Comics, horror, noir crime, sword and sorcery, and YA lit are all brought to the fore in Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands . This collection of short essays riffs on the gamut of genre fiction, finding interesting ways to defend genre fiction and to connect it to “high” literature. Chabon brings his own insights on writing - a process often obscured by one’s experiences as a reader - as he alchemically unites diverse and disparate topics from Norse epics to Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg! Not just dry literary theory here, no sir.
In the essay from which the book derives its name, Chabon regales readers with a childhood tale of his family’s move to an unfinished subdivision. Rather than the typical narrative of being stifled by suburban newness and sterility, Chabon imparts a feeling of awe at such open opportunity. It is an awe that motivates him to fill a sketchy map of the subdivision with wonders, as if drawing out secrets from the air. Readers are able to vicariously feel that rush of power inherent in the creative process, one which leaves you in its afterglow wondering how you have gotten from start to finish.
Filling in the map is – to the author – part of a more general aesthetic of writing from the vantage point of exile. As he sees it, both Jews and lovers of genre fiction are vibrant communities often excluded from the mainstream of society and literature respectively. It is this position of exile which tethers Chabon to his Jewish roots and to genre fiction as a collective whole.
Other pieces are, in some ways, meditations on loss of youth and its closely-associated sense of adventure. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is characterized in such a manner. The only criticism in this laudatory essay is that the heroine of the trilogy, Lyra Belacqua, becomes a much flatter, less interesting character as she moves from unbounded agency to dutiful fulfillment of destiny. In essence, Chabon views Pullman as much greater at exploring the map of his richly developed tale than in reaching the story’s destination.
Maps and Legends is for fans of genre fiction, particularly those who do not mind blending and blurring of genre’s boundaries, or of writing about writing.
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Once a year, lovers of books for children await the announcement of the American Library Association’s youth media awards with as much anticipation as filmgoers reserve for the Oscars. I thought I would use this post to talk about a few of the winners. The complete list of this year’s winners, which were announced at the ALA midwinter convention in San Diego on January 10th, may be found here: http://ala.org/ala/newspresscenter/news/pr.cfm?id=6048
A Sick Day for Amos McGee : written by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
The Caldecott medal is given to the most distinguished American picture book for children. The author and illustrator for this year’s winner are a husband and wife team, with this being the illustrator’s first book. The story is very sweet. Amos McGee is the zoo keeper who gives his animal friends special attention every day. When he has the sniffles and doesn’t show up for work, his animal friends pay him a visit and give him some special attention. The pictures were done with woodblock prints and pencil and have an old-fashioned feel. This is an excellent choice for preschoolers and early elementary age children.
Moon Over Manifest: written by Clare Vanderpool
Amazingly, this is the author’s first book. She said she based the fictional town of Manifest on the real town of Frontenac, Kansas, home of her grandparents. Twelve-year-old Abilene, the book’s protagonist, has spent most of her young life riding the rails with her father during the Great Depression. Now her father has sent her to Manifest, a town where he spent part of his own youth, to live with his friend, Shady, a bartender/preacher. Abilene misses her father terribly, but comes to know some of the town’s colorful characters, including the newspaper woman, Hattie Mae, and the town diviner, Miss Sadie, who lives down the Path to Perdition. After Abilene finds a cigar box of old letters and mementoes, Miss Sadie helps her uncover some secrets about the town in 1918, when her father lived there. This is a wonderful read for elementary school children on up to adults.
Mildred L. Batchelder Award
A Time of Miracles : written by Anne-Laure Bondoux, translated from the French by Y. Maudet
The Batchelder award is given to a book for children published abroad in a language other than English, then subsequently translated and published in the USA. This very unusual story follows the journey of a refugee mother and son as they travel from the Caucasus to France in the early 1990s, after the break-up of the Soviet Union. It is absorbing reading for teens through adults.
Theodor Seuss Geisel Award
Bink and Gollie : written by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile
This award is given to the best beginning reader. These two veteran authors have created a quirky pair of girls. The illustrations perfectly complement the text. This is a great choice not only for new readers, but for all of the elementary set. (Psst… Adults will be charmed too!)
