Pops by Michael Chabon – A Book Review

If you visit this site regularly, you probably know I’m a bit of a Michael Chabon fan.  (I met him once, you know.)  His latest book recently released, and I could not wait to read it.

Pops is a very slim collection of nonfiction essays.  I particularly enjoy Chabon’s nonfiction because he is unafraid.  He addresses topics that would scare most authors.  Specifically, he has no issues admitting that fatherhood, and manhood for that matter, is a bit of a work in progress for him.  Even though none of us have it figured out, he readily admits that fact.

Remember, Chabon is a world-renowned Pulitzer Prize winner.  He should have an ego the size of a mansion, but he doesn’t.  His humility is both refreshing and inspiring.

At just 127 pages, Pops succinctly delves into Chabon’s adventures in fatherhood.  If I’m not mistaken, each of his children serves as the focus of an essay.  The themes range from discovering the true nature of a child to seizing upon missed opportunities to trying to teach boys not to act like assholes.  There’s much more, of course, but the unifying factor throughout is Chabon admitting to his own mistakes and simply trying to do the best he can.

The book ends, interestingly enough, with Chabon writing an essay about his own father.  If you are a consistent reader of Chabon, you understand that this is well-covered ground.  He is not mean when it comes to his own father, yet he also isn’t sugarcoating anything.  It’s obvious that he loves his own dad, but it’s also apparent that he didn’t always like the man.

If find it fascinating that in a book about his own trials, tribulations, and triumphs as a father, he ends on a note that helps us to understand the events that forged the sort of father he would one day become.  Now, I trust Chabon completely.  I’ve been reading him since 2004, and I’ve never had reason to doubt his honor or sincerity.  However, it is worth noting that in all his recollections regarding his father, we’ve only had his unique perspective.  And now, in writing about himself as a father, we only have his point of view.  What would his own children say about these essays?  Will they find Chabon’s writing compatible with their own personal experiences?

Chabon is incredibly intelligent.  It would not surprise me at all if he were to have his children participate in a podcast or an interview or something to serve as a companion piece to this novel.  It simply struck me as an interesting thought.

As always, Chabon delivers beautiful prose describing his escapades in parenting.  If you love his writing, you’ll love this book.

 

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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Discussing the Merits Of Moonglow On the Normal Public Library Podcast

I had the honor of joining Normal Public Library’s podcast entitled “Check It Out.”  Though I thought we would only be discussing the fantastic novel Moonglow by Michael Chabon, Jared was also kind enough to ask me about my own work both as a writer and educator.

It was as fantastic experience.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Click HERE to give it a listen, and be sure to check out the other episodes as well!

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Moonglow by Michael Chabon – A Book Review

While I admit that Michael Chabon is my favorite author and that I’ll read anything he publishes, I won’t go so far as to say that I love every single thing he releases.  Gentlemen 0f the Road missed the mark for me, and Telegraph Avenue simply did not connect to my soul like I thought it would.

On the other hand, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is the book I name when someone asks for my ultimate favorite.  Nearly all of Chabon’s books are the perfect blend of writing prowess and narrative charisma.  He not only writes engaging, relatable stories, but he writes them better from a technical aspect than nearly anyone other contemporary author out there.

So, with all that being said, Moonglow is my second favorite book by Michael Chabon.

Let me tell you a little bit about the plot without spoiling too much.  Essentially, in 1989, Chabon visited his dying grandfather.  Terminal, Chabon’s mother transported the grandfather from his home in Florida to her home in Oakland.  There, while the grandfather fought against death and the painkillers flooding his system, the grandfather did something which had before proven a rare occurrence – he spoke … at great length.

Chabon learned more about his grandfather in that last week of his life than all the years previous.  He learned of his grandfather’s misspent youth, his grandfather’s time in the war, his grandfather’s prison stay, his grandfather’s kinship with the stars, his grandfather’s struggles with fatherhood, his grandfather’s last months in Florida, his grandfather’s obsession with rockets, as well as his grandfather’s passionate love story regarding his grandmother.

