After reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay some years ago, I promptly became a devoted disciple of Michael Chabon If I was well read and given to making sweeping generalizations, I would be inclined to declare Chabon the greatest living writer Such as it is, I avoid committing to sweeping generalizations and still have a lot reading to do before I declare a Greatest Living Writer And by then they ll be dead so I ll have to keep reading Alas,I recommend Kavalier and Clay to anyone who listens and even to some who don t But when recommending Kavalier and Clay, I always recommend a supplementary volume to accompany one s reading of Chabon s Pulitzer Prize winning novel a dictionary You see, Michael Chabon has an extensive vocabulary Saying that Chabon knows a lot of words would be like saying the ocean has a lot of water molecules in it The dude s diction is hot And don t get me started on the boy s syntax That shit is off the hook, dawg.Word Choice It s kind of what writers are supposed to be good at But Chabon is better His sentences and words are just always so damn perfect As an aspiring writer, Chabon intimidates me to no end because I know I will never be as good as him If I were a writer, I would want to write like him But Chabon already writes like Chabon, so what s the point, right I read Chabon and find myself muttering slurs to him out of sheer disdain and jealousy.Chabon has been a bit prolific as of late Following Kavalier and Clay, there was Final Solution Then The Yiddish Policemen s Union Then Gentlemen of the Road And now Maps and Legends, his first work of non fiction And with Maps and Legends, Chabon has not relented with his impressive vocabulary There are words like arriviste, appurtenances, pasquinade, asymptotically, punctilio, priggish, peregrinations, bathyspheric, aetataureate, and empyrean But some words are even too obscure for Chabon, so he defines them Which he does upon using anagnorisis moment of recognition His definitions sometimes serve a point, as they do when he reminds us that excoriated literally means to have one s skin removed At one point Chabon uses the phrase baby murder This usage struck me as odd Why didn t he use infanticide Infanticide is a perfectly fine word But upon further counsel and thought, I decided that baby murder was a far superior choice of words Baby murder captures a sentiment in the reader that infanticide would not And that is Chabon s great skill He knows all the words and he knows how to use them and when to use them and when to use their definitions.Published by McSweeney s, Maps and Legends is a simply beautiful book McSweeney s seems to be settling on a cohesive aesthetic because the cover of Maps and Legends carries striking similarities to Bowl of Cherries with its partial dust jacket that reveals the actual book cover Which I m a fan of I hate dust jackets They re so stupid Why do we need them That s why What is the What is so great Besides being a fantastic book, it has no dust jacket Just a small band on the back cover for blurbs.Throughout the essays that comprise Maps and Legends, Chabon champions genre fiction in general and ghost stories, science fiction, graphic novels, short stories, and comics in particular The very first essay is a true winner with Chabon analyzing the modern short story, the entertainment industry and encouraging all of us to be better readers and critics He provides some analysis of Cormac McCarthy s The Road and Phillip Pullman s The Golden Compass, and even weighs in on the recent spate of fibbing memoirists with a story of his own that acknowledges his vocation as a professional liar Chabon describes this particular essay s subject as the interrelationship between truth and lies, memory and invention, history and story, memoir and fiction, the sources of narrative and the storytelling impulse the inevitable fate of liars to be swallowed up or crushed by their lies and the risks inherent both in discounting the power of outright fiction to reveal the truths of a life, and in taking at face value the fictions that writers of memoir present as fact Get Michael Chabon on Oprah James Frey wishes he was this articulate and eloquent. Every book is a sequel, influence is bliss A passionate collection of work In defense of entertainment mostly That incisively examines pop culture and the inbred desire to put it down as something to be moved passed When people complain about Chabon it s often his tendency to bite off a shitload then he can chew that gets their knives out Part of the charm of maps and legends is just how slight the essays are They re not about charting America, mapping the psyche, or symbolism behind Little Lulu They re content to be good solid pieces of intelligent criticism on everything from the pleasures of Sherlock Holmes and Cormac McCarthy, to the comic s industries abandonment of children and the sad sure decline in quality of Philip Pullman Unfortunately Chabon does end the book with some essays about his Jewish heritage and history This is of course not to suggest that Chabon doesn t have the right to do so Indeed the strong Jewish identity is what makes much of Chabon s work so unique It s