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Posts tagged "books"

Hi folks! I’m back again with another of my book reviews. Last time I was discussing Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road… and now it’s time for something completely different. As promised, I picked up Sir Terry Pratchett's Going Postal, a book from his Discworld series which stands alone.

Cover of Going Postal

Going Postal's main character is Moist van Lipwig, a con artist given the “option” of turning over a new leaf and breathing life back in Ankh-Morpork’s postal service, which means we start the book with his “execution”, and it takes a while to get round to the post office part. Once it does, the results are a little dismaying for those of us hooked on sending postcards: mail hasn’t been delivered for years, and mostly lies around in heaps in the building, threatening avalanches and blocking off rooms. Moist clearly has his work cut out for him.

As with most of Pratchett’s work, Going Postal is full of humour: that kind of humour that hits the nail on the head. Take this quote about librarians:

People flock in, nevertheless, in search of answers to those questions only librarians are considered to be able to answer, such as “Is this the laundry?” “How do you spell surreptitious?” and, on a regular basis, “Do you have a book I remember reading once? It had a red cover and it turned out they were twins.”

Having worked in a community library for a while, I can tell you that you really don’t go long before you get asked questions like that!

I never really got into the Discworld books before I read Going Postal, but it turned out that what everyone kept telling me was true: sometimes, you just have to find the right book to start with. For me, that was this book, with Moist and the golems and the gargantuan task of not only getting the post back up and running, but also fulfilling some prophecies, avoiding assassination, keeping Lord Vetinari happy, and winning some pretty epic bets. The postal service is at the heart of Going Postal, as you’d expect, and Pratchett’s very conscious of how important those connections between people are, even amidst his humour.

I have to admit that some of the scenes got a little too into the slapstick end of humour for me: there’s an initiation for Moist as a proper postman, once he’s persuaded people to come back and start posting letters, and it relies on things like Moist falling over random items (because postmen end up falling over things in the line of duty, like rollerskates left lying around). It’s a bit heavy-handed at times… but there’s a lot of the intelligent humour that comes from playing with words or saying things which are true in a funny way, too. Moist is a scoundrel, but he grows on you—I found myself really wanting to know how Moist would figure things out and get the mail delivered.

Overall, I’m glad I decided to read this! I’m pretty sure I’ll read Making Money (another Discworld book featuring Moist) in the near future.

Cover of Long Live The Post Horn!

That said, my next review for this blog will be a review of the English translation of Long Live the Post Horn! by Vigdis Hjorth (translated by Charlotte Barslund). As ever, I’d love to hear more suggestions for books I should read. I’ve recently picked up Nick Bantock’s Griffin & Sabine and its sequels, so I’ll be reviewing them soon… but after that, I’d particularly like to read some non-fiction about mail/postal services/postcards. I have a few ideas, but it’d be great to hear yours as well—let me know via the comments to this post, send me a message, or drop a note in the forum thread if anything comes to mind!

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Masha (aka MMokeeva) is a Russian postcrosser living near Moscow, passionate about books and literature. She stumbled on Postcrossing a few years ago, and has been hooked since then, even opening her own postcard shop, starting a podcast about postcards, and this year Masha even launched a book about Postcrossing, titled “Postcrossing — Book of Secret Knowledge”! It’s a beautiful book, featuring stories about the website, interviews with postcrossers and lots of other postcard-related knowledge and interesting facts. We’re happy to invite Masha to the blog today, to tell us all about how postcards took over her life. 😊

Picture of Masha's book about Postcrossing, surrounded by candles, postcards and other stationery!
Where did your interest in postcards come from? Have you always been a person who liked mail?

“Once I got lost in Moscow. There was a heavy snowstorm. I went to the gift shop to ask where I should go. I was wearing a large bearskin coat that I had inherited from my ancestors. It made me a little clumsy, and I knocked down the postcard rack. The postcards lay like a carpet in front of me, bright and beautiful, with the image of the proud Red Square. And I fell in love with them!”

I would like to have such a fascinating story of happy meeting with postcards, but in fact my story is quite ordinary :) When I was a child, I wrote paper letters to other children. It never even occurred to me to send them postcards, because no one was doing it around me!.. When I got older, I used to buy postcards as fine pictures to put them on the table or use as a bookmark. I started sending postcards just when I found Postcrossing!

