Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity

By Joel Stein

(Grand Central, $26.99, 304 pages)

Who is this author?

Joel Stein occupies the almost-back page of Time magazine each week, where he writes a very funny, very snarky, very self-absorbed column that manages to put Joel Stein in the midst of contemporary trends, political and cultural controversies, marriage and parenthood issues and many other topics about which Joel Stein has plenty to say, a lot of it about Joel Stein. Some may find this kind of hyper-personal journalism annoying, but I find him hilarious, and underneath his self-involvement, you can easily find  a very smart and perceptive journalist who is going to provoke you into doing some actual thinking while you are being entertained.

I had lots more to say about him…and he got a few words in edgewise…. in an interview piece that ran in the May 20 Sunday Arts Section in the Hartford Courant, available online at .

Stein is visiting Hartford this week to give one of the Mark Twain House & Museum’s fine “A Pen Warmed Up in Hell” lectures, on Thursday, May 24, at 7:30 p.m. at 351 Farmington Ave., Hartford.  He’ll talk about Twain and also about his own new book, just out this month. Tickets are $30: 860-280-3130.

What is this book about?

“Man Made” got its genesis when Stein learned that the baby he and his wife, Cassandra Barry, were expecting would be a boy. Panicked, he realized that he had neither the personality nor the life experience to train a little boy in the ways of manhood….after all, he spent most of his own boyhood playing with an Easy-Bake oven and collecting a menagerie of glass animals…and so he decided to put himself through a series of manly experiences to remedy the situation. He hung out with Boy Scouts and professional athletes, rode to calls with firefighters and tried his hand at driving a Lamborghini and day-trading $100,000 worth of stocks (not his own money, of course). He did some basic training with Marines and Army recruits, helped his father-in-law re-roof a house and got into the ring with Ultimate Fighting Champ Randy Couture…and lived to tell us all about it.

Why you’ll like it:

As abrasive as his column can be, in this book, Stein drops that persona and reveals something much closer to the truth: He’s a thoughtful guy who quickly learns that the manliest men he encounters, as big, bold and brassy as they may seem, are themselves really nice, thoughtful guys who lead by being self-confident, understanding and very, very good at what they do. Lucky little Lazslo – yes, they named their son Lazslo, in a fit of yuppified individuality – will eventually read this book and realize just how much his dad loves him.

What others are saying:

Says Publishers Weekly:

 “…Stein (Time humor columnist) felt he needed to upgrade his manliness in order to become a role model for his son: “If I can just make it through some man stuff—go camping, play a sport, hunt an animal, fix stuff around the house—I’ll gain some credibility.” With that goal, he embarked on his quest to transform himself into a manly man, even though his wife, Cassandra, regarded it as “an incredibly stupid idea… Stein proves himself to be a champion humorist by probing the serious side of his subject while peppering the paragraphs with numerous fresh and funny notions.”

“…The author wanted to be the type of dad who plays catch with his boy, teaches him how to build campfires and tie square knots. Unfortunately for him, Stein didn’t actually know how to do any of these things; hair product and home-baked goods were more in his wheelhouse. Unabashedly urbane, the author forged ahead with what proves to be a consistently hilarious and surprisingly profound crash course in manliness. … Almost every delightfully descriptive paragraph seems to be punctuated with a wry turnaround or self-deprecating knock aimed squarely at the author’s supposedly unmanly nature. Venturing so far out of his comfort zone definitely demonstrates a father’s love for his son, but it also does much to reconfirm the value of masculine identity. Although Stein acknowledges the absurdity of subjecting himself to choke holds designed to render opponents unconscious, he can’t help but embrace undeniable manly virtues like physical strength, camaraderie and courage–and seek to pass them on to his son. Charming, funny and life affirming,” says Kirkus Reviews

“…It’s a very funny book, but it’s not really a comedy; it’s more like a cockeyed autobiography, an embarrassingly honest story of one man’s last-ditch effort to Become a Man. Most readers—and their female counterparts—will relate to the book in some way,” says Booklist.

“This entertaining and irreverent memoir will make you laugh out loud, teach you a surprising amount about various bastions of American masculinity, and leave you feeling glad that you’re not married to Joel Stein,”  says author Curtis Sittenfeld. 

When is it available?

Men (and women) can find this one in the New Books area of the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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