four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
34-May-June-2008
By: 
Maira Kalman
user_rating: 
0

A-The Principles of UncertaintyEven if you don’t recognize illustrator and author Maira Kalman’s name, you’ve probably seen her work—from her children’s books about a dog named Max to New Yorker covers and an illustrated edition of The Elements of Style. You may also have seen the text and images of The Principles of Uncertainty, which began as an illustrated blog for the New York Times. The subject, simply put, is Kalman’s life. As she travels through the city and the world, Kalman considers the virtues of candy and dodo birds, happiness and hats, leaves disguised as eyeglasses, and other such meaning-filled objects, while continually trying to answer the question, "What is the point?" The book showcases Kalman’s eccentric but accessible illustrations and, perhaps more important, her irrepressible personality.
Penguin. 336 pages. $29.95. ISBN: 159420134X

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The element of style that unites Kalman’s verbal and visual sides is wit. Her personality spills onto the page, not just in her paintings but in her unorthodox associations, conveyed in irregularly capitalized, handwritten commentary that snakes across and around her artwork." Heller McAlpin

Minneapolis Star-Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"This is a unique, warmly intelligent book for the enjoyment of artists, writers and anyone who delights in works of genuine imagination." L. K. Hanson

New York Observer 4 of 5 Stars
"If you need someone to explain the connections between geography, history, philosophy, millinery, Bolsheviks, moss, all the stops on the F Train, stick insects, flamboyant desserts and what Goethe’s writings look like when embroidered, you’ve come to the right place." Barbara Yablon Maida

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"There were moments when all the sweets in this book did what too much sugar will: gave me a toothache and made me peevish. But then no one is saying you have to eat this whole bag of jellybeans in one sitting." Ariel Levy

Critical Summary

Reviewers were not faint in their praise of The Principles of Uncertainty, even if they spent most of their energy attempting to describe it. And no wonder: the list of items that Maira Kalman describes in the book could almost fill a book itself, even without her illustrations. Readers who are unfamiliar with Kalman’s work but respond to even a few items on that list should probably take a look at Principles. Those who know her children’s books or illustrations will be excited to see her take on a broader range of topics, including "the images and confusion of the dreamworld [that] linger in our waking hours" and create deep emotion and consciousness from her art (New York Times Book Review). But as with any book, the most important question will be whether the images—here, mostly visual—affect the reader’s own perceptions of the world.