How did you come across Postcrossing? What got you hooked?

One day I was looking for a postcard for a gift to my granny and I saw the strange word “Postcrossing” on the website of that online postcard shop. The next day I ran to the post office with my first five cards! I just fell in love with every moment: when you pull out an address, read the profile, view the received and sent postcards… it was like rediscovering the world and the people around.

You even created your own shop selling stationery! How did Amelie Cards get started and how is it going?

I did start it about 5 months after I began to send postcards though Postcrossing. 😊 I was so impressed by this huge postcard world… and I was unemployed. I decided to try to open an online postcard store and printed postcards that I couldn’t find in Russia: with Russian writers, reprints of ads from the Russian Empire, funny “Keep Calm”. Then I started paying more attention to themes what other people need, and so the range expanded! Currently, the most popular sections are the “My Russia” series with atmospheric pictures by independent Russian photographers, illustrations by Russian contemporary artists and quotes from books and movies.

Where did the idea for a book about Postcrossing come from? What prompted you to write it?
Masha lies facing up with the book covering her face

When I became interested in postcards, I was curious: what stories hides behind them? Who creates postcards and why? How do postcards reflect our life? What research and collections exist? What is the situation with postcards in other countries? I couldn’t read about it in Russian anywhere, just some scraps of information. My first attempt to answer some questions was my podcast Открытки Амели in 2017. After 11 episodes, I realized that people are interested in learning more about postcards, but it would be more convenient for them to read about it rather than listen to it. So I wrote a plan for the book and started working on it in my spare time. I was writing a book that I wanted to read myself.


Could you give postcrossers an overview of the book? How would you describe this book to someone who hasn’t heard about it before?

This may sound strange, but this book is for people who want to know the postcard as a person: from all sides. Its character, talents and story of the life. It’s also the book about people who love mail. There are seven chapters: about Postcrossing Project, the text on a postcard, postage stamps, postcards, postal connection, postcrossers and postcard shops. There are also life hacks, dictionary of postcrosser words, and 100 ideas for a postcard message.

I have already received more than a hundred warm reviews that make me very happy. People write that they learned a lot of new things from the book, and that they had registered on postcrossing.com or came back to the Big Game after a long break after reading it!

What was your writing process with this book, and what parts are you especially proud of?
Masha holds the Postcrossing book she wrote in her hands

There was a lot of very diverse work! It was like making stained glass window from different fragments. And it was important to fit these fragments together and make up a beautiful and logical narrative. Besides, I wanted to make this book fun and easy to read. To achieve this ease, I had to rewrite the text several times. This was a very valuable experience for me as for a young writer.

I’m especially proud of the most original parts: where I talk about Postcrossing’s place in the world of ideas (from the ancient Greeks’ letters to the 21st century with its technologies and popularity of danish Hygge); the first mail artist Alexander Asarkan in the Soviet Union for whom creating postcards was a way to make conceptual art in totalitarian state; who and how creates postage stamps in Russia (there’s a very interesting interview with the leading artist of the publishing house Marka, where he tells all the details of creating a postage stamp, who works on them, what their values are and what they think about stamps of other countries); the interviews with unforgettable postcrossers; and my favorite part is about how postcards were published and sold before, how the circumstances and place of postcard in people’s lives changed and how we came to what we have now.

I wrote the book in chapters, in order. When I finished one, I gave it to the artist Maria Vasilyeva and she drew the next part of the comics about the adventures of postcrosser Asya. I’m proud of this cartoon too!

Thank you so much Masha, for taking the time to answer our questions about your book! For anyone interested, “Postcrossing — Book of Secret Knowledge” (in Russian-language only) can be purchased on Masha’s store amelie-cards.ru and soon on Wildberries as well.

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Hi everyone! Nicky again, with one of my reviews about books that feature mail!

Last time I wrote about books for the blog, I was enthusing over Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Documents in the Case, a mystery novel which relies almost totally on written evidence. This time, I’m talking about something completely different: 84 Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff.

Cover of 84 Charing Cross Road

84 Charing Cross Road is actually non-fiction: Helene Hanff was a writer and screenwriter from New York, who entered into a 20-year correspondence with a bookshop on Charing Cross Road, in London. She corresponded at first with a man named Frank Doel, but her funny letters and generous presents (such as food parcels containing food British people couldn’t obtain at the time due to rationing) quickly endeared her to the entire staff and to their families.