just that it doesn t fit in with the rest of the essays Imagine you re reading a cook book, and find that the final third of it is excerpts from Tolstoy That s very nice and pleasant But it just doesn t fit It s like Chabon wanted to give the book an extra seventy five pages and just figured, why the hell not Still a this is a very minor quibble, and I have a feeling when I visit those essays separately they ll work much better. Michael Chabon S Sparkling First Book Of Nonfiction Is A Love Song In Sixteen Parts A Series Of Linked Essays In Praise Of Reading And Writing, With Subjects Running From Ghost Stories To Comic Books, Sherlock Holmes To Cormac McCarthy Throughout, Chabon Energetically Argues For A Return To The Thrilling, Chilling Origins Of Storytelling, Rejecting The False Walls Around Serious Literature In Favor Of A Wide Ranging AffectionCover Art By Jordan Crane Michael Chabon loves genre fiction Here s what each essay in this collection concerns, in a word or two genre fiction, MC s childhood town, Sherlock Holmes, Norse mythology, Philip Pullman, comics, comics, McCarthy s The Road as science fiction , ghost stories, comics, comics, MC as a young writer , MC s writing his second novel, golems, being Jewish, golems being Jewish This isn t a mistake or anything there s a quote in the first essay that says something about the most successful authors succeeding in the borderlands, meaning in those gray areas between genre fiction and literature, and the book s subtitle is, indeed, Reading and Writing from the Borderlands As such, the collection has a definite cohesiveness, though I found this to be actually a limitation, as the whole thing felt a bit rushed Essay collections usually comprise things that have already been published, sometimes over the course of an entire decade, and each one feels singular, polished, diversified This collection, however, has the feel of having been written in one sitting though there are a few things therein that dispel this thought The entire thing is only 220 pages long and, as you may have deduced from the above, there are sixteen essays That s less than fourteen pages a piece, and most are much shorter From a guy as prolific and prolix as Chabon, this seemed a bit odd Also, dude has a sprawling and esoteric vocabulary than David Foster Wallace I guess that s all there is to say about that, but shit, man Keep a dictionary handy.So, the design McSweeney s did a great job, as usual, of creating a really cool package I won t describe it, you can see it here Once you get inside the thing, though, you start to notice some pretty shoddy underpinnings I caught I caught two instances of double spaces, meaning two spaces between words within a sentence, I caught several cases of words that were hyphen ated in the middle of a line, where obvi ously no hyphen was required, I caught a few misspellings, and then MANY, let s say 8 to 10, instances of soft returns that make for horrid letterspacing this is something I can t really show here, but what happens is a designer typesetter puts an arbitrary soft return at the end of a line to fix a widow or a bad break or something, and everything looks fine, but then a word gets changed by an editor e.g and the designer typesetter forgets to remove the soft return and what you get is a paragraph whose top half is packt like sardines and whose second half is as spacey and airy as a Terrence Malick film It s not hot And all of this is a case of bad or nonexistent copyediting proofreading I should say that yes, it is a huge part of my job to recognize and fix errors like these, i.e I literally spend hours every day flowing manuscripts into book layouts and then going through and fixing bad breaks, letterspacing, typos, etc., so my eyes are trained, but I definitely don t go through books looking for errors It just doesn t happen This was totally egregious, and quite disappointing All this said, MC s a good writer, so it was no chore to make my way through this collection I didn t really get much out of it, but that s probably my fault for not being a fan of science fiction This essay actually kind of pissed me off It s about MC graduating college and moving to California in hopes of getting into an MFA program He gets two recommendations from undergrad professors who attended, respectively, Stanford and UC Irvine, and the Stanford one doesn t pan out so he s forced forced to begrudgingly begrudgingly attend, instead, one of the best programs in the nation What a bummer What also miffed me about this essay is that it s all, When I first sat down to write my debut novel, you may have heard of it but of course at the time I had no idea it would be so successful, I was using this old ass computer with a tiny green and black screen, I was in this old basement with a crappy workbench, I was so naive and unsure of myself, ho ho, I was only twenty two, and the only logical conclusion is And now I ve published multiple best sellers and won the Pulitzer isn t it funny how life works out sometimes I dunno Some might call this jealousy MC would use a different word probably, one with like eight syllables and Greek roots It struck me as glib, if unintentionally And it