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Reading: Griffin & Sabine Trilogy

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Reading: Griffin & Sabine Trilogy

  • Books: Griffin & Sabine, Sabine’s Notebook, The Golden Mean
  • Author: Nick Bantock
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books
  • Genres: Fiction, epistolary fiction, visual fiction, art book, toybook

What drew me into the Griffin & Sabine trilogy was the conceit of them being a series of artfully done postcards between two people corresponding across the world. Griffin makes prints of his artworks on postcards and Sabine sends her own artwork on handmade postcards along with her country's stamps of her own design and both occasionally send letters in altered envelopes, which the reader can pull out and read. The handwriting and artworks of these two are distinctive enough to establish who did what, and these visual elements add to the believability of a very surreal story.

However, the narrators are unreliable. Griffin is most likely real in this fictional universe, but his grip on reality is questionable. Sabine's claims of a telepathic link is compelling and she gives enough details in her correspondence to be believable, but being able to meet Griffin is another thing altogether. That she is a real person is suspect, though the evidence of the letters with their canceled stamps seem to tell Griffin otherwise.

The sending back and forth of cards and letters by post now seem quaint, but that it is between two pen pals who become lovers fits perfectly in our social media age with online connections made between strangers and the infamous catfishing stories over the past few years. Which then brings the question of what kind of person is Sabine really.

It's also possible that Griffin is the true author of both sets of postcards and letters just as Nick Bantock is in real life. Or, Sabine is the one who invented Griffin. As the trilogy progresses to the end, the answer isn't clear.

Bantock packs a lot into these thin volumes and makes use of the space between. Interestingly, the postcards, letters, and envelopes don't leave much space at all, with surrealist paintings and collages taking up the whatever space they can. Even the text takes up as much as it can, only leaving room for stamps and addresses.

As visual works and physical objects, the Griffin & Sabine books are a delight, even as the the stories and art take a dark turn.

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Reading: The Phantom Tollbooth

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Reading: The Phantom Tollbooth

  • Authors: Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer (illustrator)
  • Book: Phantom Tollbooth
  • Publisher: Random House

It's one thing to be exposed to this story as a child. It was in the form of a play done at my American elementary school in Japan when I was in fourth grade. It was bizarre and entertaining and a lot of the concepts flew over my head. It would be several decades later that I'd pick this up as an adult and the conceptual stuff was fun. I got these personifications and representations the protagonist Milo and his friends for the journey encounter because they were things I picked I gained in my knowledge over the years.

It's fantasy and clever allegory where the rift between the King Azaz of words and ideas and the Mathemagician, king of the numbers, can only be resolved by a quixotic mission taken on by Milo, Tock, and Humbug to rescue Rhyme and Reason, the princesses who bring harmony and order to everything. Milo starts off as an ordinary boy who doesn't know much to overcoming his ignorance in his quest.

It's very instructive for young readers, but it has a lot for adult readers too because nagging doubts, distractions, or getting caught up with ignorance don't go away after childhood.

I really enjoyed the images by Jules Feiffer. They are deceptively simple, looking as if the narrator could have sketched them himself, but with more value than he could have done. The heavy lifting in the story is done by Norton Juster’s text and storytelling, but the images add greatly like they do for Alice in Wonderland or Shel Silverstein’s Where The Sidewalk Ends.

It’s a good book to start the year and I’ll take its lessons to heart.  

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