In his memoir, In the Memory of the Map (University of Iowa Press, 2012), Christopher Norment introduces readers to cartography, otherwise known as map-making. Norment translates his experiences into written word through revealing his own map of life in pursuit of the trail ahead. It is through this picturesque book that readers are given a glimpse into Norment’s life — one of desire for the freedom found through the natural world.
He describes locations throughout the book with a keen eye, as a result of his breadth of experience. Starting from a very young age, his maps change over time, yielding sophistication. More importantly, these maps, as Norment’s brilliant title suggests, become the connections that transport him back to locations and memories, for better and for worse.
Norment’s book combines both his personal and professional experiences with cartography. He utilizes nature as a means of escape from the trauma of his childhood. His subtle yet punchy way of expressing those traumas proves him unafraid, but he manages to hold off enough that the reader stays with him, hoping for the best.
Norment seems to suggest that withstanding his hardship, he wants readers to focus on his love for nature, rather than the negative. “Instead let the focus be on the deserts, the mountains, and the high wind scoured plains of the world. Let those places, and their maps, carry me forward…”
Indeed, nature becomes Norment’s saving grace. After all, the memoir is about freedom, and in a sense, rebirth. In doing so, he is transformed, progressing with each new venture. Likewise, he adapts to life just as nature must.
Broken up into four parts, the memoir covers the very beginning of Norment’s discovery of maps all the way to illuminating the people who inspired him to venture forward in life. Throughout the book, he references fundamental travelers and writers like John Muir, Michael Ondaatje, and Albert Camus, to name a few.
There were often times throughout the story that I felt unified with Norment. He describes in great detail the landscapes before him, and I would read on utterly entranced by the rhythm of his writing. While his tale is by no means a light read, I highly recommend it for its ability to stir the spirit in search for our own freedom.
People who would enjoy this book include those who have an avid love for maps, nature, hiking, and traveling. If you enjoy the outdoors, be forewarned. After reading this memoir, you may find yourself buying hiking books and suddenly dreaming of leaving everything behind with only a map and an open sky.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars