I Heart Maira

Oh, Maira Kalman! I feel my words are inadequate to express my love for your work. If only I could paint a picture of a charming lady in a beautiful hat. Yes, that might do it. Especially if she were unassuming, noble, and unexpected.

I spent an evening reading this lovely picture-book-for-adults this weekend, which was a pure pleasure. Comics don’t always enthrall me, but Kalman’s world is complex, beautiful, and sad — I can’t help but want to stay forever in her New York or Tel Aviv or 19th-century Russia.

“Principles of Uncertainty” is a compilation of columns Kalman wrote for the New York Times. There isn’t so much a narrative arc in the book as a beautifully crafted tone that infects a series of anecdotes and character sketches. The people she studies range from the passer-by to Sigmund Freud, and she brings her gracious wit to every page. The premise of the book is that Kalman is searching for “who she is”: a premise that usually diminishes hopelessly into cliché. But by the end, I was consumed by the reassuring complexity of her description, and  felt convinced that her search was not conclusive, but it certainly wasn’t fruitless. I even felt like I could apply that lesson to my own existential crises as they bubble up.

It is unbecoming to gush, but I cannot help it. Read this book. I think it will make you a better person.

And then, once you have fallen for Ms. Kalman and her be-hatted women, check out her most recent NYT column and her TED talk.

File this one under Women Who Rule.

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January 2010
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