Grammar lessons

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Grammar is not nearly as much fun as color. So Maira Kalman’s stylish illustrations for a new edition of the classic writer’s bible of rules, “The Elements of Style,” by the late, lamented William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, is the book’s most charming iteration yet (image by Kalman for “The Elements of Style.” I have lost the title).

The illustrations–small, sweet, naive-inspired gouache-on-paper images inspired by some of the rules, examples, headlines, even index items, from the book–are on exhibit at the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery.

The most exciting thing I got out of the show was the background information about Kalman, who is not only multi-talented but multi-networked and multi-successful (image, “Temple of Isis;” the “sun” is a light reflection in the glass, but it seemed to go with the subject matter).

Plus there’s the delicious fact that she has developed a new opera, the libretto based on texts from Strunk and White’s little book. Being a somewhat competitive person, I was relieved to learn she was not the composer, but she does embroider, and her embroidery is also now on exhibit in New York.

(Here’s an interview with Kalman from the Library Journal).

In case that info didn’t bowl you over, here’s a quote from the press release (image, “Wondering irresolutely what to do next, the clock struck twelve,” which, as you probably know, is an example of a dangling participle):

She is a polymathic and humorous graphic designer (M & Company, fabrics for Kate Spade, Maharam, and Isaac Mizrahi, …), set designer (for the ballet Four Saints in Three Acts for Mark Morris and Company) and noted illustrator (New York, New Yorker, Print). Kalman has written and illustrated a dozen children’s books including the popular Ooh La La, Swami on Rye … Her NEWYORKISTAN (with Rick Meyerowitz) cover for The New Yorker is deservedly famous. She is a co-founder (2001) with Alex Melamid (Komar & Melamid) of the Rubber Band Society, a group bound together by their love of rubber bands.

etc. etc. etc. Whew. She sounds like someone I’d like to know muchly (image, “Overly, Muchly, Thusly,” which is a section heading about words overly burdened with -ly suffixes).

Some of her illustrations are completely charming. Some of them are charming. Some of them, without the book, don’t stand up to the full gallery treatment. And without the book, some of the points that the images are making get lost. But in the book, which is what they were designed for, they all look great and make sense and are witty, to boot. There is a book on the desk inside the entrance to gallery.

I did come away wanting to buy the book for the many writers I know and love. Except, of course, every writer I know and love already owns a non-illustrated copy. Between Murray and me, we owned three copies when we united his book collection with mine 33 years ago. We’re now down to one because a year ago I decided to clean house (image, “A few matters of form”).

But if one copy of Strunk and White is essential, two must be even better. If the second is illustrated, that’s better yet.

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