Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands

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9780061650925: Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands

Maps and Legends is an essay collection by American author Michael Chabon that was scheduled for official release on May 1, 2008, although some copies shipped two weeks early from various online bookstores. The book is Chabon's first book-length foray into nonfiction, with 16 essays, some previously published.[1] Several of these essays are defenses of the author's work in genre literature (such as science fiction, fantasy, and comics), while others are more autobiographical, explaining how the author came to write several of his most popular works.

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About the Author:

Michael Chabon is the bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Moonglow and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, among many others. He lives in Berkeley, California with his wife, the novelist Ayelet Waldman, and their children.

Review:

Michael Chabon is fascinated with life "along the borderlands," those perilous regions between and beyond what we claim to know. In these intriguing essays, he strolls through this netherworld, taking up topics from golems to suburbia.

Sometimes, the topic is literary form, like the ghost story and the epic fantasy. For instance, in "Trickster in a Suit of Lights," an allusion to Lewis Hyde's "Trickster Makes This World," Chabon says the short story has fallen out of favor with readers but can be revived. "Trickster haunts the boundary lines, the margins, the secret shelves between the sections in the bookstore. And that is where, if it wants to renew itself in the way that the novel has done so often in its long history, the short story must, inevitably, go," he writes.

Elsewhere, Chabon examines comic books, writing for example in "The Killer Hook" of Howard Chaykin's "American Flagg!" that it "stands at the glorious midpoint, at that difficult fulcrum between innocence and experience, romance and disillusion, adventure and satire, the unashamedly commercial and the purely aesthetic, between the stoned, rangy funkiness of the Seventies and the digitized cool of the present day, between a time when outrage was a moral position and a time when it has become a way of life. Such balancing acts have always been the greatest feats of American popular art."

Many essays draw on Chabon's personal history, from the books he read as a boy, to his early years as a novelist, to his search as a contemporary Jew for a literal as well as figurative homeland, to his preoccupation with the idea that writers are imperiled by their own creations. In "Ragnarok Boy," for instance, he writes about his childhood love of a book of Norse myths that illuminated for him the tumultuous 1960s, especially through Loki, "the god of my own mind as a child, with its competing impulses of vandalism and vision, of imagining things and smashing them."

Chabon writes, "We all grew up - all of us, from the beginning - in a time of violence and invention, absurdity and Armageddon, prey and witness to the worst and the best in humanity, in a world both ruined and made interesting by Loki. I took comfort, as a kid, in knowing that things had always been as awful and as wonderful as they were now, that the world was always on the edge of total destruction, even if, in Maryland in 1969, as today, it seemed a little more true than usual."

Chabon is an accomplished fiction writer, having won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for his novel "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay." This essay collection is his first. While interesting, many of the 16 pieces can be tedious, largely because of tortured phrasing. Many are also somewhat shallow, skimming whimsically along without probing the ideas they raise. And those ideas are often idiosyncratic. Still, when Chabon shines in "Maps and Legends" he shines brightly, displaying an inquisitive mind at work.

Robert Braile reviews regularly for the Globe. -- The Boston Globe, August 2008

Michael Chabon is more substantive in MAPS AND LEGENDS: READING AND WRITING ALONG THE BORDERLANDS. Readers just catching up to Chabon's novels--gay Gatsby, groves of academe, superhero graphic, boy's book of pilgrimage, neo-Victorian espionage, sci-fi noir--already know that he is fiercely loyal to the child he was and will enjoy his wind-chiming on genre fiction from Poe to Nabokov; "tricksters" from Loki, Coyote, and Krishna to Borges, Calvino, and Pynchon; horror stories by M. R. James, Sherlock Holmes under Conan Doyle's hood; Norse myths, Philip Pullman, John Milton and epic fantasy; Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Captain Marvel; Howard Chaykin and Citizen Kane; Ben Katchor and Julius Knipl; Cormac McCarthy, Will Eisner, and other golems. What is so startling is how much more interesting most of these indulgences are to read about in Chabon's pages than they were on their own, in the pulpy original, as if the nostalgic novelist, like the magician-for-hire in his Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, can make paper roses consumed by fire bloom from a pile of ash. -- Harper's, April 2008

Michael Chabon's first collection of nonfiction, makes an inviting case for bridging the gap between popular and literary writing, as he considers the high and the low, from comics to Cormac McCarthy. Like the makers of golems, creatures of Jewish legend, "the writer shapes his story, flecked like river clay wit the grit of experience and rank with the smell of human life." Vital energy and a boundless appetite for risk give these essays their electric charge. -- O, The Oprah Magazine, April 2008

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