Griffin and Sabine

griffinsabine

I first learnt of this series when I was in secondary school in Singapore. I’m not sure through whom or how but my good friend and I were a little obsessed with it. The little library at our school stocked the trilogy and we’d hide the rest of the books behind other books, in order to ensure that they’d be there for us and only us to read!

So it’s a little nostalgic coming back to this epistolary series in 2013. How carefree life was then, with just tests and exams, friends and activities to worry about. A whole lifetime ago!

All I remembered of the story was that it was a collection of postcards and letters. So the more magical aspect of the story surprised me.

Griffin Moss is an artist living in London. The postcards are his own works. He receives a mysterious postcard from a group of small islands in the South Pacific known as the Sicmon Islands, from a stranger named Sabine Strohem. It turns out that she can see his art, as if looking through his very eyes while he is creating it.

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It is a story about two artists, two art lovers who connect through their correspondence, through the art they create in their postcards and letters.

A fun read (you can open the envelopes and unfold the letters to read them), with beautiful illustrations, and a little mystery behind it all.

(And now I have to wait while the second book in the series is returned to the library – it currently is ‘off campus’)

postalreading

This is my third read for the Postal Reading Challenge (sign-up page)

Nick Bantock attended schools in the northeast suburbs of London, and later an art college in Maidstone, Kent. He began a career as a freelance artist at the age of 23, producing 300 book covers in the ensuing 16 years. In 1988 he moved to Vancouver, and soon after to the nearby Bowen Island, where he had the idea that became the Griffin and Sabine series.

The Griffin and Sabine Trilogybantock Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence (1991)
Sabine’s Notebook: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin and Sabine Continues (1992)
The Golden Mean: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin and Sabine Concludes (1993)
The Morning Star Trilogy
The Gryphon: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin and Sabine is Rediscovered (2001)
Alexandria: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin and Sabine Unfolds (2002)
The Morning Star: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin and Sabine is Illuminated (2003)

The Egyptian Jukebox (1993)
Averse to Beasts (1994)
The Venetian’s Wife (1996)
Paris Out of Hand (1996)
Capolan ArtBox (1997)
The Forgetting Room (1997)
The Museum at Purgatory (1999)
The Artful Dodger: Images and Reflections (2000)
Urgent 2nd Class: Creating Curious Collage, Dubious Documents, and Other Art from Ephemera (2004)
Windflower (2006) – with Edoardo Ponti

Popup books
There Was An Old Lady (1990)
Wings (1990)
Jabberwocky (1991)
Runners, Sliders, Bouncers, Climbers (1992)
Solomon Grundy (1992)
The Walrus and the Carpenter (1992)
Kubla Khan (1993)
Robin Hood (1993)

 

The last letter from your lover by Jojo Moyes

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“I think,” she said, “that you and I could make each other terribly unhappy.”
And as she spoke, something deep inside him keeled over a little, as if in defeat. “I think,” he said slowly, “that I’d like that very much.”

Jennifer Stirling wakes in a hospital, after a car accident, not knowing anything, not remembering anything about her life. There is a man there, whom the staff call “Your Husband”:

“He was a handsome man, perhaps ten years older than she was, with a high, noble forehead and serious, hooded eyes. She knew, at some deep level, that he must be who he said he was, that she was married to him, but it was perplexing to feel nothing when everyone so obviously expecting a different reaction. Sometimes she would stare at him when he wasn’t looking, waiting for some jolt of familiarity to kick in. Sometimes, when she woke, she would find him sitting there, newspaper lowered, gazing at her as if he felt something similar.”

It is October 1960. The doctor reckons that she will heal and return to her own self in no time – no therapy, no extra care needed. But it takes a long time for her to figure out her life, her memories, her relationship to her rich industrialist husband Laurence, to their circle of friends. Her lovely home and her closet of gorgeous clothes speak of an extravagant lifestyle. But it feels empty to her, and something still feels off.

“She knew almost everything it was possible to know about herself, but that didn’t ameliorate her ever-present sense of dislocation, of having been dropped into the wrong life.”

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Then, hidden in a book, she finds a letter to her from ‘B’:

“When she read his notes, her skin prickled, her heart raced. She recognised these words. But for all that she knew, there was still a great hole at their heart.”

She finds a few more letters and gradually begins to piece the puzzles of her life – and her heart.

