November 01, 2007


2008 Calendars: Engagement – The New Yorker Desk Diary; Day-to-Day – Pearls Before Swine; The Word Origin Calendar; The Golden Compass; Tangram Magnetic Puzzle-a-Day; Wall – The Museum of Modern Art: Monster Movies. Andrews McMeel. $29.95 (New Yorker); $11.99 each (Pearls; Word); $13.99 (Golden); $14.99 (Tangram); $13.99 (Monster).

      Still haven’t decided what you want on your desk or wall next year? Never fear: there are plenty of wonderful and unusual choices out there. To channel your inner executive (or your outer one, if you’re an executive already), take a look at the handsomely bound and distinctive New Yorker Desk Diary, which is unusually well laid out for tracking appointments (with lines for hour-by-hour setups of calls and meetings on weekdays from 8 a.m. to “evening,” plus space for weekend must-dos) and which features one of the inimitable New Yorker cartoons on every two-page spread. Doctor, handing patient a prescription: “Try this – I just bought a hundred shares.” One of the two well-dressed women on a couch, to the other: “Can you imagine what he would look like without money?” As a bonus, the book includes six recent winners of the magazine’s Caption Contest, which invites readers to think up cartoon captions to capture the imagination of the magazine’s editors.

      A little too hoity-toity, perhaps? Prefer a day-to-day calendar, with pages you tear off? How about going all the way downscale to Pearls Before Swine, the darkly hilarious comic strip by Stephan Pastis? The 2008 Pearls calendar includes such gems as Pig dancing the hula, Rat proclaiming himself the world’s most superior being (as usual), and two of the not-too-bright crocodiles becoming roadkill and ending up way underground, leading to this calendar’s title, Dis Not Plan Me Have in Mind, Floyd.

      Does that word use, or misuse, trouble you? Perhaps you’d prefer The Word Origin Calendar, which includes brand names and clichés as well as everyday words. Want a little background on “blasé,” “goody two shoes” or the Brooklyn Dodgers? It’s here – along with hundreds of other definitions and bits of the history of the English language and its users.

      Some of the best modern use of English – at least in books ostensibly for younger readers – comes from Philip Pullman in his trilogy, His Dark Materials. The first book of the series, The Golden Compass, has now been made into a special-effects-spectacular movie, and that film is the basis of The Golden Compass 2008 Calendar. Whether you have seen the movie or not, you will find this selection of scenes from it – featuring witch queens, ice bears, and heroine Lyra Belacqua and the golden compass (officially known as an alethiometer) that helps guide her – to be fascinating glimpses of the visualization of a modern classic. Each page explains something about the inhabitants of Pullman’s complex and extraordinarily well-realized alternative worlds, giving book and movie fans alike something to think about.

      But what if you like to exercise your fingers as well as your mind? How about Tangram Magnetic Puzzle-a-Day, which is the heaviest day-to-day calendar around (well over two pounds) and provides a brief daily dose of fiddle-around-with-something time? Actually, it can provide a lengthy dose, since some of these Tangram puzzles – which involve rearranging seven shapes into hundreds of different configurations – are really difficult. Solutions are provided for days on which you just can’t figure out how everything fits together.

      Over at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the custodians of great art have managed to fit together a wall calendar with, shall we say, somewhat lesser art. It’s hard to imagine a fan of really bad sci-fi flicks who would turn up his or her nose at this beauty. Actually, it’s hard to imagine a fan of these flicks turning up his or her nose at almost anything; but in truth, the full-color posters advertising these delightfully awful movies (not all of which were themselves in color) are triumphs of really bad (but really effective) graphic design. A couple of these films have become classics of a kind, including the original versions of The Blob and The Fly. But even the movies that dwell in deserved obscurity have posters that are worth a look. There’s Invasion of the Saucer-Men (complete with hyphen), which features a perfect illustration of type BEM (bug-eyed monster clutching a scantily clad human woman); Attack of the Crab Monsters, another BEM offering; The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, whose poster is weirder than the film; It! The Terror from Beyond Space, featuring a truly awful title; and half a dozen more – one heaping helping of the strange and silly per month. Hey – maybe if you hang this on your cubicle wall, you’ll keep all the straitlaced coworkers out. Or at least find out who the truly weird ones are (they’ll want to hang around longer).

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