Michael Chabon: ‘Parent properly and you’re doing yourself out of a job’

The Pulitzer prize-winner on combining writing with raising kids, his freakozoid tendencies and the authors he returns to

Michael Chabon is one of America’s best-loved writers, the author of nine novels, including The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (which won the Pulitzer prize), Wonder Boys, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Moonglow. In 2009, he published Manhood for Amateurs, a series of reflections on his early years as a father. Now, with Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces, 54-year-old Chabon has collected his essays about parenting four teenagers.

A few years ago, Chabon’s wife, the novelist Ayelet Waldman, wrote a controversial essay for the New York Times in which she claimed to love her husband more than her children (and to be the only one of her married friends still having regular sex). Chabon’s meditations on fatherhood are less likely to offend – they’re generous, very Californian ...

River by Esther Kinsky review – an outsider’s view of London’s edgelands

The Lea Valley in east London inspires these musings on history, memory, weather and locality

A woman walks around the streets and river paths of the Lea Valley in east London – that fine example of British “edgelands”, where the urban, pastoral and industrial continually overlap and erase each other. She is an outsider and an immigrant, and many of the people she encounters “drifting in the river of the city” are immigrants, too: Katz the greengrocer; the Croat who runs a charity shop for Bosnian refugees; a former circus performer. This last character is from Germany, like the author, who grew up on the banks of the Rhine and has felt drawn to rivers ever since.

Little happens in River. Characters are held at a distance, dialogue is largely absent, and the 37 chapters could probably be read in any order with no loss of narrative sense. Esther Kinsky’s unnamed narrator observes ...

Top 10 parallel narratives

From Philip Roth to Zadie Smith, Lisa Halliday selects some of the best novels using formal adventures to bridge the ‘unpassable gaps’ in our world

What makes a novel a novel? The word comes from the Latin novus, meaning new, via the Italian novella storia, “new story”, so it can seem a contradiction in terms when someone protests that a book “is not a novel”. The very term suggests something original, unfamiliar – and yet one knows what the disappointed reader means. The parts don’t add up to a satisfying whole; the new story feels too disjointed or unfinished; the two or eight or 28 chapters don’t sufficiently cohere.

Related: Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday review – a dizzying debut

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Flights by Olga Tokarczuk review – the ways of wanderers

A wandering Slavic sect survives on the kindness of strangers in this playful Polish novel One of the fragment-chapters in this fascinating novel of fragments tells of a man who takes a particular book on his travels: a short one by the French-Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran. He feels that European hotels would do well to replace the obligatory Bible with Cioran, because the Bible was no use “for the purposes of predicting the future”. The narrator, an alterego of the author and a good-humoured, reliable voice that carries the novel through its many digressions, meets him on one of her countless peregrinations, and he quotes Cioran at her: “It was clear to me that our mission was to graze the dust in search of a mystery stripped of anything serious.” This reflects the existential preoccupations of Flights, whose central recurring tropes are physical movement, the mortal body and ...

Top 10 books about Manchester

From Friedrich Engels and Mrs Gaskell to WG Sebald and Anthony Burgess, these are some great books about the great city in ‘the south of the north’ In her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Jeanette Winterson locates the city of her birth with a laser-guided accuracy: “Manchester is in the south of the north of England,” she writes. “Its spirit has a contrariness … at once untamed and unmetropolitan; at the same time, connected and wordly.” Others have been a more direct in their appraisal, like the Guardian reader Degrus, who commented under a 2009 piece about Manchester’s burgeoning literary renaissance: “Everyone who comes from Manchester knows that it’s a shithole … However, we also know that it’s not a shithole without charm; Mancunians are proud of their shithole. The best writing about Manchester springs from this.” The city has changed a ...

