As you might imagine I was, and am, very fond of the Writer and the City series from Bloomsbury. It's a collection of great writing and beautifully realised as books - crafted, collectable, carefully curated and with unique material from great writers.
I’ve drawn on the contents several times and will continue to do so I’m sure. Yet a particularly fine feature are the maps in the inside covers. They’re both a useful reference and an additional fiction, and although they also largely emerged before Google Maps, their hand-drawn, loose evocations form a kind of response to latter's ubiquity. Just as the physical books themselves represent a minor and inadvertent pre-emptive strike on the Kindle and whatever tablet Apple have up their sleeve. I'm not sure Bloomsbury are still them running as a series though I hope so.
Of course maps wrapped around stories have a long history, perhaps as long as written history itself. Michael Chabon wrote a beautiful article about childhood, maps and adventure recently, noting the relationship between story and topography:
"Most great stories of adventure, from The Hobbit to Seven Pillars of Wisdom, come furnished with a map. That's because every story of adventure is in part the story of a landscape, of the interrelationship between human beings (or Hobbits, as the case may be) and topography. Every adventure story is conceivable only with reference to the particular set of geographical features that in each case sets the course, literally, of the tale. But I think there is another, deeper reason for the reliable presence of maps in the pages, or on the endpapers, of an adventure story, whether that story is imaginatively or factually true. We have this idea of armchair traveling, of the reader who seeks in the pages of a ripping yarn or a memoir of polar exploration the kind of heroism and danger, in unknown, half-legendary lands, that he or she could never hope to find in life. This is a mistaken notion, in my view. People read stories of adventure—and write them—because they have themselves been adventurers. Childhood is, or has been, or ought to be, the great original adventure, a tale of privation, courage, constant vigilance, danger, and sometimes calamity." [New York Review of Books]
Chabon's article is worth a read on many counts (I fully endorse his eulogy for adventure in childhood) but I liked this casual aside about the relationship between maps, landscape and narrative.
So here, below, a set of the maps from a few of the Writer and the City series, covering Florence, Paris, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro and New York. I’m particularly drawn to the New York map which adds a further layer of imagination to imaginary place-making. Take a closer look.