Writing in Reading: Girls Standing on Lawns

Welcome to a new series, huzzah! In this series I want to review books from the perspective of what they teach me as a writer. Reading is an important hobby to me and while I learn a myriad of things from it I wanted to focus in on writing elements.

Up first: Girls Standing on Lawns by Maira Kalman and Daniel Handler


The first thing I really took away was the need to give yourself up to collaboration. Collaborations will change projects, they will not be the same as doing them on your own. This book was a collaboration of Kalman and Handler, but also of MoMA. In fact, MoMA had the most submissions, with only a few illustrations from Kalman and very little writing from Handler. I think what's important for me to learn here is that projects change through collaboration and that we can't be stubborn: we need to adapt to what is working as a team. This was a very different project than Why We Broke Up because of the added collaborator and that's allowed too - there's no form you ever have to be stuck in.


The next thing I picked up on was the power of simplicity. Daniel Handler, the writer in this photo/painting/writing collaboration, had very few contributions but they still felt very important. He was like a subtle narrator, nudging the ideas and concepts along. His stripped down phrases really reminded me that simple can be powerful. This is something that I often think about because it's an ideal that George Orwell (my true love) practiced and preached and what I think, in part, made him so successful.


Finally, and this isn't necessarily about writing, but can still be related to writing I think, I found Kalman's copies of pictures to not be redundant but in fact original. There's a big culture of "what you make has to be fully original or else it's not true genius!" in art and it's very limiting and pressuring. I'm constantly nervous that I'm copying things I've read or heard or seen without even thinking about it. While there definitely is plagiarism I found Kalman's blatant copying and reconstructing fantastic and liberating. She wasn't ripping anything off, she was making something new, something that only she could make, based on something else.


I hope that you enjoyed this! I hope to do more of them in the future as I read books that teach me new things about writing!