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Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands Paperback – February 24, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

You would hardly think, reading Chabon's new book of essays, that he won the Pulitzer Prize for a book about comics. Rather, he is bitter and defensive about his love for genre fiction such as mysteries and comic books. Serious writers, he says, cannot venture into these genres without losing credibility. No self-respecting literary genius... would ever describe him- or herself as primarily an 'entertainer,' Chabon writes. An entertainer is a man in a sequined dinner jacket, singing 'She's a Lady' to a hall filled with women rubber-banding their underwear up onto the stage. Chabon devotes most of the essays to examining specific genres that he admires, from M.R. James's ghost stories to Cormac McCarthy's apocalyptic work, The Road. The remaining handful of essays are more memoir-focused, with Chabon explaining how he came to write many of his books. Chabon casts himself as one of the few brave souls willing to face ridicule—from whom isn't entirely clear, though it seems to be academics—to write as he wishes. I write from the place I live: in exile, he says. It's hard to imagine the audience for this book. Chabon seems to want to debate English professors, but surely only his fellow comic-book lovers will be interested in his tirade. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Chabon declares, “I read for entertainment, and I write to entertain. Period.” But of course there’s much more to his vivid and mischievous literary manifesto in 16 parts than that. A writer of prodigious literary gifts, Chabon brings the velocity, verve, and emotional richness intrinsic to the best of short stories to his exceptionally canny and stirring essays. Musing over the various literary traditions he riffs on in his many-faceted novels, he concludes, “All novels are sequels; influence is bliss.” Chabon zestfully praises the many allures of genre fiction and celebrates writers, among them Vonnegut and Byatt, who infuse their fiction with “the Trickster spirit of genre-bending and stylistic play.” He offers a fresh and affecting take on Arthur Conan Doyle and pays witty and provocative tribute to M. R. James, a seemingly serene British author of superb horror and ghost stories. Norse myths, Will Eisner, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road are all are interpreted with acuity and vigor. And then there are Chabon’s hilarious and puckish personal essays about his early writing misadventures and evolving sense of Jewishness. A writer so versatile he seems to be a master of disguises, Chabon provides invaluable keys to his frolicsome creativity and literary chutzpah in this truly entertaining collection. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (February 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780061650925
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061650925
  • ASIN: 0061650927
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #651,860 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Chabon is the bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, A Model World, Wonder Boys, Werewolves in Their Youth, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, The Final Solution, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Maps and Legends, Gentlemen of the Road, and the middle grade book Summerland.

He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife, the novelist Ayelet Waldman, and their children. You can visit Michael online at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

77 of 88 people found the following review helpful By D. Mahoney on April 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I know a lot of these essays from other sources and have lived with them a while. They're good pieces, and the PW critic *did* phone it in with such a soft-boiled review.

Chabon's defense of genre isn't confined to comics. His right concern is that most genre writers are marginalized to some degree, regardless of their talents and achievements. It takes a Patrick O'Brian or JRR Tolkien longer to garner critical praise simply because they're "merely" writing sea novels or fantasy epics, and however good a sci-fi or western writer might be, chances are his or her book is stuck in a corner at the bookstore. In 1984 and Hound of the Baskervilles and Frankenstein appeared for the first time this year, they might get lost in the genre aisle, and would almost certainly confront dismissive criticism. All of which Chabon elucidates far better than I.

Genre aside, Chabon's essays about his own career are terrific and entertaining. If PW wants to imagine this book's audience, it's people who enjoy reading or writing fiction--literary *or* genre--and those who like Chabon and his books. That's a big readership.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By R. Freeman on April 18, 2011
Format: Paperback
Chabon (or his editors) cobbled together loose bits of writing previously found in magazines and Chabon's website in a more convenient package. I have no reservations about that, I ache for authors (and other artists) to cater to their fans that would call themselves completists. This collection is certainly for fans of Chabon who have previously read his major works. A few of the essays reveal stories behind writing his first three novels, all that is very interesting to the fan. I'm not sure how someone new to Chabon would appreciate this work (since I am not new). Chabon's writing and storytelling is always engaging and the insights into his work are great but it does feel like director's commentary, but most director's commentaries are pretty narcissistic and boring. This would be a top notch director's commentary.

