Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.
That’s one of the many reasons I walked out of Square Books in Oxford, MS, recently with writer and illustrator Maira Kalman’s newest book,“Women Holding Things.” I knew her of art only because one of her paintings depicting a soulful basset hound graced the cover of Strunk and White’s latest edition of “The Elements of Style.” That dog enticed me to upgrade my college-issued version of this grammar book several years ago.
After picking up the display copy of “Women Holding Things” on the bookstore table, I was immediately intrigued by this book’s title and cover art. I flipped the book over to look for the typical reviews or author bio. To my delight, I found only the following quote:
Nothing on the dustcover or the book flaps gives the reader any intel about the author, the artwork or the contents of the book. As I flipped through the pages with sparse words and expressive paintings, I found myself holding this book close without even thinking about what I was doing.
I browsed through pages with artwork that includes women holding the weight of the world, holding hands, holding grudges, holding pearls, holding court, holding true to herself and holding books. I ran my fingers over the substantial texture of the book’s pages and smelled that ink smell that only someone who loves books can detect.
After I thought I’d had my fill of holding this little piece of magic, I returned the book to its place on the table. I browsed a bit. I debated over buying a recent new novel or biography. I considered which box of notecards most matched my mood that day.
I returned to the book. I needed to read more. Kalman’s bare use of language reminded me to spend more time absorbing the vivid artwork. Then the artwork reminded me to think more carefully about what I hold dear and close and accountable and true in my life.
We left the store with this book after my husband bought it for my Easter basket gift.
I read the whole thing on the plane from Memphis to Charlotte.
I’ve read it again – twice.
This isn’t a book you borrow from the library. You must own it to hold onto the experience of running your hands over the pages – urging you to hold it tight in both delight and despair, in both the bigness of the world and the smallness of your life, in both the emotion of Kalman’s beautiful art and the pleasant exhaustion of her everyday words.
In the summer of 2022, I created my summer reading challenge to get off the screen and back to books by reading a book a week. My accountability was to write a series of Blink Book Reviews of 300ish words so someone could read them in a blink. This is the latest in this occasional ongoing series. Join my Blink Book Review Facebook group to get all the reviews and books suggestions from others.