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Likely Stories: Odd Books - Griffin and Sabine & The Strange Library

Grffin and Sabine by Nick Bantock and The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami and Nick Bantock offer wonderfully illustrated books of mysterious secrets.

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

An interesting sort of books these days are those with something more than printed words on the page.  These books have nooks and crannies for peeks into some secret worlds.  Sometimes they have strange and bizarre art work.  I am not talking about graphic novels.

Nick Bantock has created a series of four books beginning with Griffin and Sabine.  Griffin receives a strange and beautifully decorated post card with an exotic postmark from Sabine.  Naturally intrigued, he writes back and thus begins a correspondence every bit as strange, beautiful, and exotic as the first post card.  Some pages have envelopes attached.  Lifting the flap reveals a folded letter.  This window into the mysterious Sabine made me feel as though I had eavesdropped on a growing romance.

Haruki Murakami adds to this genre with The Strange Library.  This unusual volume has flaps which fold over the top and bottom, and it only needs a wax seal to complete the strangeness of this story.  A child, who loves books, returns a few to the local library with the intention of borrowing several others.  Then a slightly strange and scary man invites the boy to look at some interesting books he might like in Room 107 in the basement of the library.  The boy is locked in a room with four folio sized books about taxation in the Ottoman Empire – a topic he inquired about for his next borrowings.  The librarian tells him he must memorize all four volumes, or he would suffer unspeakable suffering.  A friendly jailer visits him and fills in some information, but he encourages the boy to memorize if he ever wants to escape Room 107.  Then, a mysterious, ethereal young girl approaches and offers a means of rescue.

Together these three attempt to escape this nightmare.  The young boy who narrates the story frets about his mother who expects him home for dinner.  He also worries about his pet starling.  The ghostly girl delivers gourmet meals to the boy, and another weird character, the “Sheepman,” brings donuts for an afternoon snack.

The circulation librarian checks in his unusual books – How to Build a Submarine and Memoirs of a Shepherd.  The woman directs him to the basement and room 107.  In his typical style, Murakami describes the strange librarian.  “A little old man sat behind a little old desk in the middle of the room.  Tiny black spots dotted his face like a swarm of flies.  The old man was bald and wore thick lenses.  His baldness looked incomplete; he had frizzy white hairs plastered against both sides of his head.  It looked like a mountain after a big forest fire. // ‘Welcome my boy, […] How may I be of assistance?’ […] ‘I want to learn how taxes were collected in the Ottoman Empire’” (Part 2, no pagination). 

Although not described as YA fiction, this tale seems appropriate for older children.  All these books are wonderfully creative excursions into an uncommon literary genre.  They offer a pleasant afternoon of reading.  5 stars

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and HAPPY READING!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.