Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Maps & Legends, Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands, Michael Chabon, McSweeney's Books, 2008, 210 pp

In this collection of essays and other writings from the early years of the new millennium, Chabon covers a good bit of territory. Basically though he is holding forth in his entertainingly wordy way, on his philosophy of reading and writing, exhorting us to get over being stuffy and pretentious and just read for enjoyment while praising those who write well.

In other words, the categories devised by the marketing departments of publishing houses and bookstores are no guarantee of anything in terms of quality of writing. A book of literary fiction can be boring and a mystery or science fiction book can reach the highest levels of literary skill.

I enjoyed every page because Chabon's literary skill is considerable and he himself admits, yea proclaims, that he writes to entertain. One of my favorite sections was "On Daemons & Dust," in which he riffs for 18 pages on Philip Pullman, fantasy, religion and the perils of writing in the borderland between worlds.

I also learned about the backgrounds of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and The Yiddish Policeman's Union, as well as another novel he wrote which was never published. Of course, he waxes eloquently on cartoons and superheroes and in "Golems I Have Known" answered many questions I had about those mysterious artificial Jewish beings, all the while spinning one of his most outrageous tales.

In my mind, a collection of essays can be one of the most mind deadening forms of reading, but in Maps & Legends I realized, it is all in the writing.

(Maps & Legends is available in paperback by special order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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