Storytime for the Grown Ups

Sometimes kids get all the breaks. I ask you, when was the last time that you sat at the knees of someone who was willing to read to you, AND was able to read upside down so you could study the pictures? It happens for kids everyday in schools and libraries. 'All well and good', you might say, 'but who writes picture books for adults?' Maira Kalman, that's who.

I've been a fan of Kalman's work ever since I came across Ooh-la-la (Max in Love). The book, admittedly written for kids, tells the story of the poet dog Max, who goes to Paris, gains enlightenment and falls in love. At one point he is awakened by "a k-k-k-k-knocking" and into his hotel room enters "a long mustache followed by a man". The words 'long mustache' form the thing itself curled under the Parisian waiter's nose.

Kalman is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker, and has since illustrated The Elements of Style. Yes! How? You'll just have to take a look at it - it's hard to describe.

But my favorite of her recent offerings is The Principles of Uncertainty. The book is a mix of memoir, philosophical musing and photographic record - but the photographs are actually paintings. Paintings of people caught in different aspects: of the museum guard who sits in Proust's room; of elderly New Yorkers walking the streets; of Kalman's sister sitting at a kitchen table eating honey cake and telling stories. And all of it accompanied by prose that is matter-of-fact and poignant at the same time:

MY sister and I go to Israel during the short, furious, the world-is-doomed war. For a wedding. Because you CANNOT postpone weddings in DARK TIMES - especially in dark times. Who knows when the light will come on again. Are things normal? I don't know. Does life go on? YES.

Through her pictures and words, Kalman captures what is essential about life. So think about it next time you feel like a little storytime.

Find more of Maira Kalman's art here.