The Week in Books, No. 22

As frequent readers of my blog are doubtless aware, I am a HUGE Michael Chabon fan.Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands is a collection of essays wherein Chabon discusses what makes good literature, reviews and dissects other genres and books and authors he likes, and then moves into what at first seems more autobiographical territory. In that second section, it becomes clear that Chabon is writing about his experiences and influences as a writer using details and and themes from his books in the same way that a writer uses details and themes from his own life to add to his fiction. It’s a brilliant device, and gently pokes fun at critics and readers who read fiction and assume things about the author based on the characters.

One passage that resonated with me in particular was Chabon’s admission that he struggles with using personal experiences in his work, and also that people will attribute things to him that he totally made up in his novels. I also have that fear, which has, more often than not, paralyzed my attempts at writing fiction, and which, I have been informed by others, probably means I’m not cut out to be a writer. Since Chabon has won a Pulitzer and is, in my opinion, one of the greatest living American authors, I was comforted that he has similar thoughts. I’ll quote at length, mostly for my own benefit:

Sometimes I fear to write, even in fictional form, about things that really happened to me, about things that I really did, or about the numerous unattractive, cruel, or embarrassing thoughts that I have at one time or another entertained. Just as often, I find myself writing about disturbing or socially questionable acts and states of mind that have no real basis in my life at all, but which, I am afraid, people will naturally attribute to me when they read what I have written…I have come to see this fear, this sense of my own imperilment by my creations, as not only an inevitable, necessary part of writing fiction but a virtual guarantor, insofar as such a thing is possible, of the power of my work: as a sign that I am on the right track, that I am following the recipe correctly…

Although Chabon’s novel Summerland is 500 pages long, I read it in one day because Chabon’s writing is so compelling and he’s such a fantastic story-teller that I find it nearly impossible to put his books down. “Summerland” is a story about tall tales and myths and legends, and about quests, loss, and character, and also mostly about baseball. It is a grand story, truly excellent, marvelously told, and full of all the great things you have heard me hash and rehash in other reviews I’ve done of Michael Chabon’s books, so I won’t bore you.

I still think The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is my favorite Chabon book so far, but maybe that’s because it’s the first one I read and I was so taken by surprise so it stuck with me.

When Children Love to Learn: A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy for Today is the most succinct and compelling explanation of the Charlotte Mason method of teaching and learning that I have read so far. Other sources I’ve looked at can be a little off-putting, as they seem to be too mired in minutiae or strident about bizarre penumbras and emanations some consider obvious from Mason’s writings. This book, however, emphasize the robust education and the universal applicability of the method’s distinctives. For example, Mason advocated teaching using “living books” rather than dull and trite fluff books or text books – a principle that can be applied in different ways in different cultures and time periods. Although the authors of the essays included in this volume are all teachers and administrators of small private schools, I found much useful and inspiring information that could easily be applied in a homeschool setting.

I enjoyed Amanda Blake Soule’s The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections as an idea book for encouraging creativity and fun in families. I didn’t come away with any particular projects I was itching to try out, but I was inspired in general ways and encouraged by realizing the many ways we are creative and fostering imagination without realizing it. I don’t always take the time to give myself credit for all the educational and creative things I do with the kids all day every day. If I were really writing up a bullet list of what we accomplish and using “school language” I would probably be pretty impressed with myself (and you’d probably be pretty impressed with your family as well!). At any rate, this is an encouraging and fun book, with ideas applicable for young toddlers through older children.

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