Books, Books, Books

I don’t know how to start this letter because I’m so excited to talk about books. This is probably an accurate reaction:

Laura Linney in Love Actually

Laura Linney in Love Actually

Yes, this is what I am doing internally whenever I’m at a bookstore. This is how I am when I opened my box of books, whenever I receive your mail, whenever I find a good title at a used bookshop. Anything that is about books and letters: that’s me =)

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way—let me say a few things (apologies for the bullet points as am not capable of anything more coherent at the moment):

  • I love the book sculptures! I’ve been meaning to write you about it since last year but I always forget. One of my favourite pieces by the artist was the one of Peter Pan. Oh gosh, I do love Peter Pan. I kept my Little Golden Book copy:
    Battered and bruised, but still very dear to me

    Battered and bruised, but still very dear to me

    I love it so much that in junior year of high school I directed a musical play based on it. The musical aspect is questionable, and that meant doing a lot of silly things, but I felt it was very much in the spirit of Peter Pan. Also, we had fun. Anyone who thought it was for kids clearly didn’t get the point.

  • It makes me sad sometimes when I read about some things that people say about J.M. Barrie—that he was cursed, that there is darkness about him. What do you think about that?
  • But a letter from him to your great-grandfather—oh, how wonderful. There’s something about being connected to all that history that makes the heart ache.
  • (By the way, J.M. Barrie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were great friends.)
  • Can’t remember if I’ve told you about this before, but some time last year I bought a street guide of Edinburgh:2013-04-09_T (2)
    It’s like finding you here.

It has always been my desire to live a life rooted in poetry and correspondence. (I was already immersed in it before I was even aware that that was what I wanted.) Lately I’ve also been exploring journaling and memoirs. After coming out of that deep darkness that has taken me last year, I started looking again at my life (and what’s left of it), and found that these are the things I kept coming back to.

I don’t know what to do with this realisation at the moment. I am still trying to finish unpacking my answers to one of your e-mails. I want to say something helpful about your thoughts on PhD and the future, but I don’t have anything to offer. Yet.

I guess I’ll sit with you for awhile. Hope this is okay.

And now on to more books.
(To anyone else reading, please note that the consequent images are scans from my own books, and no copyright infringement is intended.)

Marian Bantjes! I like her. I Wonder is on my wishlist. I discovered Bantjes through Stefan Sagmeister, who is one of my idols in graphic design. I like her playfulness, and how she sees the world.

Speaking of Sagmeister, his book, Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far, has been very invaluable to me. It’s fun to open, too:

But the inside is even better:


I have lived on three hundred dollars a month and spent thirty thousand over the same time span with little perceivable difference in happiness. My overall well-being seems to exist largely independent on my income.”


…I have come to the conclusion that my memory is simply too bad to allow me to be a liar. And, if I don’t want people to know about something I do (if my actions compel me to lie), maybe I should think about not doing it in the first place.”

— from Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far by Stefan Sagmeister

He has another book, which I’m still saving up for, Sagmeister: Made You Look, although I must’ve borrowed it from the library countless of times. I agree with most of his views about design and about having a design studio. Whenever I have fears about my business, I turn to his words.

I’ve given the Griffin and Sabine trilogy my heart. I’ve wanted these books for the longest time but they’re so expensive here. Last year I found unopened copies from an online used books retailer. Crossing my fingers that the condition of the books as described were true, I purchased them and waited for them to arrive here.

I read them in one sitting. On the morning of my birthday, my sister found me crying, holding this letter:

from Sabine's Notebook by Nick Bantock

from Sabine’s Notebook by Nick Bantock

Griffin and Sabine reminded me of a past love. His letters and mine. I cried because I am Sabine, but I am also Griffin, needing to read Sabine’s words. I cried because I didn’t know if I will still find a love like that. Sigh.

On my bookshelf but I’ve yet to read: The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet and The Book Thief. I know! I have all these wonderful books and I don’t get why I haven’t read them yet.

Oh, yes, that’s right, because I’m too busy reading other books. Sometimes I wish I can get a job that allows me to just read books all day.

Agh, Blankets is on my wishlist, too. I saw it at a bookstore years ago and I never wanted to steal something so bad. I love graphic novels—they are graphic novels, yes?—at least, those that I’ve come across while reading. Along this vein, more titles that I want to buy: Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, and other works by Craig Thompson (how do you find Blankets and Carnet? Are they as good as I imagine them to be?)

I’ve read others but I’ll save them for a future post.

And just because you mentioned Nicole Krauss, here’s one of my favourite parts:

from The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

from The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Which also reminded me of this:

from Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

from Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

May I suggest the following:

from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

I know you’ve written me before about reading this but I can’t remember if you’ve finished it already, and if you liked it. Either way, I’m interested to hear about your thoughts on this book.

from Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer

from Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer

I haven’t read this yet. My grandparents gave it to me as a gift when they came home from the US. (My sisters asked for shoes and bags, I asked for this one book.) It was said to be based on Bruno Schulz’s The Street Of Crocodiles. Foer experimented with die-cuts and made a whole new story from it.

How am I supposed to read this?, I asked my friend N., who had just finished the book. I could see words upon words on pages underneath the first. Do I read them that way, or take it one page at a time? His advice: one page at a time.