In 2003, a journalist named Ellie Haworth finds one of the letters from ‘B’ in the newspaper archives. She is drawn to this love letter, being in love with a married man herself, and tracks down Jennifer, for an assignment at first, then out of a personal interest in the story.

I started this book thinking it would be a light, chick-lit-ish (ugh I hate that word, but I can’t think of anything else to call it) read. That’s not really my typical read, but I had read good reviews of Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, and The last letter from your lover happened to be available as an e-book and was curious. But I just got so absorbed in the story of Jennifer and her ‘B’ (we do meet him early on in the story, I just don’t want to reveal too much here), sometimes staying up a little later to read more, to finish a chapter. I suppose that’s what they call a page-turner.

Moyes brings us deep into the heart of her characters, I felt so attached to Jennifer’s relationship with ‘B’, and her struggles to come to terms with her existence.

It was also interesting to see the contrast of 1960 and 2003. The love letters sent via P.O. boxes, and you weren’t sure when your letter would get picked up. The waiting – for days, weeks even. The texts and emails transmitted in a matter of seconds today, from anywhere in the world. The waiting of a different kind (it’s been five seconds and he still hasn’t replied??). The stifled, controlled life of Jennifer Stirling at a time when divorce was frowned on. Ellie Haworth, once a hungry young journalist, now spending her time wistfully waiting for a hint, a sign, reading and rereading his texts and emails for disguised feelings.

A surprisingly good read. I can’t wait to read more by Jojo Moyes!

jojoJojo Moyes was born in 1969 and grew up in London. After a varied career including stints as a minicab controller, typer of braille statements for blind people for NatWest, and brochure writer for Club 18-30 she did a degree at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, London University. In 1992 She won a bursary financed by The Independent newspaper to attend the postgraduate newspaper journalism course at City University, and apart from 1994 when she worked in Hong Kong for the Sunday Morning Post, she worked at The Independent for ten years, including stints as Assistant news editor and Arts and Media Correspondent.

She has been a full time novelist since 2002, when her first book, Sheltering Rain was published. She lives on a farm in Essex with her husband, journalist Charles Arthur, and their three children.

Read in February 2013

Dang it. I forgot this was posting today. I woke up this morning (after feeling like I barely went into a deep sleep the whole night) and didn’t realize that we had made it to March already. How dd that happen?

Anyway so it seems that I managed I read 26 books in February. I think I’m bingeing in preparation for lack of reading (or sleeping or anything really) time come May when wee-r reader (he needs a new name) makes his appearance!

Fiction (21)
The song of everlasting sorrow: a novel of Shanghai – Wang Anyi (Global Women of Color challenge)
The Secret of Nightingale Palace – Dana Sachs (review to come)
The mysterious Benedict Society – Trenton Lee Stewart
Bel-Ami – Guy de Maupassant
Happy birthday Turke!: A Kayankaya thriller – Jakob Arjouni
Lost souls – Poppy Z Brite
The house I loved – Tatiana de Rosnay (Postal Reading Challenge)
Malinche – Laura Esquivel
The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy
The magician’s elephant – Kate DiCamillo
Stories: All-New Tales – Neil Gaiman (ed)
Sky Burial: an epic love story of Tibet – Xinran (Global Women of Color challenge)
The princess bride – William Goldman
Zeina – Nawal El Saadawi
The best exotic Marigold Hotel – Deborah Moggach
The red badge of courage – Stephen Crane
Gold Boy, Emerald Girl – Li Yiyun
Industrial magic (Women of the Otherworld #4) – Kelley Armstrong
Empress – Shan Sa (review to come) (Global Women of Color challenge)
Maisie Dobbs – Jacqueline Winspear (review to come)
Thirty Three Teeth – Colin Cotterill

Graphic novels (4)
Thunderhead Underground Falls – Joel Orff
The Stonekeeper (Amulet #1) – Kazu Kibuishi
Daybreak – Brian Ralph
The Stonekeeper’s Curse (Amulet #2) – Kazu Kibuishi

Non-fiction (1)
Red scarf girl – Jiang Ji-li

The house I loved

houseiloved

“For you, houses are like people, are they not, they have a soul, a heart, they live and breathe. Houses remember.”

The house that Rose lives in is due to be demolished, as are the rest of the buildings on her street and the surrounding streets, to mould Paris into a ‘modern city’, according to Emperor Napoleon III’s plans.