Chabon's essays on Will Eisner, Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials saga, and Cormac McCarthy's The Road are interesting critiques. I had read Eisner and The Road but not His Dark Materials and so felt a little left out. You might want to skip those essays until you've read the texts beforehand.

The largest theme in the work is Chabon's love for genre fiction and his desire to see it respected in literary circles. Chabon is a much better genre apologist than genre writer. Genre fans love our genre apologists and Chabon is certainly one of the best. However, I've always found his genre work sluggish and unenjoyable.

If one were to pick between this and his other essay collection, Manhood for Amateurs, I would definitely pick the latter. Maps and Legends is always interesting but never particularly essential the way Manhood felt.

My review would probably be more glowing but I wanted those new to Chabon to get a feel for the reservations they should have about reading this first before his major works. To anyone who already enjoys Michael Chabon their enjoyment of this would be a near guarantee.
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80 of 96 people found the following review helpful By A.S. on March 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Wow. The PW excerpt is worthless. Worse yet, the reviewer doesn't understand Chabon's stance throughout the book. But what do I know? I'm just one of those "comic-book lovers" degraded in the review. (I'm also a professor. Should I be conflicted?)
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Eric Wilson on July 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A friend presented me with this gorgeous book as a gift, and I found myself drawn in by the artwork, the layout, the traditional book binding. I've only read one Chabon novel, and, although I enjoyed the style of writing immensely, I wasn't a big fan of the story itself. Here, Chabon gives us an entirely different thing: essays into the nature of art, literary criticism, genres, and the places from which writers draw inspiration.

"Maps and Legends" can hardly be considered mainstream nonfiction. It's appeal may be to his fans and to those who pine for the days of short stories and comics and highly-regarded genre fiction. There is no doubting the man's skill and passion, though. Publishers Weekly seems to have an ax of their own to grind by slamming this collection as a bitter diatribe from a Pulitzer-winning author. I felt very little of that "bitterness"; instead, I found a lot of nostalgic ruminations and words of wisdom. Some of it is cautionary, some humorous, and much of it autobiographical.

I have to thank Chabon for writing about something dear to his heart, despite the perceptions of jaded critics. I may not always agree with the man's ideas, or buy into his stories, but I cannot help but admire his chutzpah--even if he'd rather I just called it "courage."
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By W. S. May on April 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I agree in spirit with with comments chastising PW for the review, but overall I appreciate it more than I disapprove. Attempting to disprove Chabon's stance -- genre fiction deserves a good, strong defense -- the PW reviewer's snide effort complete with shells lobbed out of some book beau monde, the whole works merely bolsters his position. The subject isn't a job Chabon puts up for the purpose of building a empty argument: In the past, when I set out to write weighty material and still wound up framing it in genre, I was near mortified. I've gotten over that, but sometimes I still feel skittish browsing the science fiction aisle. I take responsibility for my own foolishness, but something happened along the way; in my youth I unselfconsciously inspected the fantastical spines of at least every third book on those shelves.

Since we are now so fond of the likes of Lost through Transformers -- our culture has indeed always loved these sorts of things -- while certain literary connoisseurs lament an apparently lame-brained passion for these genre entertainments, at the same time mourning the demise of wholesale American literacy, what's the plan for bringing people back to good books? Stomping out the fun stuff?

So, yes, I'd say we could use a bold defense of genre fiction, comic books and -- gasp! -- entertaining authors. A fiery "tirade" may well suit. And, my stars, please don't confuse "emphatic" or "adamant" with "bitter". Otherwise published in this volume, Chabon's short-form memoirs collected are a welcome addition to his catalog.
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