I wondered about this method of cutting out words versus Austin Kleon’s Newspaper Blackout. He said that with Foer, the words are gone completely, and the reader is left with all that white space. With Kleon, all the words are still there. (I know I can’t explain it very well, but I found that observation profoundly moving.)

from Postcards from the Basque Country by Beth Nelson

from Postcards from the Basque Country by Beth Nelson

I chanced upon this copy from a used books seller. It’s not so much as a travel guide to Basque, but more of a journal, with letters and collages.

from Things to Bring, S#!T to Do... and other inventories of anxiety by Karen Rizzo

from Things to Bring, S#!T to Do… and other inventories of anxiety
by Karen Rizzo

My friend gave me this book because he said I was the most compulsive listmaker he knows. This is a life told in lists: through childhood, through grief, getting a job, going to the beach, having kids, and more. The author has made a list on September 11, 2001 that is so personal but at the same time speaks so much of what happened that day. Some day soon I will share it with you.

from How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors, edited by Dan Crowe

from How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors, edited by Dan Crowe

This book culls interviews from various writers, where they talk about—wait for it—writing. It’s beautifully designed so I thought I’d include it here.

from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Apologies for the bad scan, but I can’t forget this! The only reason I picked it up from the bookstore was because the title came from a Sherlock Holmes story:

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

— from Silver Blaze, as part of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I don’t know what they call these books (some say it’s ergodic literature? Others simply identify them as experimental book art) but I get what you mean. Common characteristics that I have observed:

  • Unusual or unconventional use of typography
  • Choice of paper and ink
  • Maximisation of white space (i.e. putting text in margins) or liberal use of it (i.e. one sentence only on a page)
  • Inclusion of photos and illustrations

I am interested in and quite like reading them because of the use of the book itself as an aesthetic object. Some also incorporate the form into the narrative—they’re not just there as eye candy. Here’s an article that might shed some more light on this — Mapping the Cracks: Thinking Subjects as Book Objects by Daniel Rourke.

Aside from the ones you have mentioned, these are others on my wishlist:

There are more but then this post will never end. Yes, our reading list for April is going to be quite long. I’ve added a lot of titles already to books I have to buy ever since we started this blog.

How I wish there’s a secret tunnel that connects my library and yours. Can you imagine how lonely the world be without books?

Good morning, M.

P.S. Sorry that this came out later than expected. It took me hours to finish this, but only because I kept getting distracted with more books that I want to talk to you about.

P.P.S. Do you know what—aside from keeping a list of things to write to you (via snail mail), I am also now keeping a list of topics to discuss here in the blog =)

P.P.P.S. I’ve always wanted to be a librarian, and have fulfilled that, in a way, by being a ‘librarian’ over at Goodreads. Recently though it has been bought by Amazon, which I am quite conflicted about. Will tell you all about it in another letter.


2 thoughts on “Books, Books, Books

  1. – You did know that Griffin & Sabine has a second trilogy, right?: The Morning Star Trilogy? Do you like one better than the other?
    – You are the best Goodreads Librarian.
    – I have finished “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”. It made me cry. Haven’t seen the movie yet. I can’t tell whether or not I want to relive it that way.
    – We have “Tree of Codes” at the Golden Hare. “Tree of Codes” is at the Golden Hare. I have to rephrase now.
    – I would also add that the thematic thread of these types of books seem to flirt with philosophy and some element of existentialism. They are partially meta- I think. What else. Honest. Bright. Like a lighthouse shining out into a dark sea, wondering who in the world will see them. Something to do with proximity. Discovery. I could write a whole book about this.
    – Why do we read what we read?

    • – YES! (I just literally shouted this out loud. To my monitor. Look at me, it’s 10:50 PM and am still giddy over books!) I am still saving up for this trilogy. I hope to be able to buy it this year or next. I am actually nervous at what follows because I felt it ended as it should have. What’s your favourite book from the trilogy? Mine, as you can guess, is Sabine’s Notebook. But I love how Griffin’s art progresses in the story. Such a great way of showing a narrative! Also, after I’ve read these books, I couldn’t help but imagining and applying the premise to different characters and stories that I like (e.g. a psychic connection, a meet-cute via letters, etc.)

      – More on this Goodreads thing, I promise. Also I think I love the thought of being a librarian because I have an obsession towards cataloging my books…anyone else’s books actually. (Which is why I also like the idea of working at a bookshop.)

      – I haven’t seen the movie yet, too. I don’t know how I would handle it. The film adaptation of Everything is Illuminated is quite different from the book, but I found that it has its own charm. I’m not so sure if they will be as successful with Extremely Loud (also: Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock?)

      – Did you ever buy books on your own while at The Golden Hare? I think you mentioned once about a gift certificate but I wondered if, as a reader, you would really shop there.

      – I agree with everything you said. If you write a book about it I will definitely read it. And think of how you would present your thesis, with writings on the margins and footnotes and whatnot! Yes, yes, very meta indeed.

      – My very simplest answer would be: I believe the books choose us. I know it sounds naive and romantic, but that’s how I feel most of the time. The way I find books that I don’t normally read, just because of a chance encounter at a shop–I always think that I was meant to find that book, was meant to read it. Same goes for a book that has been in my bookshelf for years but only got to read later on–it felt very apt and timely because I read it a time when I was ready, and not before.


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