Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Maps and Legends

Maps and Legends was not what I had hoped it would be by its title. I anticipated a neo-Borgesian collection of short stories on places that did not exist and people that never were. Chabon's essays, however, on such things proved just as, if not more, palatable. And I want to disclose right here that I though I do like his work, I am no a rabid Chabonian (have I said this before?), despite having read most of his work. To be honest, I find fiction written by Jewish men about Jewish men to be a bit -- hmm, how do I say this without sounding anti-Semitic? (Jewish men are hot! They really are. Also, this does not apply to Jewish women. Does that help?) -- over-represented in the really well-written, celebrated literature of our times, and that, along with books about Brooklyn, no matter how good they are as stories, can feel like fields too well-trod. Like, so well-trod they've turned to mud, and you'd really like to go somewhere else where you can run rather than trudge.

Which is why I liked Map and Legends. It's not absurd navel-gazing by a Jewish guy. It's brilliant, introspective essays on his influences, his childhood, and yeah, sure, Jewishness, but in an honest, not obnoxious way. He's not a self-absorbed tool. He's funny, he's frank, and he's smart as hell (I think I said that before). Dude can write a personal essay, and that puts him on another level, which is quite nice. So go him.

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In summing up, I wish I had some kind of affirmative message to leave you with. I don't. Would you take two negative messages?
-- Woody Allen