Christopher Buckley, the only child of William F. and Patricia T. Buckley, recalls the lives of these larger-than-life parents in Losing Mum And Pup (Twelve, $24.99), a memoir that shimmers with affection and humor. Of his conservative Catholic father he writes, “Pup had the most delicious, reliable, wicked vibrant sense of humor of anyone I knew,” a trait Chris Buckley liberally sprinkles throughout his celebration of his parents’ lives.
Michael Chabon’s second foray into non-fiction has all the grace and wit of his best novels. These pieces are carefully plotted stories that illuminate our own lives and make us look at where we’re headed. Manhood For Amateurs (HarperCollins, $25.99) chronicles not only what it means to recognize yourself as a man, but, perhaps most important, how it feels to look back on the journey to adulthood. Writing in short, easily digestible essays, Chabon brings healthy doses of humor, nostalgia, and frankness to his exploration of growing up. Whether he is discussing the ineffable charms of ’70s super-heroines or remembering a father-figure who took him wholly into his life, Chabon creates a self-portrait of a man every bit as compelling as any of his characters.
Writing in short, easily digestible essays (none is longer than 11 pages), Michael Chabon brings healthy doses of humor, nostalgia, and frankness to his exploration of growing up. He trains his novelist’s eye on the small details that tell him he’s grown up: hearing songs from his youth on the classic rock station, having to disapprove of Captain Underpants so that his kids will still like it, recognizing that his children are growing up with a very different view of the future, realizing that he’s comfortable carrying a diaper bag. Manhood For Amateurs (Harper Perennial, $14.99) is perfect reading for an afternoon in the hammock, a few pages before bed, or a day watching the kids by the pool.
In Cheerful Money (Little, Brown, $24.99), his sweet, loving, but sad memoir of his Wasp family, Tad Friend, a New Yorker staff writer, confides that Wasp parents treat the essence of Waspishness as they do sex, never revealing its secrets to their offspring. As a result, Friend has spent a lifetime learning from others what it means to be a White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant. “Wasps name their dogs after liquor, their cars after dogs, and their children after their ancestors,” Friend discovers. Wasps wear Shetland sweaters and Docksiders; Preppies are often confused with Wasps, but “Preppies are infantile, stuck at age 17, while Wasps emerge from the womb wrinkly and cautious, already vice presidents, already fifty-two.” Friend’s father, a Swarthmore College president, like all good Wasps, was bound by duty, a chronic disposition learned in childhood from “cheerful money, coins deposited in a kitchen jar as a reward for smiling through grim occasions.” By the end of this affectionate family history, the reader will well understand why Wasps are a dying breed.