Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer

Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer


Book summary »

Listed in June 2011 as one of the favorite nonfiction books of the staff of the New York Times Magazine

One of “7 Must-Read Books on Maps”: “Maps of the Imagination is a genre-defying gem that straddles art book, writer’s manual and cultural critique in an utterly captivating way that makes you look at both old maps and familiar fiction with new eyes.”
– the

“Getting lost in this book is so easy, enlightening, and downright fun, any reader exploring it should take Saul Bellow’s advice: ‘Perhaps, being lost, one should get loster.’”
– The Ruminator Review

Winner of 7 design awards, including a Silver Medal from the Stiftung Buchkunst Best Book Design From All Over the World competition

“A gorgeous book in every way…engaging, intelligent, and never jargon laden; this book wears its vast learning lightly.”


Chosen as one of the Outstanding Academic Titles of 2005 by Choice magazine

“A treasure map for discovering secrets of the writer’s life.”
– The Charlotte Observer


Taught in Creative Writing classes and Design classes around the world (and declared, by one reviewer, “a must-read for litigators”)

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Maps of the Imagination is a magic carpet ride over terrain both familiar and exotic. Using the map as metaphor, Peter Turchi considers writing as a combination of exploration and presentation, all the while serving as an erudite and charming guide. He compares the way a writer leads a reader through the imaginary world of a story, novel, or poem to the way a mapmaker charts the physical world. “To ask for a map,” says Turchi, “is to say, ‘Tell me a story.’”

With intelligence and wit, the author looks at how mapmakers and writers deal with blank space and the blank page; the conventions they use (both the ones readers recognize and those that often go unnoticed) or consciously disregard; the role of geometry in maps and the parallel role of form in writing; how both maps and writing serve to recreate an individual’s view of the world; and the artist’s delicate balance of intuition with intention.

The ancient Greeks, German globe makers, and British cartographers join forces with the Marx Brothers, NASA, and Roadrunner cartoons to shed light on the strategies of writers as diverse as Sappho, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov, Italo Calvino, Don DeLillo, and Heather McHugh.

A unique combination of history, critical cartography, personal essay, and practical guide to writing, Maps of the Imagination is a book for writers, for readers, and for anyone interested in creativity.


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What Readers and Reviewers Have Said:

“My favorite book of 2004… a visual cornucopia of goodness containing interesting and enlightening ideas.”
– Hans Weyandt, Micawber’s Books

“Original, thought-provoking, and wonderfully entertaining, this compact, visually beautiful book abounds in useful metaphors and offers a fresh way to approach reading the books we love, and writing the books we long to write.”
– Andrea Barrett

“It’s not uncommon to compare the writing of a story to the mapping of a world, but no one has so fully, or so seductively and rewardingly, performed as extended a meditation on this illuminating metaphor as Turchi…Brilliant and pleasurable, Turchi’s musing on our innate need to know where we are, where we might go, and why alters our perceptions of not only maps and fiction but also the nature of the mind’s terra incognita.”
– Donna Seaman, Booklist

“A very smart and beautifully illustrated meditation on cartography as a metaphor for writing.”
– Karl Pohrt, Shaman Drum Book Shop

“The Perfect Gift for a writer.”
– Tattered Cover Holiday Gift Guide

“A gem of a book. I read it in one gulp…Maps of the Imagination should inspire both reader and writer as well as those of us who look at a map and immediately begin to dream of journeys not yet taken.”
– Margo Hammond, The St. Petersburg Times


“The best books, like the best maps, not only lead you into unfamiliar territory but allow you to re-envision your own familiar surroundings from a fresh perspective. Peter Turchi’s Maps of the Imagination offers serious writers and casual readers alike a new and useful way of seeing the landscape of literature. Provocative, original and often funny, it provides something better than straight paths or simple destinations: the navigation tools necessary to self-discovery.”
– Miles Harvey

“Peter Turchi…has written a book that cries to be read more than once. Written by someone who obviously has had experience in guiding writers along a known path in search of the unknown, Maps of the Imagination employs the metaphor of map-making to elucidate the creative process…while allowing for diversion, detours, and delightful excursions. It functions as a scenic overlook where both the writer and the armchair philosopher may contemplate where they’ve been and where they’re headed.”
– Greensboro News & Record

“Like a long conversation late at night with a gregarious and intelligent man…Among the many admirable things about the book is its eclecticism: Turchi discusses the most literary of lit on one page, while on the next page may be an analysis of Road Runner animator Chuck Jones or the movie Memento.”
– Matthew Cheney (The Mumpsimus)

“Peter Turchi’s Maps of the Imagination is the extended disco version of a brilliant metaphor: how the work of writing resembles that of mapmaking, drawn out in delicious illustrations and the serious, yet playful, tone of a genuinely thought-provoking lecture.”
– San Antonio Current

“Maps of the Imagination ranges widely across a many disciplines and art forms, from mathematics and formal geometry to Marx Brothers movies and the works of such writers as Borges and Calvino. Sometimes with off-the-cuff analogies, sometimes with pages of analysis, Turchi charts a lively course through a labyrinthine field of varying ways of looking at the world and, most important, the blank page.”
– Publishers Weekly

“Illustrations of all imaginable types of maps, plus entertaining epigraphs to each section, add to the collage of textures in this extensive (yet, considering its contents, surprisingly compact) volume.”
– Speakeasy

“With a knowing and often witty voice, Turchi, who directs The MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College near Asheville, has brought together wide-ranging sources to create an inspiring book of writing instruction. Avoiding the pedantic prescription of many writing how-to’s, he shows through analogy and example.”
– Charlotte Observer

“I wish I had written Maps of the Imagination. Reading it, I realized how often writers reach for geographical metaphors to explain what they’re doing, or what words and stories do, how they map imagination’s forays. Peter Turchi puts them all together for us in a glorious exploration of reading and mapping and meaning.”
– Rebecca Solnit

“Maps of the Imagination is a conduit between mystery and enlightenment. In his refusal to simplify the written document or the creative impulse, Turchi honors the intersection of idea and execution. His sources are eclectic and persuasive, fascinating and charming; the more maps he illuminates—literal, metaphorical—the more uncharted the universe becomes.”
– Antonya Nelson

“Maps of the Imagination is that rare thing, a book that’s altogether absorbing, original, and beautiful…Wonderfully rewarding.”
– Judith Grossman

I love the layering of imagery and information that Peter Turchi accomplishes as Maps of the Imagination unfolds. The illustrations throughout are wonderful— so surprising and various and interesting. My brain felt enlarged by reading this account of so many different possible journeys.”
— Margot Livesey

There’s an elegant simplicity in the author’s idea of “map as metaphor for writing,” [and] Turchi’s precise examination of it delves into its various permutations with an illuminating sense of originality…he brings both a scholarly attention to detail and an author’s sensitivity to presentation that writers at any stage of their career can appreciate…Turchi presents a cogent analysis of the deliberate methodology employed by successful writers, an exhortation to recognize their responsibility to their audience. Readers, after all, love to get lost in a good book. It is a wise writer who will not only deposit them there, but lead them out again, whole and thoroughly satisfied.
– ForeWord
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