Simon Garfield’s Top 10 Books With Maps
From Winnie the Pooh to Grayson Perry, the author charts the best writing about the indispensable tools for reading the world
The joy and problem of choosing a Top 10 of anything mappy is that maps are everywhere: as ever-present in literature as they are functional in our daily lives and vivid in our imaginations. In On The MapI write that the mental maps we create from childhood reading never leave us, and that it may still be easier to find our way to the booty on Treasure Island than the train station.
So what follows is a list of the moment – books on my radar as I write. That said, all of them are inspiring, entertaining and original, and most of them are beautifully illustrated and useful. They will take you to places both familiar and unreachable, and to places you’ll be glad will never leave you.
The older the edition the better, as somehow the illustrations by EH Shepard just look fresher. The fold-out map of the Hundred Acre Wood is supposedly drawn by Christopher Robin, but Robin can’t spell very well, and his punctuation’s not great either, so we have locations marked “Rabbits frends and raletions” and “100 Aker Wood”. Within the 100 akers there is a direction to the North Pole but also sad realities: “Eeyores Gloomy Place” and “Where The Woozle Wasnt”. Once you’re in, good luck getting out.
An instant armchair classic when published a few years ago, this tour of largely uninhabitable lands springs to life not only through Schalansky’s playful descriptions, but also through the pale and lonely illustrations – each alluring island cast adrift on a single page like a high-tide sandcastle. Schalansky, a German with a keen heart for wanderlust, has also published a personal map of San Francisco, equally enticing and disorientating in equal measure.
The book from Perry’s British Museum show last year is far more than a catalogue of exhibits, packed as it is with playful creative theories and the artist’s restless spirit. Its cartographical wonders are numerous, but my favourite is the enormous tapestry Map of Truths and Beliefs, within which the artist has stitched such emotionally loaded locations as Avalon, Angkor Wat, Silicon Valley and Wembley. And by their side sits mythical and autobiographical iconography that wouldn’t have looked out of place on inked medieval calfskin.
We’ve been drawing maps since we could draw, but this selection is recent and timely, reflecting what is surely a backlash against digital convention. Many of the impressions here are back-of-the-envelope sketches, instructions to a friend’s house perhaps or maps found in rubbish bins (one of these, a loosely accurate map of the US, was found at the World Curling Championships in North Dakota, and why not?) The maps are slips of communication, saying things words can’t, a spatial skill we may all be losing to our phones and sat navs.
A sensation when it was published in 1979, Williams made map detectives of all who fell under its spell. Paintings in his book held clues to where he had buried a golden filigree hare in the English countryside, with readers submitting guess-maps of the location to the author before they started digging. Alas the lucky claimant turned out to be a fraud, obtaining the coordinates by knowing someone who knew Williams’ ex-girlfriend, thus also claiming our innocence in the process.
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