Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman

The Principles of Uncertainty is a collection of Maira Kalman's online New York Times column of the same name (in an interview on the Penguin website, she explains that: "It refers to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which relates to quantum mechanics and it goes without saying that I don’t understand any of it. The editor in chief of the New York Times op-ed page thought of the title. When I told him what I wanted to write about—life, love, death, confusion, and hope—he felt this was an appropriate name for the column." I had never read the column until the Penguin Press published this lovely hardcover book--and even now I am just realizing that I have not gotten into the habit of reading her new blog, And the Pursuit of Happiness, on a regular basis (I have just taken a break from typing this to add it to my Google Reader).

The package is absolutely gorgeous--I love these endpapers, and the handwritten flaps. It feels quite heavy--a substantial book.

The back is pretty nice too.

The bulk of the work consists of Kalman's paintings (like this one from a trip to Coney Island).

But there are also many photographs, handwritten pages, and even some embroidery. (I love how the sides of the pages are streaked with color.)

But mostly paintings. Like this one based on a photograph by the great Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Or this one based on a photo taken in London in a library bombed in the Blitz. She touches on happy times and sad times (but mostly happy--and colorful for that matter) but every picture contains a poignancy under the surface.

Most of all though, I like her paintings of objects

and food.

Towards the end of the book there is an insert of a handdrawn map of the United States by Sara Berman. I have never actually seen this map, as the perforation has been left undisturbed. It instructs you to: "Either put it on the wall or put it back into the book. If you put it back into the book, it may one day fall out when someone browses through the book and it will become a thing that falls out of a book." (There is a lovely page in the appendix that features other items that can fall out of a book--newspaper clippings, photographs, shopping lists, etc.) I suppose I have defied the author by neither hanging it on the wall or tearing it out and slipping it back into the book, but I just can't bring myself to tear it out at all.

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