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Words, Words, Words

A catalog of my comments and thoughts on books, reading, and writing as well as anything I come across that seems interesting. I used to sell other people's words at an independent bookstore but now I hope to get by on selling my own.

Michael Chabon Teaches Me How to Write, and Read, and Think, and Live, and...

Maps and Legends - Michael Chabon

In the course of reading Michael Chabon's book of essays Maps and Legends I stopped at some point to catch the movie Superman on television. I had been trying to figure out some expression or metaphor, some manner of expressing the awe that his writings struck in me when Lex Luthor handed me the key (I know he is the bad guy but this works here). He said, "Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it's a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe". Maps and Legends left me with the impression that Mr. Chabon is among the latter, a writer who can dig into Sherlock Holmes, D'Auleres' Book of Norse Myths, a comic book I had never heard of, old legends of Golems, even a map of his childhood home and find something profound and universal (I, as a matter of course would then be among the former, if only by comparison). He is one thing to be able to intuit the subtle attractions, the characters, inventions, the turns of language, those things that play on our minds without our conscious acknowledgement and bring them to the light. In the final essay, he compares his craft to that of magicians, but in this collection his role is more that of Penn & Teller, who invert the traditional method, inviting you to think about how and why everything works as it does.


Also like Penn & Teller he never truly drops the artifice that he is exposing. He employs as much style and art, puts on as much of a show in the exposing as one would in the deceiving. It reads like a new and wonderful sort of travel narrative, documenting his journeys into the world of reading and writing. Vividly recapturing the wonder of discovering The Great Gatsby not on his first reading on a whim, the summer before beginning the MFA program in California, and the fear and amazement in crafting his writings into Golems of a different sort, including the ones you are reading at that moment.


What I find he does best in this collection though is to inspire. After reading about his likes and practices, after these nuggets of perspective I am driven to read/write/think/do something. And that seems to be an underlying theme through all of this. He calls for the short story to be reinvigorated, the comic book to offer some options for kids, for people to break out of traditional genre thinking, to broaden perspectives, to be open to wonder and surprise and to being duped. I would like to thank Michael Chabon for a wonderful reading experience, one of those that reach out of the page and become a part of your life. Give this book a shot, or at least check out some of his writings at the New York Review of Books or at his website.