Everyone has favorite things.
Julie Andrews sang a whole song about hers as she floated around mountain landscapes and swung around light poles.
I think it’s important to have favorite things, and even more, it’s important to have unusual things that don’t make sense to anyone but you because you’ve added some sort of sentimentality to the object itself. I keep my grandmother’s strainer under the sink, not because it still works, but because sometimes I bring it out just to filter my kitchen light. It’s got a star design of holes and it reminds me of a Christmas luminary. Every so often, I need that speckled sunshine on my kitchen floors.
Maira Kalman wrote another fabulous illustrated memoir about some of her favorite things. Things she found in museums, in the muse of her childhood, on the side of old neighborhood streets, in fancy living rooms, books, embroideries. In every Maria Kalman book I’ve ever read (even illustrations in current YA novels), she gives me some philosophy about life that opens the doors of my soul so I can hear the singing. This one is no different. My Favorite Things is built like a small gift, fabric binding, smooth hardcover, and vintage decorated inside cover and endpaper.
I just think she’s so unusually creative. She has an eye for quirky elegance like listing both Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh pages in her favorite things, as well as a collection of obtuse hats. From a man lying in the park with a pug to Abraham Lincoln memorabilia, Kalman is looking at the world through the holes of a flower petal and the telescope of history. This book originally began as a way to showcase the new Cooper Hewitt collection for the Smithsonian Design Museum. However, it becomes this interweaving of life story, and how life story impacts the baggage we bring with us into a museum. I might carry a large purse, but I find art compelling when it tells me something about myself, or my world. It’s hard for me to connect to art when it doesn’t seem to deal inherently with me. I’m sure that’s totally egocentric, but I think I match a typical American. Art inspires because it smoothes and then oils the gears within us.
I think this is something Kalman has conquered with her favorite things, and her other books. I am always inspired, I found myself turning the page just to see if we could share a story. This is the best part of the book, it’s both memoir and trinket collection. She tells the story of embroidery she stitched after her mother’s death, my favorite being, “my rigid heart is tenderly unmanned.” In another moment, she photographs a spoon with engraved initials, it says, “Before there were forks, there were spoons. The spoon can be used by a baby, by a person eating soup. Watching a person eat soup can break your heart.”
She even jokes about fringes being added to Lincoln’s pall that covered his coffin. It’s both a story about the life of a woman, and the story about history as told through the eyes of the viewer, even the late-comer who views history much after it’s happened. She is the eyes of the museum-goer, the photographer, the backpack traveler, the person who wants to reach out and touch the gold pot on the mantle in the Biltmore House, but resists just in case it trembles. I adore Maira Kalman and I even almost used this book as a diary. I wanted to write on the pages that she colored. I’ve held back to keep it pristine, but I hope someone gets that close to this book. It’s never a blush to get intimate with a good read.