It takes an unlikely restraint, upon finding buried treasure, not to go after it with a pickax. So we have Maira Kalman’s illustrated Elements of Style, in which the “rich deposits of gold” E.B. White found stashed in Strunk’s trunk have been mined for all they’re worth.
Kalman’s version has a red cloth cover, pretty watercolors, and flamboyantly tasteful textual additions (“hello” when you open it). Without a doubt, these are just the flourishes for the Strunk & White girl; if they go with your Kate Spade notebooks, it’s because Kalman masterminded those too. But I can’t help feeling, strongly, that style’s not something to color or sing about (see matching opera, by Nico Muhly) but something, simply, to practice.
It’s embarrassing even to write this. I’m sure my punctuation is wrong, and someone, not unlike me, will seize on it. No one loves the grammarian, but grammarians do love grammar. Frameworks themselves aren’t worth celebrating; it’s the roomy spaces inside them that matter. I like my crusty Style because it hints at, not enforces, just what you can do with it. Kalman’s, on the other hand, looks like the kind of art a grammarians’ totalitarian state might produce—if only, for once, they didn’t think so small.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 8, 2005