Monday, March 3, 2008

The Morning Reading: Maps and Legends

From Boldtype, an interview with Michael Chabon on his upcoming books of nonfiction, Maps and Legends, to be published in May by McSweeney's.


BOLDTYPE: You have a couple of essays about creations that seem to have gotten away from you. There's your essay on a Yiddish phrase book, which led to The Yiddish Policemen's Union , but not before it met with a lively debate among Yiddish specialists. There's also an expanded version of your famous talk on golems. Were you conscious of taking a risk when you wrote those pieces?

CHABON: You're asking for it, in a way. Say you're a stage magician, and you tell your audience, "I am now going to saw this woman in half." You know perfectly well that everyone in the audience does not believe you, that everyone knows that there's some kind of trick involved, that you aren't in fact going to be sawing a woman in half. They're going to be watching like hawks, to see just how you perpetrate this charade. You're setting yourself up for failure, by asking people to catch you in the act of fooling them. That can feel a little bit scary sometimes, because the worst possible thing for a novelist would be a reader who just doesn't buy into the particular pack of lies that you're trying to pass off as the truth. So if you haven't succeeded in doing that, then you've really failed. Because, in the reader, you have someone who's really saying, "Please, fool me. I want to believe. I want to fall for your trick." With that kind of willingness, if you fail to satisfy that reader's desire to be fooled, that's bad — that's embarrassing.

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