Make no mistake, however, this story is not just about the grandfather.  The grandmother quickly becomes a star in this book as well.  Mysterious, emotional, brave, witty, beautiful, and ultimately unbalanced, Chabon’s grandmother is not what she seems – not to Chabon’s grandfather, his mother, or even to the grandmother herself.  In fact, in the end, Chabon is the only one who seems to know the truth about his grandmother.  I won’t tell you why or how.

I love this book because his grandfather is the coolest man to have ever lived.  You can’t help but think of the best aspects of your own father or grandfather as you read this story, and, believe me, he will remind you in some facet of your own paternal role model.  Chabon’s grandfather isn’t perfect, not by any means, but that’s also what makes him so loveable.  Plus, as you well know, much like ourselves, our own fathers and grandfathers are not perfect, either.

Chabon also plays with the narrative style quite a bit in this novel.  In terms of time, it is not linear.  Nothing happens in order, and it’s up to the reader to piece it all together.  But Chabon makes it a fairly seamless task for the reader, and in using such a structure, he ultimately builds mystery, suspense, and provides great emotional payoff.  Chabon’s choices are right on target; his pacing is a joy to experience; his tone, while at times very somber, is also light and warm in a manner that will draw you in and make you happy.  There’s even a great joke about Chabon’s style, delivered from the dying grandfather himself.  Be on the lookout for it.

Furthermore, Chabon makes a point to let you know that while this story actually happened, his novel is fiction.  He’s the first one to admit that he has taken great liberties without too much care or concern.  Some of it is probably word for word truth, and some of it is probably completely fabricated, and the beauty of it is that we, the readers, have no idea how to distinguish one from the other.  And to that I say, “Who cares?”  In my mind, reality is always a matter of perception.  When I read a book, I perceive, interpret, and process the story within my mind, which thus makes the book a part of my own personal reality.  As a result, “fiction” and “nonfiction” become a bit of a moot point when it comes to things like this.

I’d also like to say that this is perhaps the most straight-forward of any Chabon novel I’ve ever read.  Is it well-executed?  Magnificently so!  I laugh with my friends that I don’t believe Chabon used the same sentence structure more than once in the entire thing.  That’s an exaggeration, of course, but he’s that much of a master at writing.  And yet, this novel is easy to digest.  It’s easy to follow.  It’s not rife with metaphor.  It’s got great humor, great sadness, great love, and great action.  Oh, what action!  The World War II parts of this book set my imagination on fire.  In fact, because the grandfather is such an unusual everyman, and because the WWII scenes are so vibrant, I actually gave a copy of this book to my own father for Christmas.  I’m not sure when he read a book last, but he made a point today to tell me how much he’s loving Moonglow.

As we live our lives, they, for the most part, probably don’t seem that varied or interesting.  Yet, by our life’s ending, I’ll warrant most of our stories could fill a book, and I imagine that most of our children or grandchildren would love to read that story and experience who we were at 15, 35, 55, and even 75.  Chabon tapped into something wonderful by utilizing such a concept, and he’s got the talent to make it work.  Moonglow has shot to the top of my list of gifts to give friends, family, and coworkers.  I truly believe it’s a guaranteed good read for any reader.

How good is this book?  The minute I finished it, I turned back to page one and started reading it again.  Even better the second time.

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In Regards To The Final Solution, My Apologies To Michael Chabon

I’ve deemed this summer one in which I will reread several books, and one of those book is in fact Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution.  I originally read this novelette sometime in early 2006 and subsequently wrote a scathing review (found here).  During the past seven years, I’ve remembered the book negatively and would not recommend it to others.  This hurt my heart because I tout Michael Chabon as one of America’s greatest living authors and hated to say anything disparaging about him.

I am a fool.

As I reread this book, I am embarrassed, ashamed, and, perhaps most importantly, humbled.

You see, though I’m only half finished with the slender book, I’ve already come to a startling realization about the book’s protagonist, one I never before realized and one that is incredibly significant.  How I didn’t make this deduction seven years ago is beyond me, especially considering I deal with literature and writing regularly in my professional life.  Were I a prouder man, I wouldn’t even reveal this to you.