Top 10 books about Manchester

From Friedrich Engels and Mrs Gaskell to WG Sebald and Anthony Burgess, these are some great books about the great city in ‘the south of the north’ In her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Jeanette Winterson locates the city of her birth with a laser-guided accuracy: “Manchester is in the south of the north of England,” she writes. “Its spirit has a contrariness … at once untamed and unmetropolitan; at the same time, connected and wordly.” Others have been a more direct in their appraisal, like the Guardian reader Degrus, who commented under a 2009 piece about Manchester’s burgeoning literary renaissance: “Everyone who comes from Manchester knows that it’s a shithole … However, we also know that it’s not a shithole without charm; Mancunians are proud of their shithole. The best writing about Manchester springs from this.” The city has changed a ...

Top 10 books to make you a better person

Don’t be put off! Works by WG Sebald, Roberto Bolaño and Wallace Shawn and others can help us to see ourselves more clearly and understand life better “If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life,” wrote Thoreau, and this is roughly how I feel about the man giving me a book that will make me a better person. I dislike him, and yet here I am risking becoming him. Worse still, I seem to be suggesting that my own book bears mention in this dubious, self-approving category. Writing an “improving” book sounds like a terrific way of repelling readers.
When I wrote my book, Prodigals, I intended, if anything, no more than to give voice to the tensions I felt pulling me apart from the inside. Which tensions? The ...

Guardian readers’ comfort library

Jane Austen rubs shoulders with Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett sits next to Harry Potter in the great self-help archive assembled by our contributors

A breakfast-room adjoined the drawing-room, I slipped in there. It contained a bookcase: I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one stored with pictures. I mounted into the window-seat: gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in a double retirement.”

Thus the young Jane Eyre escapes the double trial of her aunt’s scolding and “the drear November day”. Her escapism isn’t straightforward though, as her book of choice is Bewick’s History of British Birds which, between the bucolic engravings of robins and sea-fowl, features ghoulish scenes of hellfire and hangings.

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The 100 best novels: No 100 – True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (2000)

Peter Carey rounds off our list of literary milestones with a Booker prize-winning tour-de-force examining the life and times of Australia’s infamous antihero, Ned Kelly
100 best novels: from Bunyan’s pilgrim to Carey’s Ned Kelly – Robert McCrum reflects on his choices

Peter Carey arrived exuberantly on the international literary scene as the dominant Australian writer of his generation with Illywhacker, his second novel, in 1985. He went on to win the Booker prize with Oscar and Lucinda (1988), but it was not until the publication of True History of the Kelly Gang in 2000 that his lifelong fascination with the antipodean predicament and his own impish love of narrative innovation met in the voice of the bushranger Ned Kelly, an archetypal Australian hero.

This tour-de-force of storytelling, Carey’s great gift, is a postmodern historical novel, a quasi-autobiography, narrated in the Australian vernacular with primitive grammar and scant ...

The Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald – walking through history

Riffing on a melancholy trip along the Suffolk coast, this book expands into a grand meditation on the past
Read more Guardian writers’ Journeys in literature

This spring I went to Southwold for the first time. I went with my parents and during the journey there was some discussion as to why I hadn’t been before. Their home (my old one) is in Norwich, roughly a 45-minute drive from the Suffolk coastal town, and the two of them visit often. Surely I must have gone too, they said, if only just the once? Perhaps I had been and simply forgotten about it, after all it wouldn’t have been the first time.

It’s true that memory is not my strongest suit, but still I disputed my parents’ assertion. I may forget people’s names in the middle of a conversation, appointments made only recently and on one occasion even my PIN ...

‘Don’t be a prima donna, Doris’ … and other advice. UEA opens writers’ letters

The University of East Anglia is publishing archived private correspondence from novelists such as Doris Lessing, JD Salinger and WG Sebald to inspire today’s students of creative writing

“Don’t,” a young Doris Lessing is advised as she tries to find a publisher for her first novel, The Grass is Singing, “be a prima donna till you are one.”

The previously unseen letter from literary agent Margaret Macpherson in which this advice appears dates from 1949, almost 60 years before Lessing went on to win the Nobel prize for literature. Lessing had told Macpherson she had been asked to alter the theme of her debut, but the agent said she couldn’t agree.

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