Monday, February 28, 2011

And the Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman

Maira Kalman is an illustrator and an author of 17 books. Her art and writings have been featured in the New York Times and frequently on the covers of the New Yorker. Kalman’s recognizable and whimsical style, and her art and commentary, delight both adults and children. Visit her website to see the depth of her simplicity. Once you see the covers of her children’s books (hungry for Swami on Rye?), how can you not be drawn in and entertained by her world view.

And the Pursuit of Happiness contains reflections by Maira Kalman of her year-long investigation of democracy in this country. Similar to her earlier book The Principles of Uncertainty, the style is a cross between a graphic novel and a personal art book. That it’s a “picture book” with text doesn’t lessen its artistic or intellectual merit. Kalman’s ideas are displayed playfully with a dash of combined humor and nostalgia, a style that is uniquely Kalman-esqe.

Inspired by the 2008 U.S. elections, Kalman sets off on a national tour and chronicles her experiences month by month. The reader accompanies her to a town hall meeting in Vermont, to monuments in Washington, D.C., and to the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court. Kalman’s illustrated observations charm and remind us of our nation’s history, and they spin life into the people we learned about in school. We admire Ben Franklin, George Washington (“George is everywhere”), Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt anew; we ponder Alexis de Tocqueville's America; we view art in the National Portrait Gallery; and we consider soldiers, families, and the costs of war. And the Pursuit of Happiness is a fascinating tribute to our history and future.

The CSPL Library owns Kalman’s first graphic collection, The Principles of Uncertainty (2007); a biography, Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations by Ingrid Schaffner (2010); her uniquely illustrated edition of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style (2005); and children’s books, such as What Pete Ate A-Z, based on the real-life chewing adventures of her dog. Objects designed by her company are sold at the Museum of Modern Art and her set designs have been seen at Lincoln Center.

View Maira Kalman in action by visiting TED online (TED is a nonprofit devoted to “Ideas
Worth Spreading” in Technology, Entertainment, Design): The Illustrated Woman shows Kalman to be as wise and off-kilter in person as she is on paper. The annual TED conference brings together the world's most fascinating thinkers and challenges them to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. These mini-lectures are available online for free.

~Mirdza, Adult Services

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