Saturday, December 19, 2015
Books take us on journeys. Whether it’s down a rabbit hole, across the windswept moors of England, floating on a raft down the Mississippi River, or circling the world in eighty days, we go places when we read.
Some books, particularly those in the fantasy and historical fiction genres, provide literal maps in their endpapers; but for the majority of novels, readers navigate the terrain freestyle, using their imagination to picture the latitude and longitude of story.
Plotted: A Literary Atlas, Andrew DeGraff maps his own vision of literary landscape and the result is a sumptuous, colorful feast for the eyes. That’s why I’m nominating Plotted as the gift book for readers this holiday season. If I didn’t already own a copy, I would be delighted to find this wrapped and waiting for me beneath the Christmas tree.
DeGraff sketched and painted nineteen maps for classic works of literature, ranging from Homer’s Odyssey to The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin. In between, he also visits the sea of Moby-Dick, the warrens of Watership Down, the New York of Invisible Man, the London of A Christmas Carol, the Georgia countryside of Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find, and many others. Each map is preceded by a very smart, engaging essay by Daniel Harmon.
To give you an idea of the beauty of DeGraff’s work, here are three maps from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (click each map to enlarge it):
As you can see, perspective is shifted and length is foreshortened, so actually traveling to these locations (even the real ones) is out of the question. Not that we’d even want to do that. The point here is to interpret the plots of classic books in fresh and visually exciting ways. By following the arrows and dotted lines on these pages, we gain a new perspective on well-trod stories we’ve walked through over the years.
DeGraff illuminates as much as he navigates. As he notes in his Introduction, “these maps provide a sense of contour—sometimes literal and sometimes metaphorical—for their literary inspirations.” And later, he writes: “These are maps for people who seek to travel beyond the lives and places that they already know (or think they know). The goal here isn't to become found, but only to become more lost.”
I can't think of a better book in which to lose yourself this holiday season.
To see more of DeGraff's work, visit his website.
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