Monday, April 05, 2010

Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon's sparkling first book of nonfiction is a love song in 16 parts — a series of linked essays in praise of reading and writing, with subjects running from ghost stories to comic books, Sherlock Holmes to Cormac McCarthy. Throughout, Chabon energetically argues for a return to the thrilling, chilling origins of storytelling, rejecting the false walls around "serious" literature in favor of a wide-ranging affection. His own fiction, meanwhile, is explored from the perspective of personal history: post-collegiate desperation sparks his debut, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh; procrastination and doubt reveal the way toward Wonder Boys; a love of comics and a basement golem combine to create the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay; and an enigmatic Yiddish phrasebook unfurls into The Yiddish Policeman's Union.
I hope people aren't getting tired of my buddy reviews, but here is another one! Today is the very first one with Carrie from Books and Movies. She is a new blogging friend in the last couple months, so I am excited to be doing a review with her! We interviewed each other. Below you will find her answers to my questions and then on her blog you will read my answers to hers. Enjoy!

1. Was this your first experience with Chabon? Will you read more from him based on the experience?

This was my first experience with his work. I tried to listen to The Yiddish Policemen's Union on audio, but I didn't like the narrator, so couldn't get past the first few minutes. I definitely plan to read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay this summer for a group read, and I am planning to listen to his other essay collection, Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son on audiobook soon.

2. What was your favourite essay in the collection? Were there any that you didn't like?

I really loved the ones about his early writing experiences, "My Back Pages" and "Diving into the Wreck" - but I think my very favorite was the first one, "Trickster in a Suit of Lights: Thoughts on the Modern Short Story." His comments that most modern short fiction is written as "the contemporary, quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory story" made me laugh and nod my head in agreement. I love short fiction - but short fiction that is unique and about various things.

I used to subscribe to "The New Yorker" specifically for their short fiction until the stories all started to seem the same. The ones that were unusual and entertaining were few and far between. I do believe that fiction should be used to demonstrate the truth about life, but the truth about life isn't always hopeless and depressing! Fiction should also be used to show the other sides of human experience and to entertain us - to make us laugh out loud, shiver with terror, or cry for happiness. I liked his thoughts on how popular short fiction used to run the gamut of genres: horror, western, comedy, fantasy, science fiction. It made me want to read some of his short stories.

There weren't really any essays that I didn't like, but I wasn't that interested in the ones about the history of comic books, simply because I'm new to graphic novels, and so knew nothing about the people he was writing about.

3. What did you take away from the collection overall?

When I read books about writing written by brilliant authors, it makes me want to write! And to write brilliantly, like they do. :) Mostly it just made me realize that all the bloggers who have been saying Chabon is a genius are right.

4. Did you add any books written by authors other than Chabon to your to-read list?

I definitely want to look up some older short story fantasy collections (recommendations welcome), and he made me want to read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, when I had previously been uninterested. I also want to do a re-read of McCarthy's The Road soon.

5. What did you think about the cover and title? Did you find that they suited the collection well?

I really love the cover of the paperback P.S. edition that I own. And I do think the title suited the collection, especially the idea of being on the "borderlands" both in terms of writing outside of a specific genre and in searching for his identity as a Jewish author.

Don't forget to head to Carrie's blog to read my answers!


  1. I think I want this. :-)

  2. Excellent review, and I've been meaning to pick this book up for a while now. It's onto the "to get" list now! I especially like the questions you asked, each one got a thoughtful response in turn.

  3. You've been on quite a Michael Chabon kick, haven't you? I've read exactly one short story by Chabon (in The Wonder Boys). I liked it, but I'm not sure where I set the book down after I finished. Typical. Great buddy review! I hope I can think of decent questions to ask you about THWACIIW.

  4. I really really think I should read this soon! I love reading Carrie's answers about the book.

  5. "I do believe that fiction should be used to demonstrate the truth about life, but the truth about life isn't always hopeless and depressing!"

    lol - yep, this about sums it up :P


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