READERS of this blog probably need no urging on what a fine novelist michael chabon is -- and i direct anyone who doubts over to "kavalier and clay" or a number of his other excellent works of fiction.
but literary criticism, even by as esteemed a talent as mr. chabon, tends to fly under the radar, and that's why it gives me great pleasure to highlight his essay/criticism collection "maps and legends" -- note the nod to great/overlooked early REM song -- which collects pieces from the new york review of books and other pubs. the book recently came out in paperback.
some of the essays provide the background to his life and fiction -- fascinating essay on columbia, md. (about 20 minutes from your humble blogger's hometown), yiddish and jewish identity, golems, etc.
but my favorite work in the book are his pieces of criticism -- on philip pullman ("his dark materials"), cormac mccarthy's "the road," comics god howard chaykin, the sherlock holmes stories/novels of arthur conan doyle, and why norse myth is better than the greek and roman variety. (yeah!)
here is an interview i did with MC on the book and its argument. (and here is the interview i did with him around the time of "the yiddish policeman's union.")
the collection's guiding idea is that the literary and cultural gatekeepers have been wrong about what matters and what endures. chabon's preferred metaphor is what tolkien called the "cauldron of story," in which folkloric materials can transform into "literary" and pop work and back again. it's all bubbling in the same pot.
my only regret is that now it will be harder to find the original mcsweeney's hardback -- with a cover by jordan crane that may be the most beautiful jacket of any book last year.
Photo credit: Flickr user 34