Via a New York Times article called “Style Gets New Elements,” I discovered this morning that Penguin Press has come out with a version of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style which (or is it that? perhaps I should look that up) includes illustrations by the artist Maria Kalman.
What did she illustrate, you ask? As the article reports:
In the new clothbound edition, Ms. Kalman’s whimsical paintings are sprinkled through the text, often responding to the wry or quirky examples the authors chose to enliven what might otherwise have been a dry discussion of grammatical rules. On the topic of pronoun cases, they offer: “Polly loves cake more than she loves me.” On the uses of the dash: “His first thought on getting out of bed – if he had any thought at all – was to get back in again.” Ms. Kalman had no shortage of material.
I routinely teach The Elements of Style in an advanced writing class I teach called “Writing, Style, and Technology.” I won’t belabor it now, but my goal in teaching the book is to problematize it because, while I think Strunk and White offer a lot of good advice, I also think they offer a fair amount of bad or just plain “wrong” advice, too. And, along the way, they have a lot of kind of strange examples– thus the illustrations, which are a hoot.
The illustrations aren’t designed to explain the rules at all; rather, they are pieces of art that take their inspiration from the rules themselves. The result is some very funny and charming pictures, and I think it has this effect on the original that I can’t quite put my finger on yet. But basically, I think the illustrations change the book from being a bunch of pretty static and straight-forward rules into a kind of strange and surrealist “art” piece.
But wait– there’s more. According to The NYT:
…the young composer Nico Muhly offers a finely wrought “Elements of Style” song cycle, to be given its premiere tonight at 8 in a highly unusual, if oddly appropriate, concert setting: the Rose Main Reading Room of the New York Public Library.
Oh, and at the end of the article, they quote a letter White wrote in 1981 that mentions a ballet based on The Elements of Style.
At some point in the (hopefully) near future, I think I’d like to/need to write some sort of review or article about this thing. I don’t know who would publish it, but….