We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

— T.S. Eliot

(quoted from Maphead)

I am a maphead.  I just finished Ken Jennings’s recent book, Maphead, and it reignited my love of geography, and maps in particular.  I have always loved maps.  A large section of one of my bookcases is dedicated to atlases, geography textbooks, tour books, and maps.  One of those books is my great-grandmother’s 1934 geography textbook.  I keep one book in my safe; it is  a 1927 Rand McNally Pocket Atlas of the World.  It is not my oldest or favorite in my collection, but it fits in my safe.  If my apartment burns down or floods and I lose all my other possessions at least I will have a very outdated map of the world.

As a kid I used to take the maps out of National Geographic magazines and stick them to my bedroom walls with poster putty.  I first found out about the breakup of the Soviet Union by looking at a National Geographic map of all the new countries that suddenly sprang up over night.  It was a map lovers dream.  New lines on the map are always exciting (I felt similar excitement when South Sudan became a thing).  I loved leafing through the AAA “Trip Tik” on family road trips and giving directions (whether they requested them or not) to whichever parent was driving.

As a Michigander I always carry around a map of my native state.  I frequently enjoy when people ask me where I am from and I point to a spot on my right hand while they look at me like I am a crazy person (It would suck to be a Michigander who has lost his/her right hand).  I also enjoy explaining to people that all the crazy Michiganders live in the wiggly parts.  I then wiggle my fingers while they continue to look at me as if I am from the wiggly parts.

I love exploring new places; in person if possible, but I also enjoy reading about places, watching TV shows and movies about places, finding new places on the internet, and, of course, looking at maps.

What Ken Jennings does in this book is to express how people like myself see and interact with the world.  I was hooked from the first page.  Early in the book he describes the “condition” he and I share as “topophilia.”  Topophilia is a term, derived from Greek meaning “love of place,” coined by Yi-Fu Tuan in 1974 (Jennings 14).  What is interesting about this is that I had recently referenced Tuan’s work in a paper, coincidentally, about mapping.

More specifically, I am a “toponymist” — a student of place names (Jennings 68).  Here are a couple of quotes from the book concerning place naming that I found particularly interesting:

(in relation to remembering events) “Naming the place makes us feel connected, situated in the story” (Jennings 29).

“Names are the alchemical infusion that brings a map to life” (Jennings 68).

Cool stuff.

So if you have the time, and love maps, I recommend picking up this book.