He Says, She Says: A Couple of Married Writers on the Art of Parenting

I recently read both Ayelet Waldman's Bad Mother  and Michael Chabon's Manhood for Amateurs.  My intention was definitely to review them together, but now I've been putting it off and  feeling not quite sure what I want to say.  I suppose I could start by telling you that I really enjoyed both of these books.  They are both books of essays, concerning marriage and parenting.  They have overlap, of course, because as you most likely know, Chabon and Waldman are married.  

The handy thing about being a father is that the historic standard is so pitifully low.
This line begins the second essay in Chabon's collection, "William and I."  This is the essay that probably has garnered the most attention in Chabon's book, in which he argues that being a "good father" in the eyes of others is as simple as taking your kid to the grocery store.  And in Waldman's collection, her title essay makes the claim that for women:
We are always watching: The Bad Mother police force, in a perpetual state of alert-level orange.
These two essays are probably the best known in the books, the ideas that define them, and they are strong, argumentative essays, both of which I enjoyed.  Waldman and Chabon live a kind of life that I think many young women especially, of my generation, yearn for, and have fought for:  shared responsibilities concerning housework and child-rearing, financial stability, the luxury of living in the liberal oasis of Berkeley, CA.  These two essays are where the worldview that results from those circumstances is most pronounced.   However, neither defined the reading experience for me, of either book.

Ayelet Waldman's essays are honest.  They are usually brash, often hilarious, occasionally heartbreaking, and sometimes simply TMI.  I enjoyed them tremendously.  She tells her reader -- and one can't help but keep thinking that she is also telling her children -- what seems like it must be everything about her marriage, from her (in)famous comment that she loves her husband more than her children, to tales about her past sexual promiscuity, to a truly gut-wrenching essay about having to decide whether to keep a baby with a genetic defect.  Sometimes I don't agree with Waldman and her decisions, and sometimes I don't like her, but I respect her truthfulness and her talent as a writer.  She also paints such a loving picture of her husband that it is hard for me to understand how anyone could begrudge her those feelings.

And Michael Chabon is, as he is described by Waldman, is quite amiable and lovely in his essay collection, which details his own journey into manhood.  For fans of Chabon's fiction, many of the set pieces and themes in his essays will seem familiar (comic books, fanboys, general nerdom).  There is a mixture of childish nostalgia and intellectualism, which is one of the things that I love about Chabon (I mean, he waxes intellectual concerning Captain Underpants books for gosh sake).  And although his prose seems more contrived, or maybe more controlled, than Waldman's, there is still something honest about this collection, like Chabon is calling bullshit on so many of our cultural myths of the man.

And, in the end, although I have made them sound quite similar, these are two very different books.  Chabon is certainly the more likeable of the pair (as Waldman freely admits more or less, many times throughout her book),  and he is an incredible stylist, there was just something about Waldman's fearlessness that drew me into her world more fully.  Anyway, I recommend them both, maybe even together.

Title:Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace
Author: Ayelet Waldman
Publisher: Anchor Books
Date: 2009
Genre: Essays

208 pages.
Where I got it: Bought it 
Challenges: Mount TBR
Title:Manhood For Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son
Author: Michael Chabon
Publisher: Harper
Date: 2009
Genre: Essays

306 pages.
Where I got it: Bought it
 Challenges: Mount TBR


  1. I enjoyed reading your comments about these two books. That book of essays was the first Chabon book I ever read and I really, really liked it. I although i certainly know it now, I'm not sure when I frst read the book if I knew about his marriage to Waldman or the brouhaha surrounding her comment about loving her husband more than her chidlren. Now I'll have to go back and read Waldman's book.

    1. I liked the Chabon a lot too. I really really like his writing in general. Thanks for stopping by.


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