Monday, July 18, 2011

Michael Chabon: Maps and Legends

I can honestly say that I have no idea what I just read or why I just read it. Somewhere I must have read a review of Michael Chabon's "Maps and Legends," so I put it on my "to read" book to look for at the library, and whenever a book shows up at my tiny branch of the library, I check it out. But that doesn't mean I know what I'm getting, and you know how library books don't have little blurbs on the back, so even if I wanted to, I can't judge the book by its cover. The first half of this book appeared to be little jaunts into Chabon's favorite genres, or authors he felt were exemplars of these genres. He is most interested in the short story, which he feels has been pigeon-holed into one tiny motif repeated over and over. Instead, if I understand it correctly, since Chabon never explicitly spells it out, the short story could include many more formats including the ghost story, the detective story, maybe even the comic or graphic novel. However, the first half of the book reads like a random collection of literary criticism, rather than a treatise on authors Chabon likes, so I'm making a leap here. Maybe this is actually a book of essays that Chabon feels like he can publish? At one point in the second half of the book, Chabon writes that now that he's won the Pulitzer, he feels like he has more authority (read: liberty/privilege) to write and publish whatever he'd like.

The second half of the book is much more interesting: it reads as a literary memoir, or a memoir of Chabon's writing life. Although there's still very little structure, the essays follow some sort of chronological progression through his life, and give some insight into the progression of his writing life. The most fascinating part of both parts of the book, however, are Chabon's breif, but alluring, discussions of what happens on the borders and edges of the map of literature and truth(hence the title). In this half of the book, Chabon appears to be narrating his life as a memoir, albeit a slightly fantastic life, but toys with the reader at the end, questioning whether the work is a memoir at all, or pure fantasy. In the last few pages, Chabon manages to tie all of the sections together thematically, though only in a very tenuous way. Once again, I've finished a book that I'm not exactly sure while I was reading in the first place. Chabon writes beautifully, which kept me going for awhile, as did the gorgeous book itself, which was an argument against ebooks: the hardcover edition has a lovely 3/4sized, detailed warp, and the pages are thick and set in a beautiful print. I literally loved to read the physical book. Unfortunately, that's the most redeeming thing I can say about "Maps and Legends."

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