Book: And the Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman
Genre: an intriguing cross of Art and Civics
Publisher: The Penguin Press
Publication date: 2010
Summary: And the Pursuit of Happiness is a month-by-month art journal for a year of exploration and travel in the United States. The pages are filled with paintings (and the occasional photograph or embroidery piece) and handwritten reflections. The year begins with Martin Luther King Day and the inauguration of Barak Obama as President of the United States and ends with visits to Mount Vernon and the White House. In between, we visit other historic sites, Fort Campbell in Kentucky, and California. We see portraits of many famous people, but also many Americans whose names we don’t know — a guard at the National Gallery, a court clerk at the Supreme Court, and two men playing chess in a park in New York.
Thoughts: My favorite month is November, when the topic is food and the ruminations cover the evolution from agrarian to urban society, fast food, and edible school yards. The characters that appear in this chapter include Michael Pollan and Alice Waters.
But, that’s not the chapter that makes this most fun for an Independence Day post. Those are the chapters that appreciate the things that make the United States wonderful and disappointing and hopeful and wonderful again. The “madly fluttering flags” at the inauguration, the town meeting in Vermont where “people speak their mind with grace and civility,” the embroidered words of Abraham Lincoln, “that seem so apt today” (pp. 90-91):
The occasion is piled high with difficulty. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. A. Lincoln 1862
Here’s part of the July chapter, on page 242, after reflections on the inventiveness of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison:
Everything is invented. Language. Childhood. Careers. Relationships. Religion. Philosophy. The Future. They are not there for the plucking. They don’t exist in some natural state. They must be invented by people. And that, of course, is a great thing. Don’t mope in your room. Go invent something. That is the American message.
This book is filled with moments of humor, moments of sadness, moments of pride, moments of hope.
Appeal: And the Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman was a perfect quick read for the week leading up to Independence Day and would work equally well for other times when a bit of thought about and appreciation for the United States is in order. With the art work, it’s as appropriate for tweens as it is adults, although younger readers may need some help with historical allusions and the deeper meanings teased out of some of the words. This would be a marvelous book, in fact, to read with someone else, prompting discussions, shared memories, and deep thinking about the concepts underlying democracy, interspersed with levity and optimism.
Reviews: Two of my favorite book blogs included And the Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman on their Top 10 Lists for 2010.
- Beth Fish Reads: Wrapping Up 2010 (Including My Top Reads for the Year)
- Joyfully Retired: My Favorite Books In 2010
Kim in her review at Sophisticated Dorkiness, Review: And the Pursuit of Happiness by Maria Kalman, captures what I liked about the tone of this book, how it’s able to be critical without turning cynical, optimistic without being naive.
Have you read this book? What did you think?