Much of Michael Chabon's new book, Manhood for Amateurs (HarperCollins), is about fatherhood. But in this collection of witty essays about the contemporary masculine experience, much of fatherhood is also about childhood -- the way Chabon's own particular mid-20th-century coming-of-age informs his slightly later-on role as a dad.
Chabon's biography -- geeky suburban child of divorce -- has familiar outlines, at least until he became an acclaimed novelist. But these short essays by the author of the Pulitzer-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay are as insightful as they are charming.
He explores everything from circumcising his son to his own experience -- slightly scandalous -- of sex at age 15 with a friend of his mother's. He takes thoughtful swings at the parenting double-standard in dads' favor as well at as his poignant relationship with his own ex-father-in-law.
And -- as always, with Chabon -- the sentences, the gorgeous winding sentences. In an essay about the necessity of throwing out his young children's artwork, he predicts: "I will be haunted by the memory of the way my younger daughter looks at me when she chances upon a crumpled sheet of paper in the recycling bin, bearing the pictures, the very portrait, of five minutes stolen from the headlong rush of their hour in my care: She looks betrayed."
Perhaps most interestingly, he ruminates on popular culture, including his beloved comic books; the devolvement of Legos from art form to kid-job; a chapter titled "The Splendors of Crap"; and a deconstruction of the parodical early '70s "Wacky Packages" fad as the first time that adult commercial culture "spoke the secret language" of gross children's humor.
Chabon, of course, attended the University of Pittsburgh's graduate writing program, providing fodder for his novels The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Wonder Boys. He now lives in Berkeley, Calif., but makes one of his occasional visits for a discussion and signing Oct. 6.
Michael Chabon discusses and signs Manhood for Amateurs 7 p.m. Tue., Oct. 6. Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 2705 E. Carson St., South Side. Ticketed event: Two free line tickets with book purchase. 412-381-3600
As a founding member of the Pittsburgh Poetry Exchange and as a teacher, primarily at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Michael Wurster arguably ranks among the biggest influences on the local poetry scene over the past couple decades.
He's an estimable poet too, with a knack for getting to the heart of things with a detached intimacy. "She served cookies / and flavored tea," goes "Last Reunion." "The talk was desultory and tentative, / both embracing and avoiding the past."
Yet he's also capable of the bear-huggingly companionable "Pittsburgh Is My City" ("I feel at home here").
Wurster launches his new collection, The British Detective (Main Street Rag), with an afternoon reading and signing Sun., Oct. 4, at Pittsburgh Steak Company. The collection's title character makes a cameo only in a single two-line stanza of the cryptic "The Corporation": "We hired a British detective, / but he soon disappeared." 4 p.m. 1924 E. Carson St., South Side. Free. 412-481-7636