Tag Archives: maira kalman

The Cure for Winter Blues.

As we inch closer and closer to the shortest day of the year (and the subsequent three months of winter), I have begun stockpiling my winter survival resources. I tend to feel pretty dreary and sluggish in the winter months, which is why I try to incorporate as many happy-making rituals into the dark days as possible, namely by making lots of soups and reading lots of comics. Luckily, this has been a swell year for comics, and I’m excited that Kate Beaton’s long-running web comic has finally been released in an handsome book edition, simply titled Hark! A Vagrant. If you’re a follower of Beaton you’ll delight in the re-packaging, and if you’re new to her work then you’re in for a very special treat. Her comics deal largely with historical and literary figures, brought to life with fun, jaunty line drawings and wonderfully goofy facial expressions.

Lynda Barry also has a collection coming out called Everything: Volume 1. This is not a collection of new comics, but probably the next best thing–a collection of her earliest (and little seen) work from back in her college days. More volumes to come!

I am also a fan of the lovely, colorful, and whimsical art work of Maira Kalman. Her latest, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manifesto, is also not a new work, but instead a collaboration between the artist and Michael Pollan that reimagines and dresses up his original book from 2009.

As if these three books weren’t enough to keep us all busy well into winter, here are some bonus suggestions from friends and co-workers:

Life with Mr. Dangerous by  Paul Hornschemeier

Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba

The Essex County comics of Jeff Lemire

Habibi by Craig Thompson

Marzi by Marzena Sowa

Happy winter reading,



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For Wendell Berry’s Birthday

Wendell Berry will celebrate his 77th birthday August 5. If I were going to send him a card, this is the message I would write.

“Si hortum in bibliotheca habes, deerit nihil.” If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.

Cicero wrote this phrase to a friend. A more literal translation is “If you have a garden in your library, nothing will fail.” Cicero probably meant the garden as a place to converse, though I like the image of an actual garden in the library. We have an actual garden at CLP — Main. It’s a bamboo garden, a place for sitting out of doors, within the Library’s walls.

I found the Cicero quote on page 402 of Maira Kalman‘s through-the-year picture book for adults, And the Pursuit of Happiness. Fellow-blogger Tony introduced this book in a previous 11th Stack post, and I call your attention to “Back to the Land,” the November chapter, which could easily have been dedicated to Wendell Berry.

In “Back to the Land,” Kalman begins by musing about fast food in this country.

Thanksgiving. Since the beginning, Americans have connected the bounty of the land and the goodness of life to democracy. Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison—farmers all—evnisioned an agrarian society. We have since evolved into a very different kind of society. There are those of us who are not farmers. Take me, for instance. I live in a city of pretty fast talkers and fast walkers. And we have fast food. Every city does. And every suburb. And every little bit of the country has very fast food. If you eat too much of this food you become sick and also fatafat. . . . You would need to walk to California to work off the excess. Which is what I did. In my head.

Kalman has lunch at Alice Water’s restaurant Chez Panisse, where the kitchen warms her heart. She visits Bob Cannard’s organic farm. “He believes there is no such thing as a bad bug.” She walks with Michael Pollan, and he picks mushrooms. She visits an edible schoolyard in Berkeley where middle schoolers work a huge vegetable garden, churn butter, roast peppers, eat together and clean up afterwards.

Then Kalman muses.

Now I am getting flashbacks to the ’60s. But it is different. It is not dropping out (though that sounds tempting now and then). It is bringing elemental things to the present time with commerce and optimism. Can that work? Can giant agribusiness shrink, while true organic farms grow? Can the elitism of a farmer’s martket shift so that the organic farms can be subsidized and that prices are reasonable for all people? That would be a democracy of healthy eating.

Wendell Berry’s message that “eating is an agricultural act,” explored in four decades of his poems, essays, and novels, continues to resound. I close with a Berry quotation from an essay in Orion magazine.

We need to confront honestly the issue of scale. Bigness has a charm and a drama that are seductive, especially to politicians and financiers; but bigness promotes greed, indifference, and damage, and often bigness is not necessary. You may need a large corporation to run an airline or to manufacture cars, but you don’t need a large corporation to raise a chicken or a hog. You don’t need a large corporation to process local food . . . and market it locally.


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Maira Kalman and the good things.

My dream dinner guest is Maira Kalman. I want to cook something for her, I want to have a cup of tea with her, and then I want to for a long walk with her. If you are familiar with any of Ms. Kalman’s wide range of work, you may understand why I beam at the mention of her name. For those unfamiliar, may I take a moment of your time to recommend her work.

Ms. Kalman is probably most well known for her work on The New York Times blog site. It is from this site that she compiled the observations and stories that make up her most recent works. Before that time, she worked primarily as a children’s book illustrator, but also making a known name with work in The New Yorker and as a designer.

What may be most fun about Kalman’s work is describing it. The Principles of Uncertainty, which was my introduction to her, is a volume of daily observations made simply, but with grace and elegance (“A cheeseburger deluxe, things are really deluxe around here,” she muses at a cheeseburger ordered at a diner). But whether praising  the watermelon man or Goethe’s Faust, she does it with a knowledgable yet lighthearted air, allowing the reader to slow down, and appreciate on their own the occasional levity of life.

Her newest work, And the Pursuit of Happiness, is no different. I devoured and loved every page of this book. This time around, she uses her natural enthusiasm towards a more common, dedicated approach – the study of history. The book jacket features a very unique illustration of Benjamin Franklin on the cover, and on the back, a piece of pie, and the words, “History makes you hungry.” Kalman is at the inauguration of President Obama, she visits Monticello and muses on Jefferson, and dines at the Supreme Court cafeteria – giving each the time she feels, and the reader will in turn agree, they so rightfully deserve.

Kalman reminds us that there is always much to talk about, much to learn, and much to notice. And with that, I leave you to explore on your own.

– Tony


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