Tag Archives: Michael Chabon

Books for Christmas

Well, what else do you think you would get from the bookseller? There are about a million lists of “What books to give for the holidays,” but they are tedious. I am going to tell you what I like to read at this time of year. For what it’s worth, this is what I would give you.

Let me tell you about Michael Chabon’s collection of essays, Manhood for Amateurs. It has a Christmas essay in it. It’s not what you will expect, but everyone I know loves what it says about humanity, and in this cruel season of ice and want we can all use some of that. Bits of this book fill me with such joy that I want to run out of the bookshop and tongue-kiss strangers in the street. Strangers beware:  I am thoughtlessly without breath mints.

I would also like to lavish Kay Ryan on the world. She was our Poet Laureate recently, till W.S. Merwin got the job. And she has a new book, The Best of It: New and Selected Poems. Fans of Mary Oliver will especially like her. I never know how to describe poetry, so I’m just going to type out one of the poems here. It originally appeared in Elephant Rocks and makes me think of the iridescent violet-blue that the moon can make snow, and of Christmas lights, hung purely for the enjoyment of  passers-by.


From the Greek for
woven or plaited,
which quickly translated
to basket. Whence the verb
crib, which meant “to filch”
under cover of wicker
anything—some liquor,
a cutlet.
For we want to make off
with things that are not
our own. There is a pleasure
theft brings, a vitality
to the home.
Cribbed objects or answers
keep their guilty shimmer
forever, have you noticed?
Yet religions downplay this.
Note, for instance, in our
annual rehearsals of innocence,
the substitution of manger for crib—
as if we ever deserved that baby,
or thought we did.


The last book I give you is The Magician\’s Elephant, by Kate Di Camillo. It’s one of those children’s books that isn’t really for children. I mean, it’s certainly appropriate and fairly entertaining for children, but this little fable is perfect for the snow-bound adult, both for its undemanding nature and for the glittering, wintry world it evokes.

Wishing all of you the kindest  and most sparkling winter possible,

Enjoy your books!

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Cover to Cover

I really like Michael Chabon’s latest book of essays, Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son. It came out in 2009 with a cover that was quite nice. The title makes cover design a bit tricky – it’s a little arresting, which is good. The graphic originally chosen by the nice folks at Harper was especially well suited to this reflective, tender and beautifully challenging collection. Intricate and neutral, the art appealed to both sexes and a range of adult ages. I was so impressed that I blogged about it somewhere else.

Now they’ve changed the cover. For Fathers’ Day, I think. It currently sports a bespectacled and intense-looking kid in a really, really bad paisley shirt. It’s the author, circa 1968 —  and I’m sorry, Michael Chabon, I love your work, but that’s a terrible photo. You can almost hear it bellowing from the shelves as you walk by, “THIS BOOK IS JUST LIKE SOMETHING BY DAVID SEDARIS!”

It’s not. I like David Sedaris a lot, but this is a whole different ballgame.


Shut up, cover art. This is not that kind of book at all.

Manhood for Amateurs is the kind of book that makes you think. And then makes you fall in love with our whole species for its ability to try and fail and disappoint and come up shining with some ordinary and brilliant gesture of compassion. The book makes you challenge the way you see other people and ask yourself if you’ve looked around lately. 

But there’s that cutesy-retro cover, saying “I’M FOR HIP 20- AND 30- AND MAYBE, MAYBE 40-SOMETHINGS! DON’T GIVE ME TO YOUR DAD!”

Because let’s face it, your dad would look at this book and say, “What the Hell? Are you guys trying to tell me something? I would never wear a shirt like that. Who let the kid out of the house that way?”

I’ve given this book to college students and an adult-Sunday-school teacher in her 80s. Mrs. McV especially liked the essay on Christmas. Manhood for Amateurs has something to say to just about everybody, but your dad will never pick it up –  not with this cover.

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