Monday, June 15, 2009

Home Game Book Review

A couple of weeks ago, Chris asked me in the comments if I'd had the chance to read Michael Lewis' new book, Home Game, a collection of essays, many of them already posted to Slate, about being a dad. I used one of the themes in the book to build an On Parenting post, but that wasn't really a "review." Here are my fuller thoughts:

Michael Lewis might be the greatest nonfiction writer of our generation. The book is entirely readable. So he has that going for him.

What he doesn't have going for him is any particular interest in fatherhood. He admits upfront that the book might be seen as a report from a "kind of Dark Age of Fatherhood. Obviously, we're in the midst of some unhappy transition between the model of fatherhood as practiced by by father and some ideal model, approved by all, to be practiced with ease by the perfect fathers of the future."

Let this snarky line serve as warning: Lewis doesn't want to hear about how fatherhood is evolving. Indeed, by kid number three, he is no longer changing diapers or doing any of the other things that would seem to define modern fatherhood.

I don't hold his lack of passion for parenting against him. But the undertone of the book is that fatherhood is a nuisance, and maybe men would be better off if we didn't have any of these silly new expectations that dads should actually place an active role in the family. This does not make for an enlightening fatherhood book, and I have no idea why Norton (or Slate, for that matter) would be interested in Lewis' thoughts on an aspect of his like that he seems so often to undervalue.

Every once in a while, Lewis stops the narrative to profess his love for his kids and draw a parallel between all of the annoyances of parenthood and his deep bond. These are the least convincing parts of the book. Not because Lewis doesn't love his kids -- I'm sure he does -- but because they clash so stridently with everything else he records about his experience as a parent.

In short, it's not the best Father's Day gift, elegant though the prose might be. In fact, it might be a better graduation gift, a $23.95 dose of birth control.


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