Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon writes about genres, comics, fan fiction, tricksters, writing, maps, and golems in this engaging collection of essays.
I'm a sucker for books about books, books about reading, books about writing. So it's no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of Chabon's accessible nonfiction essays. Along the way he stops to argue with the scorn heaped on genre fiction, read some comic books, discuss ghost stories and Sherlock Holmes, and talk about a controversial article on Yiddish that was the germ of his magical realist novel The Yiddish Policemen's Union (see the NYT article for more details).
I especially liked "On Daemons & Dust", where Chabon discusses Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy with great insight (it's a trilogy I have mixed feelings about and was happy to read a thoughtful analysis of - I acknowledge the greatness of its inventions, particularly daemons and the alethiometer, but the third book was venomously anti-Christian and spoiled my enjoyment of the series). I was also drawn in by the final essay "Golems I Have Known, or, Why My Elder Son's Middle Name is Napoleon" where Chabon mixes truth and fiction and ties the themes of the book together.
One tiny quibble: this is the librarian in me speaking, but I am a little sad there's no index to help me re-find some of the many authors and books he mentions in passing.
Chabon's love of literature shines through clearly, and those who want a good introduction to his work should check out his 2001 Pulitzer novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay or his most recent book, Telegraph Avenue. For more great essays on reading and literature, I highly recommend Francis Spufford's The Child That Books Built.
"A mind is not blown, in spite of whatever Hollywood seems to teach, merely by action sequences, things exploding, thrilling planetscapes, wild bursts of speed. Those are all good things; but a mind is blown when something that you always feared but knew to be impossible turns out to be true; when the world turns out to be far vaster, far more marvelous or malevolent than you ever dreamed; when you get proof that everything in connected to everything else, that everything you know is wrong, that you are both the center of the universe and a tiny speck sailing of its nethermost edge." - 94
"The mass synthesis, marketing, and distribution of versions and simulacra of an artificial past, perfected over the last thirty years or so, has ruined the reputation and driven a fatal stake through the heart of nostalgia. Those of us who cannot make it from one end of the street to another without being momentarily upended by some fragment of outmoded typography, curve of chrome fender, or whiff of lavender oil from the pate of a semi-retired neighbor are compelled by the disrepute into which nostalgia has fallen to mourn secretly the passing of a million marvelous quotidian things." - 135