On Jan. 15, Lewis Hyde made an appearance at the Billy Wilder Theater, near UCLA, and challenged a way of thought which the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Harold Bloom, in their respective centuries, have sworn by: the self-reliant individual, the artist who suffers from the anxiety of influence. One of Hyde’s aesthetic children, Michael Chabon, is rarin’ to catch the football and run with it.

“Influence is bliss,” he writes in Maps and Legends, a collection of essays published by McSweeney’s. We receive the spiritual fire when we take a work of art into us – and then we go for it, making paintings and music and novels of our own.

When asked how to be a writer, Saul Bellow remarked that he only knew one should take the greatest works of literature in, like the Eucharist. And then they will change us, gradually, over time.

In Maps and Legends, we are privileged to encounter Chabon’s Eucharistic influences: Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Cormac McCarthy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Arthur Conan Doyle ... the list (of course) goes on. The tone ranges from serious appraisal (the essay on Doyle reminded me strongly of John Irving’s essay on Dickens in Trying to Save Piggy Sneed), to that of an e-mail from a very bright, very dear friend. This is an affirming, generous book.

Grade: A

Maps and Legends is currently available.