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Michael Chabon discusses children and popular culture

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Michael Chabon is the jack-of-all-trades of contemporary literature. His literate, humorous, elegiac books include everything from a Pulitzer Prize winner about comic book creators (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay) to an alternate-world mystery in a Jewish free state (The Yiddish Policemen's Union). Chabon's making his first trip through the Triangle to promote his new collection of essays, Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son. In the book, Chabon discusses bonding with his children and explores memories of his own childhood. We got Chabon on the phone to discuss some of the ideas and themes in his book; here are some highlights of our conversation.

INDEPENDENT: A personal favorite essay of mine in the book is "The Wilderness of Childhood," the new essay where you talk about the limits of children's entertainment. It's interesting how much of that material today, such as the Pixar stuff, is created with a more adult perspective in mind—by people who grew up with that material and have a real reverence for it.

MICHAEL CHABON: I'm sort of a fan-creator myself, or think of myself as a fan-creator, and came of age consuming art that was largely the work of fan-creators—the second generation of rock 'n' roll fans who started playing rock 'n' roll music; the second generation of auteur directors who grew up being huge movie fans, the Coppolas and Spielbergs and Lucases; and the second- and third-generation comic book creators who were the creators of my childhood and youth.

I think all of the popular media I grew up enjoying were sort of mature mediums in the sense that they were being created by people who had grown up loving the stuff to begin with. You know, that can be a blessing and a curse, and some things can get overly fan-ish and vanish up their own ... posterior orifices, but it can also be a recipe for really savvy and multilayered kinds of storytelling.

Some feel that the success of books and films ostensibly aimed at children is their ability to appeal to adult yearnings as well. But do you feel that going for that adult audience can sometimes limit their appeal to children?

You know, children are humans too, you know? They're just little human beings, and the things that appeal to little human beings are not always that different from the things that appeal to big human beings. I think it is possible to create works of art that grab and appeal to the reader or viewer or whatever it might be, regardless of the person's age. Pixar is definitely an example of this.

It's not like there's some kind of Chinese Wall between children and adults—what will please one will not please the other and vice versa. I don't think that's the case at all. And that's kind of a dangerous assumption to be making if you're hoping to score any kind of a significant success.

One of the criticisms of many pieces of modern-day popular culture is that they rely heavily on references to past popular culture.

Right, it can seem that way sometimes. What you're looking for, what you want to see, what's really interesting is stuff that takes the received materials and really wrings changes on them, puts them through their paces, that challenges them and confronts them at the same time that it invokes them.

[There are] some things you watch, and they may be cool, they may be very faithful, they might make you feel kind of happy because stuff you know from some kind of prior era is being brought back and reanimated. That stuff can be fun, but there's ultimately something very hollow at the core of something like that, like it's just an exercise in style more than anything else.

Chabon appears at The Regulator Bookshop Thursday, Oct. 22, at 7 p.m.; this is a ticketed event, costing $5 at the door or in advance. For more information, call 286-2700 or visit www.regulatorbookshop.com.

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