Though classic novels such as Treasure Island and The Hobbit often provide a map of the fictional topography, most novels require us to rely on our imaginations. However, with Zest Book’s latest title, Plotted: A Literary Atlas, illustrator Andrew DeGraff has brought these imagined worlds to life, creating a collection of unique illustrated maps that take readers on a cartographic ride through many of the most-loved literary works. The collection serves as a series of love letters to the classics, depicting their imagined settings and charting the movements of characters through them.
“It’s just one of several pie-in-the-sky dream projects I wanted to do ever since I joined Zest,” said Daniel Harmon, publishing director of Zest Books, who approached DeGraff to illustrate the book after discovering his work mapping movies—an earlier project in which DeGraff created gorgeously illustrated maps of classic movies. DeGraff said it was “perfect timing” because he too had been wanting to map his favorite books.
Despite his enthusiasm about the project, DeGraff still admitted it was daunting. Together the pair whittled their original list of 65 literary titles down to 19, as it became clear that some maps would take more than 200 hours to create. Some of the cuts saddened them, including the loss of Dune and a potential map of the road trip in Lolita.
The two had lengthy conversations about the book as a whole and the details of each map. Harmon penned essays that accompany each map, but waited until DeGraff finished illustrating to complete them, because each map gave him new insight into the books. In addition to the maps, DeGraff created newly imagined covers for each book.
The finished book includes detailed color maps of such classic titles as Hamlet, Invisible Man, Pride and Prejudice, Lord of the Flies, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and each literary map has its own distinctive aesthetic style. DeGraff attributed the range of styles to the unique characteristics of each book. Watership Down was a “real pain,” DeGraff said, “with something like 30 characters. And Hamlet was tough. There’s so much coming and going.”
DeGraff also noted that his interest in the project stemmed from his desire to create something educational. “Great literature can be intimidating. It felt like I was doing something good by illustrating these books. Once you start reading them, you realize why they are considered great literature.”
Plotted is being released under Zest’s Pulp imprint, which was started in the fall of 2014. Zest Books often releases titles that run the line between adult and YA. “In general, we’re a publishing house that’s really oriented as teen and YA, with titles that are often reaching into adulthood,” Harmon said. Pulp was created to house adult titles that “extend their arms into the YA world,” Harmon said. The first official title in the line was Alexis Coe’s Alice and Freda Forever. “Plotted is unique, and a great example of something we’re publishing in adult but reaches across to young adults as well.”
Harmon said Plotted is a general-interest book for any book lover from the middle-grade level through adulthood. While he believes that “curious adults” are going to drive the sales of the title, he thinks Plotted is “absolutely a book for teens as well as a book that adults can use to get kids interested in classics.”
Just like many of the classic novels mapped out in the book, Plotted isn’t easily classifiable. For Harmon, it’s important that books blur boundaries. “If we think about YA and adult as a little bit less defined, you really see how many books are not a perfect fit for either category,” Harmon said. “In some ways it’s really important to think about age in publishing, but it’s also important to recognize the flow that goes on between those distinct categories.”
Harmon set an initial printing of 12,000 copies for Plotted and said they expect “to reprint almost immediately.” He cited more than 7,000 preorders from major retailers including Target (which plans to promote the book during the holidays) as well as major indies.
Stephen Sparks, manager and buyer at Green Apple Books on the Park in San Francisco, plans to put it in the store’s gift book display, which is a catchall for books that don’t easily fit into one single category. “Plotted is design-driven, and when [Houghton’s] Best American series did their first collection of infographics, it sold really well. I see this book falling into that market,” he said.
For more on illustrated gift books, see “A Feast for the Eyes.”