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Cat Coming Home is the sixteenth in Shirley Rousseau Murphy's mystery series featuring the tail-less feline sleuth Joe Grey. If you're already a Joe Grey fan, you'll be familiar with Molina Point California and its’ denizens. This lovely seaside town seems to have a crime rate to rival Cabot Cove, but once again, Joe Grey and sidekicks Dulcie and Kit return to keep the charming tourist Mecca safe for everyone. If you haven't read any of the previous volumes, I recommend starting with the first in the series, Cat On the Edge , or the stand alone novel Catswold Portal , in which the origins of these fantastical cats is revealed. A mix of mystery and fantasy, the Joe Grey series will probably appeal to Carole Nelson Douglas fans or those who enjoy feline crime solvers gifted with the power of speech.
Cat Coming Home begins just before the Christmas holidays with Maudie Toola and her young grandson Benny arriving in Molina Point after the murder of Benny's parents. The killer has unfinished business with Maudie who may or may not know the killer's identity. When Maudie nearly becomes the victim of a hit-and-run driver, Joe and his tabby girlfriend Dulcie know they have a new mystery to unravel.
While brutal break-ins terrorize the town, the killer gets closer, ready to make the final move. With the whole town on edge, help arrives in the form of an old traveler with a message that will wrap things up just in time for Christmas. Though not as suspenseful as other books in the series, I still enjoyed revisiting Molina Point, and old friends feline and human. Cat Coming Home is a pleasant cozy for your holiday fireside reading.
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The last work I read by Zinn having been his 752-page tome A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present , Zinn’s The Bomb came as a succinct, 91-page surprise. Sometimes promoted as his last book, The Bomb is a collection of two of his previously released essays brought together in August of 2010 to mark the 65th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The essays are prefaced by an introduction explaining his happiness and relief at hearing about Hiroshima while on his way to the Pacific, after serving as a bombardier in Europe. He discussed the physical and mental distance that he felt as a bombardier from the killing and destruction that he engaged in, and compared it to the further distance that must be felt with drones and cruise missiles. This experience as a bombardier, and the descriptions that he read about Hiroshima and Nagasaki after his discharge, planted a seed for further research and, eventually, a visit to one of the towns that he took part in bombing.
The first of the essays, “Hiroshima: Breaking the Silence,” details the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More interestingly, though, it presents war-time and current research that argues that the dropping of the atomic bomb was completely unnecessary. Even more engaging was “The Bombing of Royan.” In this second essay, Zinn reflects on his own experience taking part in the unnecessary and catastrophic bombing mission to test out another new weapon and forgotten controversy – Napalm. He not only researched the experimental and political mission, but also visited the town of Royan to interview the survivors. Both of the essays succeeded in forcing me to question the long held and reinforced beliefs that I have had, both as the holder of a degree in history, and as someone with several family members who fought in the Pacific and were expected to invade Japan.
The Bomb was published as a pocket-sized book by Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights. Before becoming a Beat poet and a publisher, Ferlinghetti was a naval officer in WWII, and was posted to Nagasaki. "Before I was at Nagasaki, I was a good American boy. I was an Eagle Scout; I was the commander of a sub-chaser in the Normandy Invasion." “Anyone who saw Nagasaki," he wrote, "would suddenly realize that they'd been kept in the dark by the United States government as to what atomic bombs can do."
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Set at the start of the 13th century, The Alehouse Murders by Maureen Ash is the first in the Templar mystery series. In this opening tale, Bascot de Marins, a Templar Knight has recently returned to England after eight years as a Saracen captive. While imprisoned, he lost his right eye and during his escape from a ship wreck his right ankle was crushed. On his return to England, he finds that his family has all died of a plague, all of which plays a part in his loss of faith. To help him recover from his suffering in body and mind, de Marins is sent by the Templar Master in London to the city of Lincoln to service at the castle there under Nikolaa de la Haye, the castellan and her husband, the sheriff of the county.
Not long after his arrival, four people are founded murdered in an alehouse in Lincoln, including the barman. The only witness to this gruesome act is the alewife, who is found hiding in the out building. De Marins is asked by Nikolaa de la Haye to look into the murders and so he does with his young servant, Gianni at his side. What at first appears to be a simple, tavern brawl soon turns into a complicated who-dun-it. The Alehouse Murders, while having a few weak points, is an enjoyable read for fans of medieval history and/or historical mysteries, especially with its insights into life in Lincoln around 1200.
The order of the Templar Knight Mystery Series:
1. The Alehouse Murders
2. Death of a Squire
3. A Plague of Poison
4. Murder at Christ's Mass
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