Thursday, July 1, 2010

Map As Compass

I’ve always liked maps. And I have always liked books that have maps in them. I do have preferences. A map as cover art is good. And a map of a fictitious world is useful, especially if the author is using land and city names that have lots of consonants and very few vowels. But my favorite map is that of a real place on the inside cover of a book, preferably a hard bound book.

Let me clarify a bit here. Those maps that depict the movement of peoples at war don’t really help me. I tend to think about the individuals involved instead of the groups. And maps that show broad sweeps of migration of people or species don’t help me much either. Weather maps are okay but they are usually time elapse drawings showing the movement of highs and lows and hurricanes or other types of storms. All of these devices are meant to help with the understanding of a book but, for me, they more often seem to confuse then make clear. And I don’t think I would want to keep referring to the inside cover of a book in order to keep up with the action of the story. I want the map to help me savior the story.

I think the use of a map can also gives credence to a story. It helps the reader picture what is taking place by giving them the where along with the who. If you can see the shape of the land and water you can also see how the story takes shape. Often the land or water itself is used as a character device in this type of book.

Maps may also help to clear up any misinformation that might arise in the readers mind while reading the book. You can follow the action of the story right there in black and white. The little hash marks you sometimes find showing the travels of the characters are helpful but not really necessary; unless the character is crisscrossing continents. The smaller the geographical area in question being depicted the better the map. But it can’t be too small. It has to be just the right size. Big enough so that you need a map to get a clear picture of the relation of things and characters but not so small that you could take in everything with a quick glance if you happened to walk into the story.

To walk into a story. Is that what we do when we read? I would think that it might be one way to describe a good book. When we read we go along with the characters and become an observer of all that happens. In a great book we are not unaffected observers. We care about the characters and the lives they lead. We are unable to influence the characters but they do affect us. Maybe not always in life changing ways but sometimes a book will do that to a person. A great or even merely good book changes our perception. It forces us to go beyond our own little world; to move into uncharted areas, to venture beyond our own thoughts and lives. And it has been my experience that when you do decide to go beyond one’s own neighborhood it is a good idea to bring along a map.

See you at the Library,

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