Friday, May 16, 2008

Maps And Legends Reading And Writing Along The Borderlands-- Michael Chabon-- Review

Maps And Legends Readings And Writings Along The Borderlands by Michael Chabon is a collection of essays. An interesting thing about this collection is that the proceeds from the book go to a nonprofit literacy organization; I think this frees the author from commercial constraints. He is also using McSweeney's an avant garde publisher. This combination allows him to have free reign with his opinions making for some very interesting writing. I enjoyed both the style and substance presented in this collection.

Michael Chabon is writing about the borders between serious literature and popular culture. For example, he describes how Cormac McCarthy's The Road remains literature despite being written as post apocalyptic science fiction in his essay, Dark Adventure: On Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Similarly, the borders are touched on in On Fan Fiction: Sherlock Holmes. Arthur Conan Doyles ambivalence about writing about the great detective is explored.

The origins of his bestselling, The Yiddish Policemen's Union comes from a traveller's phrasebook How To Say It In Yiddish. The essay Imaginary Homelands describes this process. He angered a number of people when he wrote about How To Say It In Yiddish in the periodical Civilization. This gave rise to thoughts on the urge to form a Jewish homeland and led him to write his story about a Yiddish homeland in Alaska.

Thoughts on the Death of Will Eisner, Kids' Stuff, The Killer Hook Howard Chaykin's American Flagg are all essays about graphic novels. Michael Chabon is talking about the maturation of the graphic novel as an art form. The Death of Will Eisner is a eulogy to both Will Eisner's art and his business acumen. Kids' Stuff describes how graphic novels have become an acceptable art form and at the same time have had an incredible drop in readership. The essay on American Flagg is about how Howard Chaykin turns graphic novels into works of pop art.

The writing in this collection is open and free flowing. It touches on a wide variety of subjects. All in a way are somewhat autobiographical. Michael Chabon became a writer partially because of his interests in old maps and legends. He criticisms numerous other writers in this collection including Philip Pullman, M.R. James, and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Part of the essays are autobiographical. He talks about his origins as a writer in Diving Into The Wreck. His last essay is entitled Golem's I Have Known, or Why My Elder Son's Middle Name Is Napoleon A Trickster's memoir. This essay touches on the idea of the golem, both as a story and a spiritual metaphor for deeper understanding.

I have not listed and described all of the essays in this collection. They are all unique with varying perspectives on writing, genre fiction, graphic novels and literature. I think the writer was enjoying himself when he wrote this book. There are a few single page illustrations, a daily strip of Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, and a single panel from Howard Chaykin's American Flagg. These essays are well worth reading especially if you like genre fiction and graphic novels.

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