“Back in my day…”

 Back in my day

Everything about this essay by Michael Chabon makes us gag.

Yes, we realize it’s from an upcoming collection of essays, called Manhood for Amateurs, about being a father, husband, etc., so it’s bound to include some misty-eyed recollections of childhood. Still, it seems to infantilize the whole practice of reading and writing. Can we honestly draw such a direct line from the proverbial boy exploring the woods to the endlessly complex enterprise of literature? Chabon seems to be governed here by nostalgia. Real childhood is never this much like Calvin and Hobbes, except in the minds of adults who are desperately trying to re-create it. For God’s sake: he actually references a Matt Groening cartoon strip that clearly rips off those old panels from The Family Circus, where Billy is chasing a dotted line across his neighborhood! Sure, that stuff makes the old graybeards chuckle and blow bubbles in their drool, but try finding a kid who recognizes his own experience in the joke. Chabon ends the essay with a pat, rhetorical question worthy of a Fox News broadcast—something about how literature, stories, and adventure are all going to die. Did we really give this guy a Pulitzer? Maybe we should have asked him to write screeds for Andy Rooney instead. Sheesh, as soon as we declare a guy has joined the ranks of the Old Guard, he really starts acting the part.

Does being a parent mean you expect your kids to enjoy the kinds of books—The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Railway Children, and Peanuts are all mentioned by Chabon—that you retroactively associate with your own idealized version of childhood? We maintain that the most insightful writer of books for children was Roald Dahl, whose stories entertain even as they implore children to acknowledge their own willfulness and scheming, and stop pretending they’re the little angels mommy and daddy make them out to be.

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Filed under "Non-fiction", Fighting Words

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