also represented a major turning point in the collection, in that the focus of the essays shifted decidedly from other authors subjects to MC himself The very next essay was, as I mentioned, about him as a slightly older author working on his second novel Come on, Chabon. Maps and Legends is a book of essays Mostly, it is about the writing of fiction Specifically fiction that is written to entertain including what is commonly known as genre fiction.For most of my reading life I have welcomed the short stories, novellas, and novels of several genres as if they were life giving oxygen itself Back in my youth I would gladly read a book sometimes even two per day camped out underneath the dining room table of all places for hours at a time I read quickly not at Evelyn Wood speeds mind you, just fast for normal reading methods and two a day meant no book was over 300 pages Do I regret those past summer days spent indoors instead of out tracking dinosaurs or hunting mastodons No Never.As an adult I was about to write mature reader , but that s neither accurate nor a satisfactory label I have made a conscious effort to read litr y fiction as well as non fiction from time to time The fact that I also did so back in the Jurassic is immaterial Long before I joined Goodreads, I would read such books on my own or at the recommendation of trusted friends With Goodreads, I have continued to do so I can t say what percentage of the ever growing TBR list is non genre fiction or non fiction, but it s there.Am I ashamed of my honest liking for the genre stuff No, not really I think I do a pretty good job of balancing brain candy with intellectual stimulation and I normally deal with science and technology on a daily basis, anyway I am heartened to see the range of people who read both similar and dissimilar books and write about them here on Goodreads Do I like Sherlock Holmes stories or less than Karen likes Monster Erotica It s not important to me or, I suspect, anyone else.Having written all that, I began reading Maps and Legends blindly Yes, I ve had it on my TBR list for almost four 4 years, but that does not mean I did any research on it first If I had to guess, I think I added it because author Laurie King gave it a one line, five star rating But once I ve decided to get the actual book, I don t pre read other s reviews or the blurbs So, as far as I knew it might have been a novel Nor had I read any of the essays in a magazine.Instead, it is a really excellent collection of writings on the nature of entertainment writing i.e genre fiction and the power of creating stories and myths While I have loaded up my TBR shelf with many of his books, I had only read The Final Solution previously and I had not read any biographical material about Mr Chabon But I ve now learned quite a bit in his own words and parceled out as he has seen fit about the author Much to my great surprise and joy, here is a respected author writing about the virtues of the types of fiction that I have always loved Of course I have read other writers speak and write about the importance of these genres The late, great Isaac Asimov was very ardent in his support of the science fiction genre since it has been one of the most down trodden , but he also wrote and would have also defended mysteries Like Asimov, this author writes autobiographical notes explaining what he liked and why Note A lot of Asimov s were written as introductions to stories in collections I think that Before the Golden Age of Science Fiction and maybe The Golden Age of Science Fiction both have these notes As printed this book develops a theme starting with the author s younger years and continuing on into his professional career They may not have been written in that order, but they do form a reasonable progression I have to say that I liked something in each and every one, but I have my favorites Trickster in a Suit of Lights Thoughts on the Modern Short Story had me hooked from the first paragraph Not only the breezy style, but the content was refreshing Fan Fictions On Sherlock Holmes is an excellent look at the persistent popularity of the World s Greatest consulting Detective and his creator In this essay many of the facts about Conan Doyle that I previously knew are woven with how the writing of the stories was truly and original concept even when detective stories had previously been written by Poe and others The author makes an excellent case for ACD having created a story format and method that no one had used before The impact that these stories had on the young reader he and me is well described, I especially liked the comment that, all literature, highbrow, or low, from the Aeneid onward, is fan fiction I might never have thought of it that way, but I heartedly agree.Not to slight the other material in the book I am really just trying to keep this down to a manageable length , but I also have an extra warm place in my heart for Kid s Stuff , The Killer Hook Howard Chaykin s American Flagg , Thoughts on the Death of Will Eisner , and Golems I Have Known, or, Why My Elder Son s Middle Name is Napoleon.While the last 2 3 stories may not totally fit in the theme I think they were perfectly suited