Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Maps and Legends

I read Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends for my book club. I'm a big Chabon fan so I was quite sure I'd like it. By rather amazing coincidence, he was speaking at the uni where I work so I got to see him read just a few weeks before we met to discuss. That was a real treat.

Maps and Legends is a collection of essays/book reviews. For the most part, it's a defense of genre writing. Chabon rights about how, with some exceptions, genre writing (sci-fi, fantasy, etc) is not considered high literature. This is expressed on the best-seller lists and in the book stores, where there's a "literature" section, and then all those "other" sections. As a writer and a reader, Chabon's sensitive to that literal and figurative delegation to the "other". It is just those books that walk on the boundaries (he argues) that make for the most interesting stories anyway.

I'm a big believer that, at most, we should have a fiction and a non-fiction section in our book stores and libraries (but I'm leaning toward alphabetical by author across the board) so I really loved seeing my opinion so neatly matched with one of my favorite writers. Reading Maps and Legends was a lot like watching a Woody Allen film - it made me feel really smart when I got all his literary references (I'm a terrible elitist at heart, it's true).

What I didn't like about the book was how, in seeking to elevate genre stories, he found it necessary to denigrate a lot of contemporary fiction, which I also happen to enjoy. He also revealed something else that I won't go into for fear of ruining the book for you. However... at our book club we talked about how this book is so ... specialized, aggravating, elitist ... that there are basically no people that we'd recommend it to. For me, there were two people, and I've already told them. But, I'll leave you with one of the lovely bits, to spark your interest:
In the meantime, I had begun to publish stories of my own, stories, in some cases, about fathers who disappointed their sons. The fathers in these stories were golem-fathers. I wove alphabetical spells around them, and breathed life into them, and they got up and walked out into the world and caused trouble and embarrassment for the small man of the flesh and blood in whose image they had been cast. Or maybe it was I who was the golem, my father's goldem, animated by the enchantment of the narratives and lies, then rising up until I posed a danger to him and all the unlikely things that he, strangely enough, believed in.

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