After Frank Doel’s death, she decided to publish some of their correspondence, and this was published as the book 84 Charing Cross Road — which is the book Helene (you can’t call her by her surname after reading this book) is best remembered for!

Reading the collection, I couldn’t help but quote bits aloud to my wife, almost every other page! Helene’s letters are warm and witty, and while Frank’s replies are rather more reserved, you can see an odd sort of friendship developing between them. Here’s one of the letters where she teases him for taking a while to find her a book:

“Dear Speed—You dizzy me, rushing Leigh Hunt and the Vulgate over here whizbang like that. You probably don’t realize it, but it’s hardly more than two years since I ordered them. You keep going at this rate you’re gonna give yourself a heart attack.”

It sounds like the plot of a romance, but Frank Doel was happily married, and… well, I’ll warn you all ahead of time: he and Helene never met. Throughout the letters she refers again and again to a visit that she never manages — at least not until after his sudden death and the closure of the shop where he worked.

My copy (from Sphere, published in 2010) does include The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, a book which collects Helene’s journal entries from her trip to London. It’s a satisfying follow-up if you’ve got attached to everyone via their correspondence in 84 Charing Cross Road, because you get to hear a little more from Nora (Frank’s wife), and Helene’s joy at finally reaching London is palpable.

Cover of Going Postal

I found it a really enjoyable read — though I almost found it difficult to believe that these people really existed and really sent these letters! There’s something incredibly sweet about their 20-year correspondence, short as it seems from this rather selective collection. It’s quite easy to dip in and out of, too, if you’re looking for a short/easy read. I loved it, and definitely recommend it!

I’m still taking suggestions for books about mail and mail-related topics, so do let me know any new ones you’ve thought of! I love non-fiction as well as fiction, and I’m totally open in terms of genre. The next post will probably be about Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal… but I’m notoriously capricious about reading, so I’m making no promises!

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Hey guys, Ana here — maybe some of you have noticed that there’s a new person around in Postcrossing? Nicky (aka shanaqui) joined us a few months ago, helping us reply to your emails, moderating addresses and also writing some posts for the blog. They’re an avid book reader too, though the word “avid” doesn’t quite describe it… Nicky breathes books is more like it! 😊 With thousands of books on their bookshelves, we thought there might be a few there featuring letters, postcards or other mail-related topics… so we invited Nicky to write about those here on the blog. This is the first post of what will hopefully become a recurrent series, with regular suggestions for your own book queue or upcoming library visits. Enjoy! – Ana

Since we came up with this idea for a series of posts, I’ve been ransacking my shelves for books about the mail and also for epistolary novels—and stacking up my massive to-read pile with a few more, of course…

A view of just part of my book collection.
A view of just part of my book collection…

So what did I pick as the first book to talk about? Well… People who’ve heard of Dorothy L. Sayers usually know her as a mystery writer who created the fictional detective Lord Peter Wimsey, and most of her mystery books revolve around Lord Peter. Fewer have heard of her epistolary mystery, The Documents in the Case!

Cover of The Documents in the Case

I wasn’t sure how exciting a mystery which almost entirely consists of collected letters and written documents could be. Confession letters are pretty common (in mystery fiction, at least!)… but it’s hard to see how that could make an impressive mystery. Writing lacks the immediacy of a room full of suspects! I didn’t really expect much, to be honest.

I’m a big fan of Lord Peter, though, and in those books there are some letters from a fantastic character (Miss Climpson). If you’re a fan of mysteries, I recommend those books as well! For the ones where Miss Climpson sends her gossipy, character-packed letters, try Unnatural Death and Strong Poison. In any case, that should’ve been a clue to me…

In The Documents in the Case, there’s just a bit of a frame narrative to explain the collection: the letters and documents (they’re not quite all letters) have been gathered together to show evidence for the crime. Almost all the evidence in the story consists of letters, and though nobody writes a confession as such, every single letter is a confession in its own way, laying bare the prejudices, beliefs and foibles of the characters. Here’s an example:

“Dear Olive: I have been much surprised and deeply hurt by Ronnie’s letter to me, which I enclose for you to see. I cannot believe that he would have written in that spirit of his own accord. I can only suppose that you and Tom have been prejudicing him against me. Of course, he is your child and not mine, but it is quite a mistake to imagine that, merely because of the physical accident of parenthood, you are, for that reason, divinely qualified to deal with a sensitive temperament like Ronnie’s.”

