Sunday, December 20, 2009

Leaving Mind-Mapping to the Master

hile writing "Of Mallards and Men," I had to resist my desire—my sense of obligation, really—to research mallard society. I hate bringing up a subject when I have little background to offer on it.

Part of this compulsion stems from the pleasure I derive from teaching. But mostly the compulsion is rooted in the boundary-free roamings of my mind as it ping-pongs from one image to another, from one question to another, from one thought to another. I want to take you on that journey with me, but I can't write fast enough. What's more, I'd never finish a post.

The master guide of such a journey is Paul Metcalf. Are you familiar with his works? I wasn't until I visited the Web site of Dalkey Archive Press.

In the literary fiction genre, Metcalf's writing is the real deal. In fact, much of what passes for literary fiction these days should be categorized as beach reads next to Metcalf's oeuvre.

I'm reading Genoa, which includes heavy doses of Herman Melville (Metcalf's great-grandfather). Why Melville? Simply because the protagonist is thinking about certain Melville passages and the author weaves the excerpts and references into the story. In fact, numerous fiction and nonfiction excerpts may be found in Genoa as Metcalf opens his protagonist's mind (and his own) to the reader's eye. His research is exhaustive (and likely exhausting—Genoa predates the Internet) and makes for an astonishing read.

But Genoa has not been a quick read for me (the portability issue being one obstacle) and I have to return it to the library. I plan to scout used bookstores in the future and get my own copy. Until then, dear reader, you may wish to enter the worlds of Metcalf on your own.

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