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Tag:  Sharon Browning

Tag: Sharon Browning

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LitStack Rec: Bridge & The Ballad of Black Tom

Bridge, by Robert Thomas “Welcome to the prayer-strewn pews of my brain,” Alice, the narrator of Bridge tells us, and quickly, we understand that this intellectually gifted young woman sees the world, and herself, in unconventional and often dangerous ways. Robert Thomas’s powerful debut novel, published last year by BOA Edition, takes place in fifty-six […]

 

manhood-for-amatuers

Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son, essays by Michael Chabon

You know a book on fatherhood is going to be interesting when the title includes the word amateurs. The trope of fatherly wisdom, borne of experience and dispensed with measured calm, is a wonderful thing, but how realistic it?

There are some great recent memoirs about fathers. Alysia Abbott’s Fairyland and Will Boast’s Epilogue come to mind, narratives in which fathers run the spectrum, from brave to flawed and back again.

Rarer is the memoir that reflects on what being a father is actually like, and for that matter, how men come to be fathers after being sons and boyfriends and husbands. Chabon’s collection is not a memoir per se, but a series of essays grouped thematically around personal and cultural ideas and behaviors connected to fatherhood, as well as nostalgia for sixties childhood and seventies youth, and the flaws and failures that influence how one fathers his children. There are essays too, on boyhood, and boyfriend-hood, which indirectly, and sometimes directly speak to that same self, to the complex mix of parenting and maleness.

“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” The book’s epigraph by G.K. Chesterton forefronts the deprecating stance, but Chabon has more to tell us. At the supermarket, he is complemented by a stranger simply for taking care of his kid, a double standard he quickly points out (to the reader, anyway), “The handy thing about being a father is that the historical standard is so pitifully low.” The differing criteria for what makes a good father and a good mother is skewed, to say the least, and pointing it out early in the book lends authority, credibility and likeability. Here’s Chabon on his own father:

My father, born in the gray-and-silver Movietone year of 1938, was part of the generation of Americans who, in their twenties and thirties, approached the concepts of intimacy, of authenticity and open emotion, with a certain tentative abruptness, like people used to automatic transmission learning how to drive a stick shift.

One of my favorite essays, “The Wilderness of Childhood,” is  unabashedly nostalgic, but also serves an a kind of think-piece, an important one, on the detriment of too closely watching our children, not allowing them the historical freedom children have had to explore, to wander, and the cost to their with imaginations and experience of self: “The sandlots and creek beds, the alleys and woodlands have been abandoned in favor of a system of reservations—Chuck E. Cheese, the Jungle, the Discovery Zone; jolly internment centers mapped and planned by adults with no blank spots aside from doors marked STAFF ONLY. When children roller-skate or ride their bikes, they go forth armored as for battle, and their parents typically stand nearby.”

There is rumination on the failure of his first marriage (“The Heartbreak Kid”), a sad but inevitable arc that ends in “operatic arguments, all night ransackings of the contents of our souls,” as well as on cooking, (“The Art of Cake”), that nicely braids the book’s larger ideas of contemporary fatherhood and its “dissolving boundaries, shifting economies, loosened definitions of male and female, of parent and child.” Circumcision, Jose Canseco (held up for reflection alongside Roberto Clemente), comic book heroines and Legos, are some of the objects of the author’s contemplation.

Chabon is not a perfect father, but that, the essays help us understand, is a false expectation—one that needs to evolve and change, and that’s an opinion you can trust.

—Lauren Alwan

Pages: 1 2
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LitStack Rec: The Good Soldier and Planetfall

The Good Soldier, by Ford Madox Ford If this novel had been published under the title the author selected, The Saddest Story, contemporary readers would likely have had a difficult time locating a copy. But fortunately, Ford Madox Ford agreed to his publisher’s suggestion of The Good Soldier, and with that organizing idea the novel […]

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LitStack Rec: Spielberg, Truffaut and Me & Feed

Spielberg, Truffaut and Me: An Actor’s Diary, by Bob Balaban In the summer of 1976, during the first weeks of the filming of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Francois Truffaut, who played the extraterrestrial specialist Claude Lacombe, was at work on a book about actors—tentatively titled Hurry Up and Wait. The legendary auteur-director and […]

The Firefox Book, by Elliot Wigginton (editor)

A perfect book for #throwbackthursday, this compendium of customs and rural living practices was published in 1972, and was in its time hugely influential. The local tradition and lore documented in The Foxfire Book comes firsthand from longtime residents of Southern Appalachia. At the height of this book’s notoriety, copies could be found nearly everywhere, and for certain readers, the word foxfire (a term for Georgia’s phosphorescent lichen) might still conjure the volume’s distinctive Courier type, its sepia-toned layout, and the tooth of the cover’s heavy stock.

Subtitled Hog Dressing, Log Cabin Building, Mountain Crafts and Foods, Planting by the Signs, Snake Lore, Hunting Tales, Faith Healing, Moonshining, and Other Affairs of Plain Living, the book was the brainchild of Elliot Wigginton, an English teacher who first envisioned a community oral history project as means to render the curriculum more relevant for his high school students. The students set about recording taped interviews and taking black and white photographs, gathering what has become an unmatched collection of methods and means of rural homesteading.

Traditional Appalachian Beekeeping, from Foxfire, Volume 2.

The material was originally collected in 1966, in a magazine series simply titled Foxfire, and four years later, when demand exceeded supply, the content was collected in anthology form. Soon after its release, The Foxfire Book reached national prominence to become a best-seller and soon reached circles far beyond its locus. Here, for example, is just a portion of the topics to be found in Volume One’s Table of Contents:

Building a Log Cabin
Chimney Building
White Oak Splits
Making a Hamper out of White Oak Splits
Making a Basket out of White Oak Splits
An Old Chair Maker Shows How
Rope, Straw, and Feathers are to Sleep on
A Quilt is Something Human
Soapmaking
Cooking on a Fireplace, Dutch Oven, and Wood Stove
Mountain Recipes

Preserving Vegetables

Preserving Fruit
Churning Your Own Butter

Slaughtering Hogs
Curing and Smoking Hog
Weather Signs

If you’re interested in traditional Americana, this series set the standard, and did so way back when a book this size cost (check the price on the cover) $3.95. The volume pictured above was the first—eleven more volumes (the most recent of which was published in 2004) comprise the series.

Foxfire continues today as the Foxfire Fund, a not-for-profit educational and literary organization that trains educators and oversees national programs on experiential education. Read more about the Foxfire Fund here.

—Lauren Alwan

Pages: 1 2
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Litstack Recs: Green Thoughts & Children of Time

Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden, by Eleanor Perényi If you’re a writer who gardens, Eleanor Perényi writes in her foreword, “sooner or later going to write a book about the subject—I take that as inevitable.” There are some heavy-hitting precedents to Pereyni’s classic of the writer-in-the-garden genre. Charles Dudley Warner’s My Summer in […]