Maps & Legends: A Review (sort of)

Regular Rivene readers might recall a review I did back in August of Michael Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union. I discovered Chabon through the recommendation of my ex, and began reading through his impressive bookography with Wonder Boys.

Recently, I spent a few weeks down in Phoenix where I had plenty of time to soak in the sun, and spend time with friends; but I also made a point of going solo long enough to finish Chabon’s Maps & Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands.

The following review was composed primarily on the flight back to Seattle, in-between mordibly curious glances at the couple making-out in the seats to my left.

(Honestly, before that flight, I hadn’t thought it possible for two people to contort themselves over an aircraft’s seatbelt-armrest combination..Well, you know what they say, learn something new every day.)

In that vein, I present you a review of the finest book on writing (with its added bonus on reading) I’ve read since Stephen King’s On Writing. Enjoy.


If a writer doesn’t give away secrets, his own or those of the people he loves; if she doesn’t court disapproval, reproach, and general wrath, whether of friends, family, or party apparatchiks; if the writer submits his work to an internal censor long before anyone else can get their hands on it, the result is pallid, inanimate, a lump of earth.” -Michael Chabon

Maps & Legends, the wonderful set of essays by our national treasure, Michael Chabon, has crafted a cartography of the mind and soul of authors, as well as those who read them.

It has inspired me to read more deeply, write more joyously, and live more exuberantly than I have in many months.

I would have been content to enjoy the musical quality of his prose, like a finely arranged symphony that sweeps up and down the scales, each sentence plucked by his Muse-inspired mind; or, I might have simply journeyed across the wide historical range of the many books he has–with passionate delight–convinced me are worthy of the time to read, even as he handed me the map to understanding them.

But what I did not expect (and what is even now shaking the tender pillars of my own troubled soul) was to discover with what brutal, animal-like emotion his personal account of the travails of literary labor–crafting the Golem and speaking it to life–would pluck the tight strings of my own creative heart, and send ripples of delight and dread to the farthest corners of my imagination.

In this book, I discovered a literary brother who, though older, wiser, and more experienced than myself (and yes, like all younger brothers, I must resist the urge to hate and envy his literary success) has taken the time to pause, reflect, and pen a map of the road to writing for those just starting down its path– in the hope that others would follow him.

He could have buried it in the sand, left all these wonderful insights unpublished, or hidden them inside a harddrive or dusty journal. Instead, he has telegraphed them from the wild lands, sent it through the post, with the welcoming inscription:

“Follow the signs. Mind the snakes. But come on over. The view is wonderful.”

Published in: on May 17, 2010 at 10:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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