Colin Harrison Is Mad About Maps. So Is His Latest Character.

Upstairs, there’s a map from October 1776 illustrating the Battle of Long Island; another, from 1855, indicating yellow fever outbreaks in Brooklyn; and still another, from 1874, with the borough’s farms shaded in a pastel palette.

Downstairs, vivid renderings of Manhattan serve as time capsules of the city’s perpetual ebb and flow, like an axonometric map from 1963 for which the German cartographer Hermann Bollmann translated 67,000 photographs into a minutely detailed bird’s-eye view of Midtown.

In the novel, Reeves neatly stores his unhung maps in an architect’s cabinet. Mr. Harrison stores his maps — like Al Hirschfeld’s 1939 “Sightseer’s Map of New York” for The New York Times — in tubs on his dining room table or in haphazard piles in what he called a “very disreputable room.”

Even the bathroom used mostly by his wife, the writer Kathryn Harrison, harbors an 1879 map of Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island), with its smallpox hospital and mental institution.

Surely Mr. Harrison, who is also editor in chief of Scribner, carefully catalogs.

“No! No!,” he said. “I am not the guy in the book. He is better than I am.”

Was writing about a map collector inevitable?

“I couldn’t have written the book without having first fallen victim to this form of insanity,” he said.

These are edited excerpts from a recent conversation:

How did you start your collection?

Probably about 20 years ago I walked into a frame shop and there was a map of Manhattan, and I bought it. And that was the beginning of the end.

Do you still have that first one?

I have it downstairs. One of the things that happens is your standards keep going up, and things you once thought were fabulous you feel hostile toward.

How many maps do you have?

That is a question I can’t answer, and I don’t know if I would answer it if I could.

This 1963 Bollmann map doesn’t look quite like the others.

There are a lot of illustrated…

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