Maps and Legends: Reading ans Writing Along the Borderlands by Michael Chabon
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. 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. (via Amazon)
Some highlights for me:
Chabon treads on the issue of genre. “Imagine that, sometime about 1950, it had been decided, collectively, informally, a little at a time, but with finality, to proscribe every kind of novel but the nurse romance from the cannon of the future.” And that’s sort of what’s happened when one talks of literary fiction. It’s been decided that serious literature can only be one thing and things that don’t fit the mold (like “genre” novels) aren’t serious. This ignores the fact that many classic authors wrote detective stories and ghost stories and overwrought gothic romances. As a fine-arts-trained comic book reader, Chabon struggled with “literary” versus “genre.” He successfully sidesteps the issue by writing such things as a fine literary novel about comic book creators…
This dovetails with the Thrilling Tales anthology that I’ve been reading that was edited by Michael Chabon. The stories all seem to be investigations into genre by the Literary Establishment. Another essay introduces the notion that some of the things that fans enjoy most are the things in a story that are unmapped. For example, Irene Adler appears in one Sherlock Holmes story. One. Moriarty gets mention in two or three. Yet these two characters are incredibly important to the Holmes fandom. They are who a lot of other fiction is written about. We feel the need to fill in the blank places on the narrative map when we see them.
Many of these essays are pretty much Chabon talking about stuff he likes. Comics, Sherlock Holmes, Norse mythology, M. R. James. For me, those essays, even ones about things I don’t really care about (like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road), were more interesting than the essays in which Chabon talks autobiographically about writing. I think this is probably more due to me than the quality of the essays. I’d always rather hear about the things someone loves. I’m not implying that Chabon isn’t passionate about being an author, but that’s an issue that is complicated by a great many other things.
Publishing info, my copy: Open Road Integrated Media, Kindle Edition, 2011