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August 16, 2010

On Literary Maps

Some books I’ve finished lately (Galore anybody?), I put down and think, “My god, if only the text had come with an accompanying map.” Now granted, an author should set the scene so vividly that the map is drawn with words, but for me, there is something so mesmerizing about actual maps in books. As a child, I would actually play with them, imagining characters’ ways along rivers and roads. As an adult reader, I just find them beautiful, and appreciate the extra layer of experience they add to the book. I am also a bit obsessed with fiction with appendices, as a postmodern quirk.

I perused my library tonight to select some books with maps inside. The House at Pooh Corner was an obvious choice, with the “100 Aker Wood” map, which includes (of course), “the place where the wozzle wasn’t”. This was one of the fictional maps that Joan Bodger and family attempted locate in reality in How the Heather Looks, along with the map from Swallows and Amazons.

My lovely Snowbooks edition of Virginia Woolf’s The London Scene has a charming map of London in the front endpapers, with drawings of all the landmarks noted by Woolf in her essays. The back endpapers is London on a different scale, with Woolf’s own residences noted (22 Hyde Park Gate!).

Will Ferguson’s Hokkaido Highway Blues has a somewhat unremarkable map on Japan just inside the cover, but without it we wouldn’t quite get the weight of the fact that Ferguson travelled the country from tip-to-tip. I bought this book just before we moved in Japan in 2004, to the city of Himeji, which made the sub-map on page 148 very remarkable, because the map shows that Ferguson made Himeji a stop along his way. “At Himeji Castle, the flowers were in full bloom and everywhere there was activity and laughter.”

Hobart 8 wears its map on its cover. I bought it at City Lights Books in 2008 because it was beautiful and contained a story by Stephany Aulenback, and I have a vivid memory of reading the whole thing on the green grass of Dolores Park (in February!). The southernmost half of the issue is American writers, North is Canadian whose lineup was pretty much unknown to me at the time but they’re writers who’ve been pretty much everywhere since– Heather Birrell, Craig Davidson, Zsuzsi Gartner, Lee Henderson, and Mark Anthony Jarman. I saw them here first. Map is by Robert Waters.

Patricia Storms’ The Pirate and the Penguin is delightful all over, but my favourite corners are the maps on her endpapers. “Map of the really boring (and cold!) South Pole” on the first endpapers, with such landmarks as Chilly Cove and Yawny Yogaland. “Map of the hot and itchy Caribbean” is on the back, with “Drives Me Coconuts Island” and a chest of “Boring Treasure”. Love it.

Though the first literary map I gave my heart to was in The Long Secret by Louise Fitzhugh. A map of Water Mill, where Harriet Welch is spending the summer with Beth Ellen, I was totally obsessed with this one, and I’m sure why because it’s pretty sparsely detailed, but I suspect the particular hand of Fitzhugh herself may have something to do with it.

My copy of Andrea Barrett’s story collection Servants of the Map is chock-full of images, and it’s unsurprising that a map would be one of them (along with gorgeous drawings of wildlife and taxonomic classifications). The title story is illustrated with “Sketch Map to accompany the Geological Notice of Kashmir”.

A map in a poetry collection! I was thrilled to find a vintage guide map to Los Alamos in Michael Lista’s Bloom.

And finally, Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood has for its endpapers “Pittsburgh about 1800”, even though Dillard’s book is about Pittsburgh in the mid-twentieth century, but Annie Dillard is always tricky, isn’t she?

Though I can’t finish without a mention of the map in Janice Kulyk Keefer’s The Ladies’ Lending Library. Which doesn’t even exist, but I was convinced it did, and leafed through the book about five times tonight looking for it. And that I haven’t read the story for a few years, but its managed to leave a  map emblazoned upon my mind is really quite a testament to Kulyk Keefer’s depiction of place.

3 thoughts on “On Literary Maps”

  1. Nathalie says:

    My favourite maps are the Geist maps of Canada. They have been collected in The Geist Atlas of Canada, which includes the meat map (Patty Point, Sausage Lake) the menstrual map (Wings, Scarlet Park, Port Moody) and the map of kitchen implements (Rasp River, Carry the Kettle, Dishpan Creek), and oh so many more. Then there are the embroidered maps made by Meliors Simms at bibliophilia

  2. Melwyk says:

    I was surprised (and delighted) to find the map of Los Alamos in Bloom as well. I love that you felt there was a map in The Ladies Lending Library! It is very dependent on place, isn’t it? And evocative.

  3. patricia says:

    Aww…thanks for the plug! Creating those maps was probably the most fun I had when drawing that book. Hopefully I will get a chance to do some sort of quirky map again in the future…

    And I agree with Nathalie – the Geist maps of Canada are wonderful.

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