Saturday, March 13, 2010

Review: An American Map

An American Map is a collection of essays by Anne-Marie Oomen about and inspired by particular spots across America. It is more memoir than travel guide, as Oomen writes less about the facts of a place than what she thinks about when she is there.

Her words are beautiful and she writes with poetic flourish with phrases that describe a cabin retreat that “eddies with chill” or a waterfall with “the look of a million feathers tipped to catch the force of motion.” Her essays inspired by hikes on the Appalachian Trail and to the top of El Yunque in Puerto Rico are particularly lovely.

Readers who may find Oomen’s prose a little too purple for their tastes will enjoy the more action-oriented essays, like “Squall” about learning to flyfish with her sisters in Colorado, or the title essay about going to New York city to promote a documentary about Michigan asparagus farming.

Book lovers and writers will enjoy “Finding (My) America” in which Oomen describes her thoughts and experiences while on a mini-book tour to small public libraries in rural Michigan. In it, she examines the importance of books and reading and discusses the community between authors and readers:
I sense that when I am reading [aloud] or being read to, if it is done with skill, the energy shifts and flits between the reader and the read to, and evolves into something just short of reading each other's minds. Do a group of people all listening to the same story -- a story that has taken them not to spirituality like a prayer might, but to the internal realm of imagination where all of us, through language, enter another world -- create a unity there, in that place, that we find in no other communal experience?
It is this way Oomen has of bringing a big idea out of a simple experience that makes traveling through her essays so pleasurable.

This book is part of the Made in Michigan Writers Series.

(If you would like your review posted here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it here.)


bermudaonion said...

I think I fall in the camp of finding that prose a little flowery. Glad you enjoyed it.

nathaliefoy said...

Have you read anything by Sarah Vowell? She's one of my favourite American non-fiction/essay writers. Her Assassination Vacation, in which she visits the sites of presidential assassinations, is fantastic.

Rose City Reader said...

Bermuda -- I'm not one for super flowery, either, but her ideas were interesting and I really enjoyed the essays about doing things, like fishing.

Nathalie -- I have not read any of Sarah Vowell's books. I will look them up. Thanks for the suggestion!

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