But wait, let’s see if you can figure it out: the story takes place in 1944 England and features a very old, retired detective.  This detective was once the toast of England, renowned for his brilliance and adventures.  He smokes a pipe, wears an Inverness, and uses a magnifying glass.  Have you solved it?  Yes!  Though only referred to as “the old man” throughout the novelette, he is clearly supposed to be Sherlock Holmes!

I have no idea why I didn’t consider this out upon my first reading, but the book is so much more enjoyable if making this assumption.  So, though I’m not quite done with my rereading, I assure you, it’s thus far a wildly entertaining read if you keep “the old man’s” true identity in mind!

 

My Summer Rereading Program

I teach a class during the school year called Modern Fiction, and it’s basically an independent reading class for upperclassmen.  They get to read virtually whatever they want, but they do have to read each and every day.  If you’re thinking that’s awesome, you’re right.  Furthermore, as any good teacher should, I model expected behavior by reading right along their side.  With two small children at home, this fortunately allows me the opportunity to fulfill my love of reading during the day.

I’ll admit, though, by the end of the school year, I’m a little burned out.  I always struggle to find things I want to read in the summer because I’m both fatigued and also saving books for when the year starts back up.

So, I came up with the perfect solution.  I’ve always told myself that I should reread certain books for different reasons.  Well, this is the perfect time to do so!

In no particular, here are the books that comprise my summer rereading program!

 

Let me know what you’re reading this summer in the comments.  I’m always on the lookout for a good book!

The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man by Michael Chabon – A Book Review

I’ve often said that Michael Chabon is one of America’s preeminent contemporary authors, so when I heard he had a children’s picture book available, I jumped at the chance to procure one on behalf of my three-year-old.

Michael Chabon’s The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man is cute and innocent and consistent with what we know and love about super heroes.  The story follows the adventures of Awesome Man as he teases an astonishing secret throughout.

Personally, I found it a tad violent for my three-year-old because of the hitting and fighting.  Also, some of the language was not appropriate for her (but we’re talking “kick a little behind” and “what the heck” … nothing too serious).  I have no doubt that in another year or two I’ll be more comfortable letting her look at it.

It should be noted, however, that my daughter asked me to read it to her for three days straight after reading it to her only once … and she referred to it as “Awesome Man,” so clearly the one time I read it to her resonated.

Jake Parker’s artwork is beautiful.  The pictures are fun, colorful, charismatic, and I love the dots in places replicating the way comic books were once colored.

An instant favorite with my daughter, The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man is a harmless, engaging picture book that, while a tad too violent for my three-year-old because of the fighting, will surely delight those a little older.

 

Manhood For Amateurs by Michael Chabon – A Book Revie

I feel like this book was written for me.  Seriously.  Just me.

As you’ve probably guessed, I loved Manhood For Amateurs.  Chabon is really just a far more successful, talented version of me.  He’s a stay-at-home dad; he does the cooking; he’s a writer; he digs pop culture and comic books; he’s not especially talented at home improvement; he’s not ever totally sure on how to be a perfect father.

That’s me.

Chabon writes a brutally honest book of essays in Manhood For Amateurs that delves into all the business I mentioned earlier, as well as his takes on religious holidays, the theft of our nation’s children, the importance of creativity, star gazing, comic book characters and how they influenced his life, David Foster Wallace, and myriad other topics.  Though the subjects are wide-ranging, his pleasant writing voice ties them all together and creates a thoroughly insightful and enjoyable experience.

I love Michael Chabon’s fiction, but I’m beginning to think I enjoy his nonfiction even more so.  At one minute, he’s discussing political trends with words even I don’t recognize, and then the next moment he’s talking about the chaos of taking his children grocery shopping.  Not only do I feel like I can relate to him, I feel as though I can learn from him.

If any of the above sounds interesting to you, then I implore you to buy Manhood for Amateurs.  I’m not exaggerating when I say it was a delight.