The blue armchair on the side of the street. The melted traffic cones on the corner of Route 2. The perfect cake in the window. Maira Kalman’s The Principles of Uncertainty is about these small moments, the moments we don’t often record or remember unless we’re obsessive journalers, drawers, or photographers.
The Principles of Uncertainty is one year of Kalman’s musings and moments, rendered in hand-drawn text, photographs, and luscious gouache paintings. It’s not about overarching narrative, and it’s difficult to find anything to call plot. Instead, readers are given glimpses and moments, obsessions and memories.
It reminded me of a walk I took this February, on a day when snow was merely drifting -rather than bucketing- and I collected snapshots of all the chairs reserving parking places. Why was I so interested in these chairs? Yes, they were a bit funny (especially the nice dining room set someone had put out), but they were also an excuse to look closer at the world around me, to turn a walk into a quiet adventure.
As I picked my way through the book this month, I found myself observing small moments in my daily life. The braid of hair lying in the left-turn lane. The hand-drawn map under the streetlamp. Where did it come from? Who was missing it?
Are these moments important? That depends. For those of us whose work is creative, the one moment could inspire something vastly greater, a painting or a novel. Or, it could just provide a smile as one waits for the bus. Regardless of the scale of impact, these moments have value. And perhaps that small take away is reason enough to read.
Thank you to those who joined us in a powerless Diesel Cafe to discuss this book. Next month we’re reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. We’d love for you to join us on Wednesday, July 29th at 7pm (Miranda’s birthday, by the way) to discuss the book. We’re trying something new this month as we read: mapping. As you read, map some aspect of the book- in whatever format “mapping” takes for you.