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Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination
by Katharine Harmon
ISBN: 1568984308

Harmon’s interest in maps — as representations of the real and the imagined — spurred her to edit this collection. Sized between a trade paperback and a coffee table art book, the book is full of full-color maps and map-inspired art. Sketches, collages, satellite imagery, embroidery, and illustration are all in evidence, with some items looking more like what we’ve come to expect from the word “map” than others.

And that is part of the fun of this book — pushing at the boundaries of what maps are, how they are used, and why a person would want to create one. There is a poem about Manhattan printed in the shape of the island of Manhattan, colored copperplate engravings from an 18th century celestial atlas, paths to salvation, and adventure book cover art. There are dream maps, a revenge map, maps of showing the distribution of pumpkins on Halloween and mentions in a neighborhood newsletter.

Harmon imposes an order on what would otherwise be a chaotic collection. The book is divided into three parts. First is the personal geography section, which begins with images of the human body or body parts, and expands to representations of spiritual and emotional territory. Next is the “at home in the world” section. It begins with an interesting and illustrated short essay about hiking the Appalachian trail, and moves from images of locations in the sky or on the ground to maps as commentary to maps as memory. The final section is fantasy, where the maps are not real at all, but are taken from locations existing only in books or other imaginary worlds.

Printed with each map is a short blurb, the kind of thing you might find next to a painting on a museum wall. Some of the images appear too small to read easily, and that can be frustrating. Taken as a whole, though, this book is a fascinating look at how people seem to need to visually recreate territory and place themselves in the world. Reading it made me want to look at even more maps, and to play around with creating some of my own. Definitely recommended.

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