Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Book Review: "Maps and Legends"

I have long found that I tend to like an author's non-fiction or fiction works, but not the other way round (i.e. if I like their novels, their essays/letters bore me, or vice versa). There are some exceptions (Poe, Hornby) but they're uncommon. Michael Chabon is one of the former kind; his novels have just never particularly gotten to me, but his essays, collected by McSweeney's in 2008 as Maps and Legends, I quite enjoyed.

In this collection, most of the pieces from which were previously published elsewhere, Chabon writes about writing, and reading, and life, and how all three go together (or, occasionally, don't). He muses on the state of modern short fiction, and golems, the Yiddish language, comic books, the stories of M.R. James (which I must add to the reading list) the Sherlock Holmes canon, Philip Pullman's works, and much beyond. The language is careful, precise, and spare, and I liked (as I tend to do), reading of the author's thought processes and inspirations in writing (how did that idea come into being, anyway?).

Funny, touching, and diverting. And nicely designed, in that McSweeney's way that is so pleasing to the eye and to the brain.

1 comment:

Dave Lovely said...

I know what you mean about Michael Chabon. I think the way in is via his supposedly minor pieces, like "Gentlemen of the Road" or "The Final Solution." I loved "Kavalier & Clay" until they got to the USA, then I got bogged down. "Maps & Legends" is great, though, & he's very incisive, there, and elsewhere, about the margins between 'genre' & 'literary' fiction.