Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mapping Fiction : T.S. Spivet

via The Globe and Mail | Arts

A man with his mind in the margins

"Reif Larsen's first novel is unlike most books - much of the story unfolds in digressions, sketches and maps found along its edges. But as he tells Simon Houpt, the urge to map is embedded in all North Americans ...

The precocious 12-year-old protagonist of Larsen's debut novel ... is an amateur cartographer who maps as a way of apprehending the world. He diagrams everything, from land masses to the length of his walking paces that vary with his moods, the way his father sips whisky, the U.S. fibre-optic network, the period in fashion when shorts became pants, the slow progress of his sister as she shucks her way through a bucket of corn, and the emotional states of people he encounters.

To listen to Larsen, the urge to map is embedded in the genetic code of North America. "America was faced - and Canada as well - with this huge yawning landscape, and I think it was sort of paralyzing in a way. They had to feel this impulse to name everything."

Larsen, an omnivorous reader, mentions Alexander von Humboldt, a 19th-century Prussian naturalist considered to be the founder of modern geography, who held sway during the period of time that the American West was settled.

"He influenced the idea that one had to go out and observe everything and record it and name it, and it kind of got spun into this romantic idea of, 'If we name everywhere then we will know everything.' " said Larsen. "That idea fascinates me so much, the futility of it, the romanticism of it, the sadness embroiled into it. Of course that's not how life works."

"I think books do cool things. They remind us of why we tell stories and why we're such narrative creatures. We tell ourselves so many stories in our heads, that's how we navigate the world. It's a good thing, I think. We are story makers, at our most basic."
-- Reif Larsen

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet

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