She tells this in letters to her late husband Armand, along with fond – and sad – reminiscences of their past, how they met, their children, his death, and the life she slowly begins to rebuild afterwards, with help from Alexandrine (what a lovely name!), a young florist in the neighbourhood who brings such life with her.

This is interspersed with some letters written to her by various characters in her life such as her brother and her mother-in-law, which add a little more to the story. Yet those bits left me wanting more. To hear more from Alexandrine and her mysterious sad past, to have more love letters written by Armand before his death. These letters are too few and far between.

It is a rather odd story. I guess I was expecting Rose to fight harder for the house. She does, I suppose, in her own way, by staying in the house after her letters in protest and a visit to the Prefect’s office go in vain, and the street demolition begins. It’s a little bizarre, her reasoning. I’m not quite sure what she expects the outcome to be. And as the story progresses on that note, it becomes a bit depressing.

“The house bore the story of our love in its inner structure, in its quaint beauty. The house was my link to you, forever. By losing the house, I would again lose you.”

For her, the house means everything, as it is the one thing that ties her to Armand. He who loved the house, whose family had lived in this very house for generations, where his children were born and where his mother died.

Still, the book had its moments, especially some nice bookish ones. One of my favourite scenes takes place in a neighbourhood bookstore, recently renovated and which her late husband patronized (he was a reader, she wasn’t). The proprietor, a Monsieur Zamarreti, invites her to sit and read for a while. And even makes some suggestions. Eventually he picks a novel about a beautiful, bored lady, an avid reader of sentimental novels who “longs for romance and finds her marriage dreary”. That is, Madame Bovary. Rose expects to sit and flip through the book for twenty minutes or so but emerges from the story three hours later only when her housekeeper comes looking for her as it is past dinnertime.

As Madame Rose remains in her house, aided by a friendly ragpicker who keeps her fed and warm. She spends her time writing her letters to her late husband, and reading.

“My books, down here with me. Fine ones, beautifully bound, in all different colours. I do not wish to ever separate myself from them. Madame Bovary, of course, the one that opened the door to the bewitching world of reading. Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, which I pick up from time to time as the hours glide by. The fascinating aspect about poems, as opposed to novels, is that one can read just a couple, and a few more later on, like a sort of continuous treat that one nibbles at. Monsieur Baudelaire’s poems are strange and haunting. They are full of images, sounds and colours, sometimes disturbing.”

A book that is filled with such sadness yet it has its heartwarming moments.

postalreading

This is my second read for the Postal Reading Challenge (sign-up page)

Read in January 2013

I woke up this morning and realised that the little calendar icon on my phone said ‘1’, as in the first of February. I can’t believe January is over already!

So much has happened in the past week. Wee reader’s grandparents went home and he’s taking it pretty badly. I guess the last time either set of his grandparents came to visit from Singapore, he was too young to understand. Now he definitely knows that they’re not here, so he keeps asking after his mama and gong gong. And I think he’s worried that his dad’s not around during the day so he often asks for his daddy although he often answers his own question, saying ‘daddy work work choo choo’ (he takes the Bart into the city). Hopefully things will get better over the weekend!

This month I made a bit of headway with all three challenges (Global Women of Colour, What’s in a Name, Postal Reading) and read a ton of graphic novels.

Fiction (9)
Beautiful Children – Charles Bock
Three Strong Women – Marie Ndiaye (Read for Global Women of Colour Challenge)
The Uninvited Guests – Sadie Jones (TLC Book Tour)
The Messenger (The Giver, #3) – Lois Lowry
Under heaven – Guy Gavriel Kay (Read for What’s in a Name Challenge)
The cookbook collector – Allegra Goodman (Read for What’s in a Name Challenge)
Scent of darkness – Margot Berwin (upcoming TLC Book Tour)
Obernewtyn – Isobelle Carmody
Sold – Patricia McCormick

Non-fiction (3)
If you lived here, I’d know your name: News from small-town Alaska – Heather Lende
84, Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff (Read for Postal Reading Challenge)
The Worst Journey in the World – Apsley Cherry-Garrard

Graphic novels (7)
Water baby – Ross Campbell
Gen13. Superhuman like you – Adam Warren
Waterwise – Joel Orff
The Umbrella Academy Vol 1: Apocalypse Suite – Gerard Way, Gabriel Ba
Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale – Belle Yang (Read for Global Women Challenge)
American Widow – Alissa Torres
Habibi – Craig Thompson

Total: 19

84, Charing Cross Road

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There aren’t many books that I reread. There are just so many books left unread, untouched, unheard of, out there that I am constantly seeking that next new discovery, that next new-to-me author whose works I have to add to my TBR list.

