September 23, 2018

The Cartography of Fiction

The book that first set me on my way was “Watership Down,” by Richard Adams. I was nine years old when I read it. Basking in its afterglow, I plotted an epic novel about a small group of fugitive otters—one of whom was clairvoyant—who get driven from their home by the ravages of building work, and swim up the River Severn to its source, in Wales, where they establish an egalitarian community called Ottertopia.

As any child author can testify, you can’t begin until you’ve got the map right. So I traced the course of the River Severn from my dad’s road atlas onto Sellotaped-together sheets of A4. Along the looping river, I drew woods, hills, and marshes in the style of the maps in “The Lord of the Rings”: blobs with sticks for trees, bumps for hills, and tufts for marshes. What about toponyms, though? Should I use existing human names, or make up Otterese words for places like Worcester or Upton-upon-Severn? Would otters have words for motorways or factories or bridges? Why would they? Why wouldn’t they? Never mind, I’ll sort that out later. I spent hours on that map, plotting the otters’ progress with a dotted red line and enjoying how nonchalant I’d be at school the day after my unprecedented Booker Prize victory. I’m sure I managed at least half a page of the novel before I got distracted.

Not long after, I borrowed Ursula Le Guin’s “Earthsea” books from the hallowed Great Malvern Library. My literary début was now going to be set in a vast, planet-size fantasy archipelago. (Even that word is shifty and enchanted, sometimes pronounced “archie-pelago” and sometimes “arky-pelago,” even by the same person.) Wizards, epic voyages, underground labyrinths, talking dragons, languages, rings of power, cosmopolitan ports, primitive societies toward the edges . . . . I could just feel how amazing this book was going to be! All I had to do to get started was draw the map. This time, I asked my mum for an A1 sheet of thick cartridge paper, mounted with masking tape onto one of her heavy artist’s drawing boards. I ran my fingertips over the pristine expanses of parchment-thick paper, drooling over its infinity of possible archipelagos. My job was simply to summon one up to the surface with my Berol felt-tip pens.

Read more

JJ Best Of The Web

China's massive and rapid investments in Africa have been criticized by some as a form of economic colonialism. Others are just wondering why the West is missing out on the opportunity.

"For two years, Americans have tried to absorb the details of the 2016 attack — hacked emails, social media fraud, suspected spies — and President Trump’s claims that it’s all a hoax. The Times explores what we know and what it means."

Twenty-five years after Oslo, Israeli-Palestinian peace remains elusive. A mix of Leftist idealism and PLO rejectionism are to blame for taking the "process" out of the Peace Process.

"In recounting the life of alleged Mossad agent Ashraf Marwan, Ariel Vromen's disappointing film leaves the most interesting parts of the story off screen."

The tax cuts signed into law by President Donald Trump will add to the national debt. But they did succeed in one area: making rich people even richer.

"As Seen On TV" gadgets like the "sock slider" or a banana peeler are often mocked for being useless wastes of plastic. But for some individuals with disabilities, these gadgets make all the difference.

If SJWs often resemble religious fundamentalists, bell hooks is their highest prophet. Her work on gender and intersectionality have redefined American campuses, and her ideas are being put into action with religious fervor.

"It strikes me that we’re now suffering collectively from a “tyranny of the virtual,” since we find ourselves unable to look away from the screens that mediate not just print but, increasingly, reality itself."

Parents see it all the time. Young girls, confident and full of joy, become timid and shy around their tween and early teen years. A new book explores the sociological explanations for the loss in confidence.

How did a Chinese citrus fruit become the central symbol of one of Judaism's most important holidays? According to a new book by Rabbi David Moster, the Etrog wasn't always so important. For ancient Jews, any old fruit would do.

If IQ tests are any indication, Americans are getting stupider. Some think environmental factors could be to blame. Others say that it's our culture which is to blame for making us stupider.

According to a new book from Jack Wertheimer, American Judaism is embracing universalism in an effort to stay relevant. But this focus on universalism may threaten to undermine the vitality of the Jewish faith.