My jaw dropped when I first found the book at Monograph Bookwerks, an eclectic art + architecture bookstore in Northeast Portland. (Go there soon, some afternoon when it’s still raining out, for a hunker-down-&-read.)
I sat down in the corner while Lyle talked to one of the shop-owners about letterpress geekery. The book was so familiar, with its irregular handwriting, vivid watercolors, pasted-in photographs, and whimsical index. It gave me the wonderful sense that I’d discovered someone’s (perhaps intentionally) lost commonplace book. I read as much as I could, then promptly forgot the title. It became one of those book-wisps that haunt your dreams. I was pretty sure I had made it up and wouldn’t find it again.
Then one Sunday I ventured out of my usual Powell’s migration route (poetry—-> cafe—–>poetry——-> fiction—–> cookbooks—-> mythology—-> small press) and ended up in the art section (of all places!) which I now plan to peruse more often.
And there it was. The Principles of Uncertainty, an entirely hand-drawn and hand-lettered masterpiece, by Maira Kalman. It follows no apparent logic or chronology or -ology of any kind, except for its own. It’s made by a creative, talented woman who illustrated the recent redux of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, among many other books and contributions….like, say, the covers and interiors of dozens of issues of The New Yorker.
And of course (of course!) The Principles of Uncertainty (along with its sequel, And the Pursuit of Happiness) was originally published in installments, as part of an online series for The New York Times.
It begins, “How can I tell you everything that’s in my heart. Impossible to begin. Enough. No. Begin. With the hapless Dodo…” In the middle, there’s a wander through Paris…trees…hats… and at the end there’s a fold-out map. But how can I tell you everything that’s in this book. Impossible. (No, that is actually impossible.)
I bought it for my dad, who is one of the most creative, talented people I know, and who’s also going through a time of uncertainty right now. (See this Community Forum piece.) When all’s said and done, I think he’ll have an insightful, creative thing or two to say about such principles. In the meantime, this book is the perfect backyard hammock companion, post-snack and prior to a well-deserved nap.
And in the ubermeantime, before I mail it, I get to finish reading it…