“Diversions. Pop wisdom. Folksiness” – Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces by Michael Chabon

mcpfipGuy Delisle is, by any stretch of the imagination, a serious graphic novelist whose work can often pack quite the emotional punch – check out Hostage and you’ll see what we mean. But he can also have fun, cut loose, share work that is in a different place to the serious stuff – we’d file A User’s Guide to Neglectful Parenting firmly in this camp. And it’s ok for both of those sides of Guy Delisle to exist, they both work in their own way, it’s light and shade, right? We mention this here because the same rule sort of applies to Michael Chabon. We know he can knock Pulitzer Prize winning fiction well out of the ballpark – we have The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay to prove that (although Kavalier & Clay is by no means alone – we rated both Telegraph Avenue and Moonglow highly when we read them too). But he can also do lighter work (Gentlemen of the Road, say) and also what we’d call poppy nonfiction (see Manhood for Amateurs).  If you placed Chabon alongside a writer like Jonathan Lethem (whose Disappointment Artist isn’t a million miles away from Manhood for Amateurs or, indeed, Pops) – Lethem has either got a lot more serious, or started taking himself a lot more seriously, over the last decade, and his most recent nonfiction (The Ecstasy of Influence) sees him knocking on Martin Amis’ door. Which isn’t to say Lethem is a better writer than Chabon (Moonglow is, for instance, better than The Blot) and more that Chabon seems content, when it comes to writing an article for GQ or wherever, to fashion an amiable tone that sets out to bring people with him on a diversion. That is what Pops is, in lots of ways: diversions. Pop wisdom. Folksiness, based on the experience Chabon has had being a father and a son.

This is a relatively short book. 144 pages comprised of eight relatively short articles that have, for the most part, appeared elsewhere. As the title suggests, all of them are to do with something  related to either being a dad or being a son. We get an introduction (‘The Opposite of Writing’) that concerns some advice given to him by a writer (a writer we would hazard was Richard Ford, but that’s just a guess on our part) the gist of which is: have kids at your peril, every kid will rob you of a book, never mind depriving you of the additional hours of ‘working at it’ likely to push you into the upper echelons of the writing game. We then get articles about the son he took to Paris Fashion Week who is really into fashion, even though it bores his ‘minder’ (Chabon himself), articles about reading Huck Finn to his kids and how you navigate the tricky usage of the N-word, articles about freaks and straights, articles about being men and raising sons (particularly in regards to policing their behaviour around women), plus ball games, t-shirts with the word LIBERTINE on and, finally, a rather melancholy piece about his father and mortality.

Along the way, there were several moments that had this father nodding in rueful agreement:

“I suppose I could have simply forbidden him. That’s how my father handled the situation when I was eight or nine…”

And:

“I like it when my children prove me wrong; I enjoy the sensation, though not quite as much, perhaps, as I enjoy being right.”

And, in relation to his own father:

“Though he will in other ways disappoint, disillusion or unfavourably surprise me over the coming decades…”

All told, Pops is a light read, make no mistake, and it can be read in a morning, but if you were to read it, in a single sitting, it would make for a very pleasant morning.

Any Cop?: A lighter affair than Manhood for Amateurs and quite possibly put out as a sort of mid-year stocking filler to keep Chabon’s legions of fans happy until the next book trundles along but, as one of those legion, we were happy with it and it made us smile and nod along in agreement almost all the time so, if you count yourself a fan, we think you’ll like this. Particularly if you have kids yourself.

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