It goes on like that! Miss Agatha Milsom is quite a character, as you can tell.

If you think about it, our own letters are pretty revealing: I know I put something of myself even into my short postcards, chatting about what I’m reading and the area where I live. Sayers just takes it to extremes in The Documents in the Case, and reading it is a bit of a voyeuristic thrill. She said what?! He did what?! Doesn’t she realise…

It’s not all like that, though: there are also some rather sweet and funny letters. Sayers seems to take joy in portraying true companionship and joy, as well as the darker and more ridiculous sides of people. One of the characters, Jack Munting, writes several exuberant letters to his fiancée, and the murder victim writes a couple of letters to his son, all full of understated affection. Honestly, those personal letters might be my favourite part of the whole thing.

Cover of 84 Charing Cross Road

The mystery itself actually hangs on outside evidence, which is a little disappointing after the promise of all those letters… but it’s still very clever, the character studies are great, and I ended up enjoying every minute! It’s not the #1 mystery novel I’d recommend, but I think it’s worth a look.

To help me research for future posts, we’d love to hear more about the books you love which feature letters or anything mail-related! We’re hoping my next reviews for this blog will be Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road and Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal, and I’m also planning to refresh my memory on Jane Austen’s Lady Susan and a couple of other classics… but what else would you recommend, postcrossers?

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When life is busy and chaotic, settling in with a good book usually slows the world down and allows us to escape into imagination. When the book is a children’s story, we share the experience with another, whether we are reading to a child, or the child is reading to us. And when the book is about a topic near and dear to one’s own heart, the reading is all the more enjoyable.

There are many children’s books about the postal experience, and I have selected a few that are among my favorites.

Letters from Felix The first, Letters From Felix, by Annette Langen and Constanza Droop, features a lost teddy bear named Felix, who has great adventures as he tries to find his way back to his adoring human, Sophie. The book is not only a charming read, but also a visual delight. Felix writes letters to Sophie telling her where he is and what he sees at each location. And the book has the actual letters, in real envelopes! It is such fun to turn the page and find an actual letter your child can pull out and unfold and read. The letters always have an interesting tidbit about Felix’s current location and Sophie learns a little bit geography along the way.

The Day the Crayons Quit

In The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, Duncan goes looking for his box of crayons only to find a stack of letters from the crayons. Each letter expresses a need, like more variety in life or maybe more respect. The red crayon wants to do more than just color hearts and fire trucks. Beige seeks to be more than just “light brown.” And pink, well pink is tired of being considered a “girl color.” Duncan takes the letters to heart and we get a very happy ending.

I Wrote You a Note by Lizi Boyd, Dear Panda by Miriam Latimer, Abuela’s Special Letters by Jacqueline Jules, and The Lonely Mailman by Susanna Isern, all tell stories about how letters connect us to the world around us in unexpected ways. The books are written for children but they will be enjoyed by anyone.

Mixed books Yours Sincerely, Giraffe

My favorite of all the books I read for this post is Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa. This is the tale of Giraffe, who wants to expand his horizons beyond his native Africa and decides to write to anyone who lives far away. Lucky for Giraffe that Pelican has just started a mail delivery service. As the story progresses we read about Giraffe’s concern about the letter arriving, and then his anticipation of what might be in the return post. Postcrossers will recognize those feelings! Giraffe’s letter ends up with Penguin, who lives in Antarctica. As the letter exchange continues, the fun begins. Imagine trying to describe something that your reader has never seen. Giraffe tells Penguin of his long neck. Penguin has no idea what a neck is, but with the help of Whale, they try to figure it out. The back and forth conversation via letters is both funny and thought provoking. And when Giraffe finally goes to visit Penguin, and decides to dress like what he imagines penguins look like… well, my grandchildren found it quite entertaining!

What are some of your favorite postally theme books for children? Tell us in the comments!

PS – A big thank you to postmuse, who patiently read all these books to her grandchildren and then wrote about them for our blog. 😊

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