Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Love of People

    Reading Kalman, I was struck by really whimsical and lighthearted quality of her work. Even when she waxes melancholy she often retains this generally pleasant air. What I found most amusing were her exclamations of delight and wonder; for instance, when she raves about “a seven-layer chocolate cake with a cherry on top!!” (91), I found it funny just to see how excited she was about a cake. Her descriptions of people also often focus on amusing things—she calls a woman at the opera “a pink soft ice cream of a woman,” and tells her “brava!” simply because she was sipping from a cone-shaped paper cup (256). Calling the woman an ice cream is funny enough, but the absurdity of celebrating her cup choices was what I laughed at. Kalman’s humor seems almost to have a childlike quality where she is genuinely delighted at little things like cone-shaped cups of water drunk by ice cream-women. It makes her work very fun to read.

     Her affectionate portrayals of people, including those whom we would often miss, like hunched-over old people or strangers on the street who just happen to have a nice hat, seems to me to be the core of her work and what gives it this positive feel-good quality. Particularly when she provides us with actual photographs, I find her work similar to the Humans of New York profile collection. Humans of New York is the name of a collection of photos taken by Brandon Stanton that documents various people on the street. Each picture is accompanied by a little story from the subject themselves. These stories range from heartbreaking to cheerful, and Stanton also tends to focus on both the eccentrics and those in society who do not usually get to tell their stories, like homeless individuals. Kalman and Stanton both have this real love of people that drives their work and makes the humorous moments in their stories a joy to a read. It is a humor grounded in a good-naturedness that celebrates life; for Kalman, even though she struggles with grief and despair, her ability to feel wonder and find happiness in observing the people on the subway makes her work ultimately uplifting, which supports the humor. 

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