And the Pursuit of Happiness
With her trademark style, wit, sensitivity, and spontaneity, Maira Kalman guides a whirlwind tour of American democracy.
And the Pursuit of Happiness is beloved artist and author Maira Kalman's yearlong investigation of democracy and how it works. Energized and inspired by the 2008 elections, on inauguration day Kalman traveled to Washington, D.C., launching a national tour that would take her from a town hall meeting in Newfane, Vermont, to the inner chambers of the Supreme Court.
As we follow Kalman's wholly idiosyncratic journey, we fall in love with Lincoln alongside her as she imagines making a home for herself in the center of his magisterial memorial; ponder Alexis de Tocqueville's America; witness the inner workings of a Bronx middle-school student council; take a high-speed lesson in great American women in the National Portrait Gallery; and consider the cost of war to the brave American service families of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The observations she makes as she travels charm and inform, and-as we have come to expect with Kalman-the route is always one of fascinating indirection.
Kalman finds evidence of democracy at work all around us. And the cast of characters we meet along the way is rousing good company, featuring visits from Benjamin Franklin, Eleanor Roosevelt, and many others. And the Pursuit of Happiness is a remarkable tribute to our history and a powerful reminder of the potential our future holds, from a true national treasure.
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“[C]reating a work of art that is both political and devoid of cynicism is a tricky prospect. Maira Kalman doesn’t back down, though: her new book, And the Pursuit of Happiness, is unabashedly optimistic, thoughtful, and at times earnest… These little journeys—from the inauguration to an army base in Kentucky to Thanksgiving in California and the year’s end in Manhattan—are pitch-perfect, gentle and funny and beautifully drawn.” — NEW YORKER.com
“[A] lushly painted romp through the fringes of democracy… The deliberate warmth and obsessive everyday-ness of Kalman's work means that it's often labeled "whimsical," a precious term that belies its deeper value.” — THE WASHINGTON POST
“It's hard not to be heartened by Kalman's tenacious pursuit of happiness, conveyed in irregularly capitalized handwritten text interspersed with photographs, sketches and cheerful, color-saturated gouache paintings that evoke Matisse, especially, in their predilection for vivid reds, pinks, greens and yellows. It all adds up to a refreshing, unorthodox, upbeat—and most welcome—tribute to America.” — NPR.org
“Perhaps Kalman’s greatest gift is that her work embodies both the ironic and the earnest at their best, at the place where they come together and create lyrical, personal truth. She is such a magnanimous artist. She invites us, welcomes us, into the most intimate, unprotected place of all: daydreams. Who can resist her?”
— NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS blog
“[A]n impromptu interpretive dance about our country, executed in fat, frolicky color, unprissy brushstroke, a smattering of pleasantly pedestrian photographs and perfectly rambunctious penmanship… Oh, Maira. May we call you Maira? You are like the imaginary childhood friend we never had. Never mind, we have you now, and in these pages you give us your giant, wistful heart; your unfettered, inquisitive prose; and your loving renderings of hats, noses, despondency, public restrooms, a numbered Civil War grave, a Brooklyn sewage plant, Thomas Edison in a cream-colored suit, napping on the grass, and various fried eggs. Wait — this is democracy? In Kalman’s eclectic, catholic, ecstatically skewed view, yes. All this and more… Best of all, she leaves us curious, formulating our own questions, discovering what things we are burning to ask.”
— NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
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