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Maps to Anywhere by Bernard Cooper

maps to anywhereMaps to Anywhere is a surprising, complex, lovely collection of essays. I read it for class (one of the creative nonfiction writing classes I’m taking at Western Washington University), and I wonder how I would have approached it otherwise: would I still have been quite so focused on reading like a writer, on dissecting and searching for Cooper’s process and strategies? I hope so, but I can’t say.

It is an impressive collection of work, and I mean ‘collection’ precisely. The essays themselves are impressive, and varied: some lyrical, including some I unequivocally call prose poems; some more narrative; some conceptual and wandering, some rooted firmly in fact, and some clearly rooted in imagination. But the method of collecting the individual essays is one of the central points of genius that caught my mind. How selected, and how arranged?

Some longer essays are their own entire section. Some sections are made up of shorter essays, and take the name of one of them.

first page of table of contents

first page of table of contents

I marveled over Cooper’s titles, and also his final lines, the way they wrap things up and the way they leave an image or a sound (or both) in the reader’s mind. He is a very aural writer: much of his work demands to be read out loud, or simply makes itself heard. I found assonance I loved, as in the line, “Can mother muster enough thrust to leave the earth in a sudden leap?” (How is this not poetry?) There were amazing concepts, intriguing stories, and a perfect evocation of an era: the U.S.’s forward-looking, plastic-happy 1950’s. In other words, so many skills: I can see why a writing class teaches this book! But again, it was the organization of the moving parts that most confounded and fascinated me. I think I understand that Cooper builds an overall movement (and a sense of movement is central to his work throughout) from a childhood self to a mature and outward-looking one. But the content of the pieces in between jump around in time; it’s far from chronological. Oh, a puzzle: I can’t entirely explain this collection to you. You should go explore it for yourself.


Rating: 9 names.

2 Responses

  1. […] with a class to help me along. That is, the same class that read Bernard Cooper’s wonderful Maps to Anywhere, about which likewise. I was once in a book club, not for very long, which I wished would go much […]

  2. […] Maps to Anywhere, Bernard Cooper – nonfiction […]

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