Mapping is a reoccurring theme in our discussions. I’m not sure how much of this can be attributed to our second book club selection, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, or simply our minds. Regardless, Mendelsund devotes a section of the book to mapping. You may remember a teacher mapping a plot for you (it probably looked a bit like a triangle) but Mendelsund looks at more confusing, free-form maps. As both a teacher and a writer, I love this section. I’ve mapped emotional arcs using similar drawings and explained concepts to students with similar scratches. While I may not agree with the way Mendelsund maps certain books, it makes me want to layer a number of people’s maps of the same book. (If you read our July selection,Americanah, please bring a map!)
My mom brought up something I’d also thought of when reading: Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels. In these novels, the protagonist travels into fiction and explores how it’s created. Much of what Mendelsund discusses is brought up in this series (published before What We See When We Read) but, as a postmodern work of fiction, in a hilarious way. Thursday Next remarks how two characters from different books often remind readers of each other, because they’re actually played by the same person in the book world. Meanwhile, carrot sticks are orange rods (based on their descriptions), there are few smells, and people who are sick either have a major illness or a minor head cold (nothing in between). Personally, I think Fforde’s books are a more enjoyable way to experience these revelations, but Mendelsund’s book has its own merits, and is certainly more discoverable for those more interested in nonfiction or who prefer to avoid the delights of fantasy. Either way, it’s an interesting concept to consider.