Life in the Borderlands*

This week I have read, more or less in tandem, Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands, and Nick Griffiths' Dalek I Loved You.

Michael Chabon is a brilliant, Pulitzer-prize-winning US author; Nick Griffiths is an obscure (at least to me) UK journalist whose main claim to fame seems to be writing a TV column for the tabloid Daily Mail. Chabon's writing is dazzling and erudite; Griffiths' is self-deprecating and cheerful.

And yet I was struck by what the two books had in common - an ardent and continuing love for their childhood passions. In Chabon's case, it's mostly comics and what snobs call "genre" fiction - sci-fi, horror, fantasy. For Nick Griffiths, it's Doctor Who (Chabon is also a fan of the Doctor; though he doesn't mention the show in this book, there is a fannish essay about it in Manhood for Amateurs).

Maps and Legends is a collection of essays in which Chabon argues that the most stimulating, exciting writing often occurs at the place where "serious" "literary" fiction blurs into the territory reserved for the darkest corners of the book shop, the genres mentioned above (I would argue the case for children's literature to be included on that list). For example, he claims that Cormac McCarthy's The Road is sci-fi/horror wearing a respectable literary mask.

Dalek I Loved You is a pretty straightforward memoir of growing up in the 70s as a closet Doctor Who nerd (bless). Nick Griffiths is almost exactly my age, and worked as a music journalist in the 1990s, so I found a lot to relate to in his account. He is sweet and unpretentious, and endearingly excited about the prospect of having his book published, and Dalek I Loved You made me laugh a lot (not just the Who reminiscences either, though I had to chortle at his unabashed loathing for the abominable Adric).

It was a weird coincidence that I read these books at the same time. Together, they demonstrate clearly that things we love in childhood are the things that continue to define us as adults; which is good news, if humbling, for those of us who toil in these shadowy borderlands, trying to write children's literature.

*No, this is not yet another blog post about the collapse of Borders bookshops and the consequences for the publishing industry...

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