topic I was definitely surprised. Yet I found myself laughing out loud many times as he recounted the many hypocrisies of parenthood, marijuana being one of them.

So maybe the topic was unexpected (well that’s not entirely true if you have read Wonder Boys), but that is why we love Chabon. He takes ideas that we think cannot be made into real literature (comic books, detective stories, and adventure tales) and turns them into best sellers as well as Pulitzer Prize winning novels. How many times do you read an award-winning book only to find yourself asleep in your chair? With Chabon I find myself up all night racing to find out if Joe Kavalier will ever get back to his family or if Meyer Landsman will crack the murder mystery. Chabon almost always delivers, so I let myself sit back on Friday night and laugh, ponder, and generally just enjoy myself.

Besides Chabons’ allusions to Grady Tripp of Wonder Boys, he also read from more poignant essays. One essay discussed the dating lives of divorced mothers, including Chabon’s own mother, ultimately reflecting on divorce’s effect on the child. Due to his expressive reading, he was able to easily change the tone, to his final essay about music on the radio. I must admit, I felt a bit left out in this nostalgia of an era that I was definitely not born in, but nevertheless the audience seemed to understand as they laughed along. From his readings both this semester and last, I am definitely eager to read my freshly signed copy of the book. As Chabon noted, the book is only a natural progression from the themes of fathers and sons explored throughout his novels.

Although Chabon is an excellent reader, I found he really excelled in the Q&A period. He admitted that becoming a Simpson was very cool, but has ruined the TV show for him now. He was also mortified that the one time he was invited to the White House was for a godawful slam poetry session. Yet as self deprecating as Chabon was, he gave praise to others. When asked about the film adaptation of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (which cut out a crucial character), he diplomatically noted that the director really loved the book and that was what really came through on screen. Its nice to know that even after many awards Chabon is still hilarious and humble and willingly inscribing books for all.

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