to inclusion in this collection I listed the final one in my best of list just above this line Do I wish I had read this the day I put it on my TBR shelf Hell, yes Am I even pleased that I have other books of his to read Ditto Will I start them immediately Ah, well, I have this HUGE list of books and I ve already got several others waiting to go, so, No But, don t let my foolishness stop YOU Return, ever so briefly as I did to those thrilling days of yesteryear and see how today s author can be fun, too This is at least a 4.5 star book and I m going to round it up to the coveted full FIVE 5 Stars.Note For those that care, the Aeneid was Virgil s attempt to legitimize the Roman Imperium that had been established by first Gaius Julius Ceasar and then his adopted son blood grand nephew Gaius Julius Ceasar Octavianus born Gaius Octavius but better known as Augustus It crafts a new story around the pious hero Aeneas making him instrumental in the root stock of the Latin peoples and through them the Romans Thus, giving the Roman people a history that extends back to the days of the Iliad and a claim on many lands throughout the Mediterranean. I really can t take Mr Chabon s essay style At all I love him dearly as a novelist, Kavalier and Clay is one of my favorite books of all time, and I enjoyed The Yiddish Policeman s Union as well His self indulgent prose is very much like the descriptive passages in his novels, but it seems that when you take away the plot motivating aspect of the words, I can t stand him Michael Chabon is a very talented writer, and the next time he publishes a novel, I will be in line to buy it, I just could not take this one. Oh that clever Michael Chabon What a wit He s precocious, you know Sheeer talent So tender, so for lack of a better word raw Don t You Dare For Get.But I mean, getting past the endless admittedly lush lists and lists of anything you could possibly list and semi colon dash semi colon period repeat , he really is a fierce essayist with clean ideas and enticing presentation I admit to being a kid who relished fantasy and then was scared off it when I learned that such sub genres are rarely considered top caliber literature This book let me know what I ve missed The author defends and champions sci fi, fantasy and comic books by interweaving his own experiences with theses on the complex themes and cultural significance of, for example, Sherlocke Holmes He also highlights the work of lesser known masters within those genres, which is all very enlightening.While some of my favorite essays in the collection deal directly with one work author the Sherlocke Holmes essay, the Philip Pullman His Dark Materials essay and the Cormac MacCarthy essay Chabon s at his best when he writes about himself His tale of coming into the person who would write his first novel is brimming with pathos and awesome The golem tales where he can t resist tossing in a little homegrown fiction are duly chilling and cool You definitely get a sense of who and why and how this author got to be a genre straddling Pulitzer winner.The gemmiest gem of this book is not in the sharpness of the prose but the lovingly crafted theme In lamenting and accepting the end of all childish innocence, it re imbues the reader with the ecstatic fan quality of children It lifted me up and made me want to, like Chabon, join the ranks of my favorite writers to be a teller of exciting, effective stories.As a former fan fiction writer, I recommend this swell chronicle of that time honored craft. This probably could have been called In Defense of Genre Fiction, and I m glad that someone like Michael Chabon is making such important points in favor of genre fiction I just wasn t blown away by a lot of the essays they were smart and well written, but they were occasionally lacking in depth Not all of them, mind you For instance, the essay about Sherlock Holmes was really engaging, but then I felt it didn t go anywhere in particular He mentioned fanfiction at the very end, and then suddenly that was it It seemed as if he had to say Tracing the history of something is always important, but why trace the history if you don t delve into the modern repercussions Maybe I m just being picky, but the book was a little like sitting next to someone super interesting at a very loud dinner party you re grateful for the encounter, but you lament the fact that you weren t able to talk ask questions. Michael Chabon is to writing what I am to making Kraft Macaroni Cheese okay, that s a little bit of an exaggeration Chabon isn t THAT good of a writer While I m sure there is an immeasurable amount of effort and diligence behind it, his prose flows effortlessly across the page, and everything he writes is linguistic treasure, whether you enjoy the story topic or not In this collection of essays that explore the interplay between genre fiction, flights of fancy, and literature, I m happy to report that the topics are almost universally enjoyable though, man, does that guy like to prattle on about golems.There s a downside to reading Chabon if you harbor any aspirations toward storytelling yourself, as you realize that you ll never even come close to approximating the skill