6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Although I read quite a lot, I've never been that interested in reading about writers or writing. I usually don't care too much about the person behind the words, and the more I learn about the process of getting those words into my hands, the less power the writing tends to have over me. That said, Michael Chabon could write the phonebook and I'd probably check it out -- his command of prose and genre are such that he could probably craft a pretty intriguing story out of the yellow pages. So, when I saw the stunningly beautiful cover of this collection of essays, I picked it up and brought it home, completely unconcerned with the contents. The essays (many of which appeared previously in such publications as The New York Review of Books, McSweeney's, Civilization, and Architectural Digest) fall into a few broad and sometimes overlapping categories: reviews/appreciations, in defense of genre, and influences his own work. In the first category are eloquent pieces on Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Ben Katchor's graphic novel Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, Howard Chaykin's comic American Flagg, Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, M.R. James' ghost stories, D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths, and comics legend Will Eisner. Actually, that list gives one a pretty good sense of just why Chabon has been so gung-ho about championing genre literature, as he does in several essays here. I've always agreed with his belief that genre writers tend to be critically marginalized, so none of his arguments were particularly fresh to me. However, for someone who's never really thought about it, they're probably the most articulate defense of genre available. Some may find his tone on this subject a little strident for their taste, but it never really rubbed me the wrong way (although, again, I agree with him). Finally, the essays about the genesis of his own books are excellent -- although probably better appreciated once you've read the books themselves. On the whole, the book is best for existing fans of Chabon, although most avid readers will discover individual essays that appeal to them.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Wonderful essays in this book on M.R.James, Cormac McCarthy, Arthur Conan Doyle, Philip Pullman, Will Eisner and others are so enthusiastic and insightful that they have made me want to immediately find their works and devour them. Chabon has very varied tastes and this is a wide ranging book which thankfully does not confine comic books,graphic novels, science fiction, fantasy and detective fiction to a narrow-minded ghetto. Towards the end the essays get more autobiographical and will be of particular interest to readers of Chabon's novels. As ever, Chabon demonstrates what an elegant, thoughtful and imaginative writer he is.
on 19 July 2012
One of the most insightful essay collections on the craft of writing published in recent times, Michael Chabon's "Maps and Legends" not only offers readers some invaluable insights into Chabon's literary influences, but also, it should enlighten them on the importance of genre fiction - especially fantasy and science fiction - and its relevance to mainstream "domestic realism" literary fiction. (I borrow the term coined by noted fantasy writer Ellen Kushner on what she condemns as artistic "boredom" prevalent within contemporary mainstream literary fiction.). The opening essay, "Trickster in a Suit of Lights" is an excellent preamble for Chabon's elevation of fantasy and science as a literary genre worthy of critical respect and veneration from those who are primarily interested with mainstream fiction; he makes the important point that prior to 1950, most of the important short fiction was published as genre, ranging from fantasy and science fiction to mysteries and notes, that in today's realm of contemporary mainstream fiction, one might perceive that "....'naturalistic' writers come from the tribe of community-based lore-retellers while the writers of fantasy, horror, and sf are the sailors of distant seas and that our finest and most consistently interesting contemporary writers are those whose work seem to originate from both traditions." (This is Chabon paraphrasing Walter Benjamin's view, and one he doesn't entirely share, noting instead the importance of the "Trickster" in mythology as a reference for explaining how the best short fiction tends to be both playful and genre-bending.) The third essay, "Fan Fictions: On Sherlock Holmes", is a critical "fan letter" of appreciation to both Arthur Conan Doyle and his most famous literary creation, the misanthropic detective Sherlock Holmes. Other intriguing essays delve on the importance of mythology and its relevance to fiction ("Ragnarok Boy") and a critical assessment of Philip Pullman's Atheist-friendly "His Dark Materials" trilogy ("On Daemons & Dust"). Science Fiction writers and fans may find ample disagreement with Chabon's favorable assessment of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" as an almost quintessential "post-apocalypse" science fiction novel, but Chabon's arguments are worthy of note nonetheless ("Dark Adventure: On Cormac McCarthy's `The Road'"), explaining the recent interest by mainstream literary writers of this time-honored trope of science fiction that has yielded classics like Walter J. Miller's "A Canticle for Leibowitz" and Ray Bradbury's "Farenheit 451". There are, of course, several essays which stress the importance of comic books and graphic novels to contemporary literature, in which he emphasizes the literary and artistic virtues of some of their best. One of the final essays, "Imaginary Homelands", explains Chabon's rationale for writing the Hugo-Award winning alternate history novel "The Yiddish Policeman's Union".
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Sixteen essays on the subject of writing and the nature of the writer may not seem an enticing prospect, and it's true that some of these essays have subjects that wouldn't necessarily appeal to a wide readership. Others, however, are sparkling bright with ideas and insights, especially if you are not solely a reader/writer of mainstream fiction. Chabon is uncompromisingly on the side of writing as entertainment. Not as passive enjoyment but as speculative, adventurous, experience. He requires us to see science fiction - and all speculative writing, whether it is written by Nabakov (Ada, or, Ardor) or by Asimov, as equally legitimate in terms of its literary value. As he says, the present situation is moribund: "For even the finest writer of horror or sf or detective fiction, the bookstore, to paraphrase the LA funk band War, is a ghetto."
Much of what Chabon covers in this book is argument for a loosening of the restrictive boundaries between genres. He would like to invoke the notion of playfulness. Why must we always be bound by the marketing world into a rigid distinction of genre? He also writes entertainingly in this collection about Arthur Conan Doyle, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, M R James, and on the inception and concepts germaine to his own novels.
To this end his final piece in this collection one might well designate as his central argument in process. It is a dazzling piece of fiction entitled Golems I Have Known and is subtitled, A Trickster's Memoir. There is some excellent writing in this collection and this final essay is wholly delightful from beginning to end.