Which is a pity.

Because there is such a pleasure in the reread.

The familiarity.

The characters who have become family.

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And despite the familiarity, that little phrase, that little spark that you hadn’t noticed before.

It comes with snuggling under a blanket, sipping a hot drink, returning to that story, that location, those characters.

 

For me, this month at least, that warm comforting sip came from Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road. A lovely, loving book that I’ve read a couple of times before. A secondhand copy I picked up from a library sale somewhere in LA (the husband and I had drove down to visit my sister and she had taken us out for brunch. Somehow as we were walking back to the car, there it was a sign that said ‘book sale’. And this was the only book I bought. It was meant to be!)

I’ve been looking for a good book to kick off the Postal Reading Challenge. I haven’t quite been able to make it to the library this week thanks to a wee reader-spread virus that hit everyone at home (we’re doing much better, but still keeping meals simple and resting). And with the impending calamity (ok that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but those first few months with a newborn kind of feels that way!) of a baby due in early May, I wanted to get a good headstart on the reading challenges I had signed up for. I’ve made some kind of headway for What’s in a Name and Global Women of Colourbut hadn’t yet begun reading any postal-related books.

So I figure, what better than this reread? Because 84, Charing Cross Road is just such a lovely lovely book to read. It’s a book about books, sort of. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s a collection of letters between Helene Hanff, an American scriptwriter living in New York, and a bookseller, Frank Doel, in London. The letters are at first just about the business of books. As she explains it in her first letter:

“I am a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books and all the things I want are impossible to get over here except in very expensive rare editions, or in Barnes & Noble’s grimy, marked-up schoolboy copies.”

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But soon they become friends and they begin chatting about other things, and other members of the staff start writing to her as well.

It’s fun to see the changes in the tones of their letters. Helene addresses the good folks at Marks & Co as ‘Gentlemen’ first, they (or rather, Frank) starts off his letters as ‘Dear Madam’, until she wonders: “I hope ‘madam’ doesn’t mean over there what it does here.”

I just can’t help liking Helene and her love for books.

“I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest. The day Hazlitt came he opened to ‘I hate to read new books,’ and I hollered ‘Comrade!’ to whoever owned it before me.”

And the way she so generously sends food parcels to the bookstore staff after learning how bad the rations are – it is 1949 when their correspondence begins and, according to her neighbour’s British boyfriend, each family gets just 2 oz of meat per week and one egg per person per month.

It’s also funny the way her buying books from this bookshop in London is kind of like buying books off the Internet today (although of course perfectly fine books can probably be found at your local bookstore too):

“Why should I run all the way down to 17th St to buy dirty, badly made books when I can buy clean, beautiful ones from you without leaving the typewriter? From where I sit, London’s a lot closer than 17th St.”

postalreading

This is my first read for the Postal Reading Challenge (challenge page)

Postal Reading Challenge

Melwyk has created a rather tempting challenge, the Postal Reading Challenge.

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What is the Challenge?

The key is to read and review books with a postal theme. These can be non-fiction on the subject of letter writing, collections of real letters, or epistolary fiction of any era. Be creative! Review each one and link back to the challenge — there will be quarterly roundup posts for you to link reviews and posts to as you create them.

The challenge runs from January 1st, 2013 to December 31st, 2013.  You can sign up ANY TIME throughout the year.

Any books chosen can overlap with any other challenge, and rereads are allowed. Just remember to review them somewhere online in order for them to count toward the challenge. Lists don’t have to be made in advance, though feel free to share your choices and inspire other readers if you wish! 

I’m going to take things easy and go for Postcard Level, where I will read and review 4 books with a postal theme.
Read:
1. 84, Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff
2. The House I Loved – Tatiana de Rosnay
My pool:

griffin

I’m tempted to reread the Griffin and Sabine books, which I last read over a decade ago.
dearexile
Dear exile : the true story of two friends separated (for a year) by an ocean – Hilary Liftin and Kate Montgomery

Heidegger

Heidegger’s glasses : a novel – Thaisa Frank

houseiloved
The house I loved – Tatiana de Rosnay
gumthief
The Gum Thief – Douglas Coupland

westfromhome
West from home: letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, San Francisco, 1915 – Laura Ingalls Wilder