November 20, 2008


2009 Calendars: Day-to-Day—Mind-Bending Puzzles; Anguished English; Wall—Antique Maps; Desk—CatCalendar. Pomegranate. $12.99 each (Day-to-Day); $13.99 (Wall); $14.99 (Desk).

Holiday Cards: CatTidings; Winter Trees. Pomegranate. $15 each.

     It’s that time of year: celebrate winter holidays and get ready for a restart of the calendar. And what better way to celebrate than to get calendars that will engage your eyes and mind throughout 2009? That is easily done with the offerings from Pomegranate, which each year produces a truly amazing array of intelligent, amusing, artful, focused, traditional, unusual and always high-quality calendars – with subject matter so varied that the Pomegranate line can be a bit overwhelming. What all the calendars share is very high quality: they are well researched and well made, and are sure to keep you engaged all year with whatever subject you choose.

     A couple of mind-twisting (or mind-amusing) examples from among many are Mind-Bending Puzzles and Anguished English. The first of these 365-day calendars was put together by Nathan Haselbauer, founder and president of the International High IQ Society, But don’t be intimidated by all the “high IQ” stuff: this calendar is packed with puzzles to challenge your mind, not make you feel inferior. There are six different puzzle categories, so even if you don’t like verbal analogies and math (perhaps they remind you of SAT tests), you may enjoy fact questions, visual memory, or sequential or analytical reasoning. One day may show you a set of words and ask which does not belong; another may show you irregularly shaped pieces that combine to form a square, then throw in an additional piece and ask how you can form another square; still another may be an old-fashioned word problem similar to those on (yes) the SAT. Of course, you have a full day to solve each problem (a full weekend for Saturday and Sunday problems: those days share puzzles and pages); and yes, the answers are provided if you just can’t wait or want to check yourself. This calendar’s pages are especially useful for note-taking (or figuring out the problems): each has a generous amount of blank, lined space beneath its puzzle.

     Anguished English tickles the funnybone more than the mind. Richard Lederer’s perennially popular compilation of malapropisms includes errors by journalists, teachers, doctors, and many others who really should know better – how about a headline reading, “Death Causes Change”? These are real-world mistakes, too, which makes them both funnier and somehow more worrisome.

     Of course, our idea of the real world has changed dramatically over time; and if you are looking for a striking wall calendar that shows a number of beautifully rendered maps of how people used to think the world looked, you will love the gorgeous Antique Maps calendar, showcasing cartography from the British Museum. The oldest of these maps are Flemish ones from 1571, including several by Abraham Ortelius and one by Gerardus Mercator, for whom the Mercator flat-world projection is named; there is also a Mercator map from 1595. The most recent map is a Portuguese one of Africa that dates to the early 1840s. Accuracy or inaccuracy aside, these maps are true works of art, a pleasure to examine again and again for their detail, coloring and gorgeous draughtsmanship. Each one of the 12 is worth looking at for a full month based simply on its coloration and shape.

     Colors and shapes are also in the forefront of the amusing drawings of B. (for Bernard) “Hap” Kliban (1935-1990), and you really don’t have to be a cat lover to appreciate Kliban’s pictures of things that sort of look like cats but equally resemble small aliens from a planet not too different from ours. A plump cat flying thanks to itty-bitty wings? A cat walking along at the bottom of page after page, wearing four cowboy boots with spurs? A cat sitting on a park bench, feeding riotously colored birds, from flamingos to peacocks? You can find all of them in the 2009 CatCalendar, which is in spiral-bound, open-flat desktop format. Desk or engagement calendars have lost popularity as electronic organizers have gained it, but no PDA can match the solidity, the colorfulness or the wonderful illustrations of this calendar; and no PDA can let you see so much of your week at a quick glance. CatCalendar does not, however, let you see your whole week at one time, unless you are careful to avoid adorning it with Post-It notes, bills to be paid that week, etc. The reason is that this calendar splits weeks between pages – three days on the left page, four on the right, with Wednesday’s space often shortchanged to allow more room for art. The result is that CatCalendar is delightful to look at, but it may not be an ideal planning tool – at least for business purposes. How about for home, or a home office?

     Kliban’s fine and funny felines also adorn some of the holiday cards you can send to share wishes of the season and welcome people to the upcoming year. One cat in the 20-card set called CatTidings actually behaves like a real-world feline, climbing a Christmas tree to get to the star on top – while the treetop bends under the cat’s weight and the star stays just out of reach. The other cards here are more Klibanic than real-life feline: one cat is adorned with a colorful wreath; one sports huge antlers and is apparently connected to Santa’s sleigh; and one card shows two cats, one outside a big wooden crate and the other, wearing a big bow, inside. Cat lovers, of course, will especially enjoy CatTidings, but the cards are amusing enough for just about anyone.

     If you prefer something more fully from real life, though, consider Pomegranate’s extensive line of Sierra Club cards. A portion of their purchase price goes to the Sierra Club – and the cards themselves make strong arguments for preserving the beauty of the natural world. One example is the box called Winter Trees, which includes 20 cards – five each of evergreens gently coated or completely covered with snow, in settings ranging from a thick forest to a woodland’s outskirts. The pictures by Oregon photographer Dennis Frates fully capture both the beauty and the serenity of snow upon trees, giving a sense of the peace that passeth all understanding that, for many people, represents the true meaning of this winter holiday season.

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