Friday, January 28, 2011

And the Pursuit of Happiness - Maira Kalman




I saw on the news the other day that Amazon experienced the highest number of Kindle downloads this Christmas Day than all other days combined since its launch. E-readers are soon going to be a household device, and it makes alot of people nervous that this will eventually kill off the printed book, sending it the way of the dodo bird.

But if you have a chance to touch, feel and feast your eyes on this book, And the Pursuit of Happiness, you will know in your heart this is never going to happen. This is the best justification for a printed book I have ever seen in my life. This book is a work of art, meant to be cherished by all of your senses.

Synopsis: I am a bit confounded on how to describe this book. It is a graphic novel, sort of. It is a work of non-fiction, but that sounds dull. Travelogue? Personal musings? A dedication to American democracy? A love letter to the delights of food, and to simple pleasures? Sarah Vowell set to pictures? All of the above!

Maira Kalman, an illustrator and author, takes us along for a journey around the country, exploring little-known facts about our founding fathers, addressing each one and meanderingly related topics each month of the year. Sounds a little strange I know. Let me give you an example.

George and Martha Washington make an appearance. We get to see a picture of the flag he took into battle, learn how he loved Lafayette, had hippopotamus ivory teeth that were too big, and valued his library. Martha wore fancy shoes. Maira ruminates on how to achieve happiness, her answer being working, walking and going to museums.

Of course, we see alot of Lincoln because Maira is in love with him. Lincoln loved people, has 150 impersonators around the country, he had a dog named Fido, he loved apples and Mozart.



Maira ponders on whether there is such a thing as a military gene.

"Don't we need both the warriors and the artists on this planet? What if I were in the Army? Apart from an impeccably made bed, I can't imagine what else I could do. Fly a chinook? Peel potatoes? Or maybe be a hostess?"

We also are treated with a little John Adams, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, James Buchanan and Benjamin Franklin, who is featured on the cover. Apparently the women were "nuts for him with his brains and his crazy fur hat".

My thoughts: I loaned this book from the library, but I think I may need to own it. It is just beautiful, with its thick, glossy colorful pages and its heft. (I had to weigh it on my postal scale..over a pound!) But more than that, you will love this book for the way it makes you feel. It makes you feel good about our country, about determination and confidence, and about finding happiness in the smaller things in life. Like stately, plump tassels on a curtain, the perfect red eyebrows on a museum guard, or a great piece of pie.

Even thought the book is 471 pages long, you can read it in one sitting, or leisurely browse through it in a day or two. In all honestly, you will want it to last as long as possible, so your eyes can drink in Maira's quirky, rich illustrations and your psyche can soak up her child-like optimism.

This read is in a class by itself. Dedicate a Sunday afternoon to the cause, and I promise you will thank me.

5 out of 5 stars





18 comments:

Nymeth said...

Clearly you're on your way to becoming one of my go-to bloggers for GN recommendations. And you have no idea how happy that makes me :D

JoAnn said...

Just read this last week and agree with you 100%

Julie P. said...

Fantastic review. And I think it's one of those books that can be read over and over again.

Zibilee said...

I have heard so many good things about this book, and your wonderful review just confirms that I need to read this one. It's illustrations look divine, and the fact that it's so quirky really notches it up a few levels for me as well. Thanks for sharing this one with us. I am off to find a copy!

Kay said...

Sandy, I am totally fascinated with your description of this book. My library has a copy so I'll see about reserving it. Thanks for sharing!

Trisha said...

Yay for GNs! I actually saw GNs as eBooks not too long ago, and I almost cried. There is just no good way to transfer graphic novels to an eReader.

The Bumbles said...

I would call this a "Visiting Book" because it is a good one for visiting with when you have some spare moments. Others might call it a coffee table book but I think that sounds bo-ring.

I had no idea that was ole Ben on the cover - I've seen this cover for a while now and always thought it was some elderly woman looking for happiness and not looking as if she'd yet completed her search!

Avid Reader said...

This looks amazing! How have I never heard of it before? It's going on the must read list.

heidenkind said...

I was under the impression this was a comedy book, just from the appearance I've seen with the author. But from your review it doesn't sound like it....

caite said...

from what you say about it, it reminds me of a book I read..and loved.. a couple of years ago, When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler's Journey of Staying Put . At least in style, if not in subject. Charming drawings, witty writing... and proof that e-books are not the be all and end all.

Beth F said...

This make my top reads for 2010 list. If you haven't read Kalman before, then you should look for her other work. I've been a fan for quite a while.

Jenners said...

Sold!!! This sounds (and looks) like an amazing book ... and makes a case for why paper books will never fully disappear.

Alice Teh said...

This one sounds SO good! And looks good too. I read the first paragraph of your post and I was sold.

Iliana said...

This does sound like a wonderful read. And, you are right, although eReaders may be all the rage and that's cool I have no problem with that and even want one, I just can't imagine looking through a graphic novel or any other art book via an ereader.

Steve Anderson said...

This one does sound interesting. A book like that encourages me -- reminds me -- to actually go into a bookstore, like Powell's that I have right here in my hometown. Nice post. I think, if anything, the e-book surge will only emphasize that some books are better as bound and printed pieces. The two will exist side by side. We get books that deserve the paper treatment and great stories as e-books that don't need the crappy and wasteful paperback format. Man, you really got me thinking on a Sunday! Thanks.

Amy said...

I also think that this is a book totally worth owning! The illustrations are amazing and Maira Kalman's observations are powerful and fascinating.

I haven't read her new book but I will...soon I hope!

Kathleen said...

This definitely sounds like one that needs to be read in printed format not as an ebook!

Meg said...

I'm intrigued! Not one I would have picked up on my own, but you've definitely piqued my interest in graphic novels, Sandy.