Book Review: Maps and Legends (Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands)

I’ve long been a fan of Michael Chabon, ever since I stumbled upon his Summerland book and read it aloud to my first son, then my second son and now I have it in the queu for my third (probably after we finish the Harry Potter series, and we are more than halfway through the last book there). Summerland is a messy book but full of imagination, and it has baseball at the center of its fairy tale narrative. That always hooked my kids.

Then, I loved The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, with its hook of characters inventing a comic strip. Imagine: an entire novel built around the creation of a comic strip. (The book went on to win a number of literary awards).

So, I did not hesitate to pick up Chabon’s collection of essays when it went on a fire sale at McSweeney’s publishing house. Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands is an uneven but always interesting mix of writing and speeches in which Chabon explores the creative areas where writers go to find their way, often without maps or understanding of where they are going. I appreciate the way Chabon takes comics and pulp fiction and science fiction and even ghost stories serious and defends their place in the world of literature. Maps and Legends provides a little window into one writer’s view of the world, and for me, I enjoy getting those glimpses. The insights into Carmac McCarthy, in particular, brought me back to a period of time when I devoured McCarthy’s novels. Chabon reminded me of why I was in that phase.

Chabon ends with the text of a speech he gave a number of times that centers around the discovery of Golems that connect to his childhood, only to let us in on the joke at the end: the narrative is mostly pure fiction, and he did it to understand how much, as readers, we buy into the narratives we are given as fact, and to let us know that, just like the writers, we readers are often in undiscovered countries, making out way forward with only the maps of insight and experience — and even those can’t always be trusted.

Peace (in the lands beyond lands),

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