October 12, 2006


Engagement Calendars: The ECOlogical Calendar; B. Kliban Cat Calendar; GoreyRARE: Thirty-Two Little-Known Works by Edward Gorey; Robert Bateman: Animals of the World. Pomegranate. $16.99 (ECOlogical); $14.99 each (all others).

365-Day Calendars: Shakespeare’s Insults; Latin for the Illiterati; The New York Times Crossword Puzzles; M.C. Escher. Pomegranate. $11.99 each (Shakespeare; Latin); $12.99 each (Crossword; Escher).

     With so many people keeping track of appointments on cell phones, personal digital assistants and laptop computers, it’s fair to ask what a desktop engagement calendar still adds to one’s life.  The answer, at least in the case of Pomegranate calendars, is: beauty, interesting information, something offbeat for every day, or some combination of these.  Beauty, to be sure, is not enough when it comes to spiral-bound engagement calendars, although it can be for wall calendars.  Desktop planners take up valuable work space and need more than attractiveness to justify their existence.  So the question is what you want from a calendar that will cover, when left open, some 112 square inches of your desk.

     If you want a calendar to help transport you away from the office, to help you see yourself in the context of the world and the universe, to assist you in understanding that ticking-clock time is only a small part of the progress of the year, then consider The ECOlogical Calendar, in which every two-page weekly spread gives a cross-section of that time of year, with annotations explaining what is happening to planets, stars, meteorological phenomena and more.  This calendar is similar to Pomegranate’s wall calendar of the same name, but takes up much less space.  However, if you want it for planning purposes, look at it carefully before buying: right-hand pages list the days of each week, Monday through Sunday, but do not say Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and so on; and the amount of room in which to write is limited.

     The B. Kliban Cat Calendar has charms of a very different sort, but it too has design elements to think about before purchase.  Kliban’s cats spread out all over the pages, in bright colors: packed like sardines, or searching for dropped keys, or barbecuing pineapples using “mousquite charcoal.”  You needn’t be a cat fancier to find these offbeat illustrations charming.  But here’s the rub: each week is split between two pages, with Monday through Wednesday on the left and Thursday through Sunday on the right.  And because of the design, Wednesday has almost no space in which to write anything.  Be sure your work style will let you enjoy this layout.

     Somewhat more conventional in format are the GoreyRARE and Robert Bateman calendars.  True, some two-page spreads have weeks on both sides, without illustrations; while elsewhere, some weeks appear on the left and some on the right.  But each day has equal writing space, and the layout makes these calendars easy to use for tracking appointments, meetings, phone calls, and so on.  GoreyRARE is a gem, featuring almost three dozen of the artist’s ever-slightly-askew views of whatever world he was living in, all with outstanding use of crosshatching and highly detailed portrayals of some characters who are very strange indeed.  From “The Pedalling Palludinis” (a color portrait of the riders of what seems to be a bicycle built for seven) to an Escheresque scene in which a huge plant peeks out of a doorway, outside of which stands a four-legged skeleton, while a dreamy-eyed woman stares out a window that is surrounded by plumbing, these unusual drawings show Gorey at his best.  As for Bateman, he is at his best in the beautiful nature paintings presented in his 2007 calendar – each accompanied by his brief explanation of what occasioned a work (“one winter day I observed this pair of Canada geese as they lifted off”) or what gives it meaning for him (“the jaguar…stands as a symbol of the disappearing rainforests”).  Bateman says his calendar can be used for “a journaling of thoughts and nature observations” as well as for tracking appointments – a thoughtful suggestion.

     Unlike engagement calendars, 365-day ones have no reason for being other than enjoyment.  Each weekday, Pomegranate gives you something else to contemplate – with a single page for both weekend days.  Shakespeare’s Insults is a perennial charmer, if “charmer” is the right word: “Not Hercules could have knocked out his brains, for he has none,” wrote the Bard of Avon in Cymbeline.  Best not to say these out loud while at work – although if you work in academia, the temptation may occasionally prove overwhelming.  As for Latin for the Illiterati, it may be a bit of an acquired – or rarefied – taste, but there are so many delights in this compendium of Latin phrases and comments that even the non-scholar (and non-lawyer) will find much to enjoy.  This is by no means all erudition: you can invite a colleague out for an after-work drink by saying, Bonum vinum laetificat cor hominis (good wine makes men’s hearts rejoice), and develop quite an interesting relationship if he or she accepts.

     Shakespeare and Latin both find their way into The New York Times Crossword Puzzles now and again, and if puzzles are a way you keep your mind nimble – and manage the down time that is inevitable during any work day – this calendar will be a year-long delight.  One of its best features is that it progresses as the week goes on: Monday’s puzzle is fairly straightforward, Tuesday’s is harder, Wednesday’s more difficult still, and so on.  Plan to take the Saturday-Sunday puzzle page home – it’s the toughest of all.  And if all these verbal gymnastics – Shakespeare, Latin, crossword puzzles – make you long for a much more visual calendar experience, you can scarcely go wrong with the new M.C. Escher offering, which includes a generous selection of details from his woodcuts, watercolors, pencil and ink drawings, and more.  Actually, there is verbiage here, too: each weekend page includes an excerpt from Escher’s writings, revealing some of the thinking that went into his art and artistry.  The whole calendar is a feast for the intellect – sure to help keep you sharp throughout 2007.

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