Father’s Day comes but once a year, and boy are we lucky for that. With ties going out of style thanks to tech billionaires (they’re all wearing hoodies now), the gift choices are slimmer than ever. Fortunately, as is so often the case, books can come to the rescue.
FOR THE SPORTS FAN
When it comes to sports, the “what-if” possibilities are endless. Mike Pesca has assembled 31 of them in Upon Further Review: The Greatest What-Ifs in Sports History. His list might not match yours, but it’s still a fun exercise and a highly readable departure from traditional sports literature. Pesca, host of the Slate podcast “The Gist,” keeps his readers on their toes with a different author for each scenario, so an earnest “What If the National League Had the DH?” is followed by a whimsical “What If Nixon Had Been Good at Football?” (The verdict: still a president, but no Watergate.) Other authors bolster their arguments with charts (“What If Major League Baseball Had Started Testing for Steroids in 1991?”) or, in the case of “What If Nat ‘Sweetwater’ Clifton’s Pass Hadn’t Gone Awry?,” 38 footnotes. The contributors are a multitalented lot, including actor Jesse Eisenberg, radio host Robert Siegel and journalist/historian Louisa Thomas. The contributors are a multitalented lot but each one embraces the task with gusto, inspiring readers to come up with some “what-ifs” of their own.
FOR THE BIG READER
You probably know Michael Chabon as a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, but he’s also an acclaimed essayist. His first collection, Manhood for Amateurs (2009), was subtitled “The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son.” This time around, with Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces, he’s produced seven essays, all dad-oriented. The centerpiece, “Little Man,” recounts a trip to Paris Fashion Week with his youngest and most individualistic child, Abe. (Chabon was on assignment for GQ, where the essay originally appeared.) The essay is not about finding common ground, as is often the case in such essays where father and son are poles apart, but rather Chabon’s happiness that his son has finally found “your people.” The remaining essays are shorter and peppered with humorous insights, particularly “Adventures in Euphemism,” which has Chabon trying to read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to his children without uttering a certain word. Chabon’s relationship with his own father, of course, does not go unexamined, and again he zigs where others zag, taking care not to be overly sentimental.
FOR THE MOVIE BUFF
A cute gopher popping out of his hole adorns the cover of Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story. This is ironic, because the makers of the film hated the last-minute addition of the animatronic gopher that bedeviled Bill Murray in the 1980 film. They saw it as an example of the Hollywood studio system destroying their masterwork. But gopher or no gopher, Caddyshack, a slobs-versus-snobs tale set at a country club golf course, became a cult classic, rife with quotable lines and fondly remembered scenes. Film critic Chris Nashawaty tells the behind-the-scenes story in an entertaining fashion, starting at the very beginning with the founding of the National Lampoon, which served as a springboard for Doug Kenney, who co-wrote the classic Animal House and co-wrote and produced Caddyshack. In fact, Nashawaty doesn’t start recounting the actual filming of the movie until well past halfway through the book. No worries though, as readers will enjoy the backstories of writing, casting and the cocaine-fueled shenanigans of Murray and his pals, including Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield and Kenney, the real star of the book if not the movie.
FOR THE COMIC-BOOK FAN
The genre of graphic literature has grown past just comic books and the newspaper funny pages, and Michael Kupperman, whose work has appeared in The New Yorker and Marvel comics, is deadly serious in All the Answers. This black-and-white graphic memoir is perfect for dads who grew up reading comic books and are looking for something with a bit more weight to it. It tells the story of the author’s father, Joel Kupperman, who became famous as one of the stars of the 1940s and ’50s radio and television show “Quiz Kids.” The elder Kupperman subsequently became an author and professor of philosophy, but he retreated from public life as an adult. Spurred by his father’s diagnosis with dementia, Michael coaxes him into talking about his experiences in the public eye and how they shaped his life as an adult. In the process, father and son have some frank exchanges. The son learns how to be a better father as a result of the failings of his own dad, who was perfect in math, perhaps, but not so perfect in the challenges of marriage and family life. Kupperman’s simple, stark drawings add to the somber mood of the book and enhance readers’ understanding of its haunting story.
FOR THE JOKESTER
So Dad thinks he’s funny, eh? He likely has nothing on Tom Papa, whose Your Dad Stole My Rake: And Other Family Dilemmas is a collection of essays with laughs on every page. The aptly named Papa, a father and head writer for the radio variety show “Live From Here” (formerly known as “A Prairie Home Companion with Chris Thile”), has a one-liner for every family situation, from Facebook (“a class reunion every day”) to owning a cat (“like dating a supermodel”). The book is organized by topics (wives, grandparents and so on), so skip around if you like, or simply read straight through for an extended look at Papa’s twisted but ultimately sunny (well, no more than partly cloudy) vision of family life. If you’re lucky, it lines up with your own.