and confidence with which Chabon writes, even when he s writing about his own insecurity as a writer But, that s a small price to pay to witness the dazzling interplay of his words as he synthesizes so many aspects of literature and pop culture, from Sherlock Holmes to comic books to noir to, yes, golems, golems, golems which I m pretty sure is the name of the discount store at which you can purchase all of your golem making supplies If you ve read and enjoyed Chabon s novels, you ll undoubtedly enjoy this If you haven t and you re wondering if this is a good point to jump into Chabon s oeuvre, I d say yes, with one extremely large caveat you need to enjoy writing about writing and the intellectual trappings that go along with reading one of American literature s foremost stylists attacking that task with gusto So, it s not for everyone, and if you re new to Chabon, I d recommend The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier Clay first and foremost Wonder Boys would be a close second, though I personally prefer The Mysteries of Pittsburgh Wonder Boys just feels broadly accessible It s unlikely that Chabon will ever truly scale the heights of his profession in the same way that I have when it comes to boiling water, ripping open a blue box, pouring in dried elbow macaroni, cooking it to just the right state of al dente, draining it, adding in the perfect amount of butter, dumping in the cheese powder, and then pouring in at least twice as much milk as is called for try it you ll thank me , and mixing it all together before serving it to discerning gourmands But, the guy s about as good as it gets when it comes to stringing words together on a page, and never so than when he s waxing poetic about Sherlock Holmes.Well worth a read. Anyone who has worked in a bookstore, or spent quality time in one, can appreciate Michael Chabon s argument that there is a gray area between literature and genre fiction Many of his essays in his first and personally long awaited nonfiction collection focus on that gray area, the borderlands as he calls it, specifically in regards to fantasy sci fi and mystery There are books that straddle that fine line between literature and genre and it s often difficult to decide exactly where to place it on the shelf The biggest difficulty, suggests Chabon, is that genre fiction is generally looked down upon as something less important than full blown literature He himself grew up wanting to write about space adventures but as he discovered while writing his second novel which was finally abandoned after many years when he turned to his Wonder Boys about just that, there was a lot of insecurity surrounding writing what many would consider to be just pulp.His examples of borderland genre fiction range from Doyles Sherlock Holmes to Cormac McCarthy s Border Trilogy There are a handful of chapters about one of Chabon s best known obsessions comics He continues to maintain that comics are just as literary in his household as any bigwig piece of LITERATURE His chapter surrounding the question of why children no longer read comics was interesting, though, as it came up in discussion in my home, there was no mention of inflation in Chabon s essay and how children no longer could afford to buy their own comics as they could in the 60s.Another handful of chapters surrounding Chabon himself his life, his times, his work He opens up a lot and shares a lot of his insecurities He looks back on his graduate school years with a self deprecating voice, bordering on super snotty But I enjoy reading the processes my favorite writers have gone through in their career, from the bottom of the barrel when life couldn t suck to the absolute elation when their dreams are published.His discussion of golems was a nice suprise personally, and I would like to read of his thoughts on that in the future.The final chapter was discordant in connection with the rest of the essays He talks about being a Jewish writer in the world and who that makes him Not uninteresting on its own, but sort of a stretch when trying to combine it with the rest this made the book of essays fall flat.All in all these essays were great and he did not let me down I expect to see of his nonfiction in the future, and I for one would not be opposed to reading a history or full length memoir if he decided to do so.He actually made me think twice about Pullman s His Dark Materials trilogy Had I not already read those books before reading Chabon s essay I might actually be persuaded to read them But because I have read them, despite Chabon s convictions on their worth, he and I totally disagree on that matter I will find it in my heart to forgive him though.
Michael Chabon b 1963 is an acclaimed and bestselling author whose works include the Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier Clay 2000 Chabon achieved literary fame at age twenty four with his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh 1988 , which was a major critical and commercial success He then published Wonder Boys 1995 , another bestseller, which was mad
- 222 pages
- Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands
- Michael Chabon
- 22 October 2019 Michael Chabon