Essays show a dizzying range of influences

Review by Joel Yanofsky
Canwest News Service
July 13, 2008

Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands
By Michael Chabon
McSweeney’s Books, 222 pages, $24

Michael Chabon has made a virtue and a career out of being all over the literary map.

His novels have been inspired by swashbuckling adventures (Gentlemen of the Road), comic books (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize) and Raymond Chandler, if Chandler were Jewish (The Yiddish Policeman’s Union).

This is eclecticism of a high order. Or it’s eclecticism gone bananas. Whichever, the origins and the evolution of Chabon’s versatile tastes and talents are on display in Maps and Legends, his first book of non-fiction.

Its 16 literary and personal essays cover a dizzying range of influences from Marcel Proust to comic books, Sherlock Holmes to Shecky Greene, Philip Pullman to Philip Roth.

In fact, calling Chabon well-read is like calling Alexander Ovechkin a good hockey player; it’s an embarrassing understatement. Chabon is ridiculously well-read. Which, incidentally, puts him in an ideal position to go to bat for writers who have ended up, often unfairly and unfortunately, on the wrong side of literary judgment.

So while Chabon can demonstrate a scholarly detachment in essays on fashionable authors like Pullman or Cormac McCarthy, he is much happier as an unabashed fan.

In the essay “Thoughts on the Death of Will Eisner,” Chabon compares Eisner, “the father of the graphic novel,” to Orson Welles. Both had prodigious talents; both were enormous influences on the generations of artists who followed them.

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