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Preview of Murakami’s The Strange Library

The Strange Library was published in Japanese in 2008, but it is yet to be released in English. On December 2, 2014, the English edition will be released by Harvill Secker. The book is translated from Japanese by Ted Goossen and it is a special edition that features outstanding illustrations.

"A key turned in the lock, and in came a girl pushing a teacart." Illustration from The Strange Library

“A key turned in the lock, and in came a girl pushing a teacart.” Illustration from The Strange Library

The eerie tale is an account of a boy’s adventures in a library, which involves a number of unusual characters, just what we would expect from Murakami’s wonderful imagination. The Guardian offers a peek into a few more illustrations from The Strange Library. What an odd Christmas gift this would make, but why not?

Codex Seraphinianus: a book out of this world

When we think of books, certain images come to mind: rows of well-behaved letters marching on the page, images neatly arranged into grids, illustrations that mirror the text. We understand what we read, and the pictures make sense, unless the book is in a foreign language, or on a foreign subject. But even then there is somebody out there who would be able to decode the meaning of the book. One exception to this rule of thumb is Codex Seraphinianus, created in 1970’s by Luigi Serafini. This book is filled with strange, haunting images, and text written in an alphabet that is yet to be deciphered.


codex seraphinianus 1


The book fabricates a eerie reality, seemingly referencing an alien, surreal world, with chapters profiling flora and architecture among others. (At least this is the most likely guess.) The beauty of the vivid illustrations give a haunting quality to the book, along with their mysterious, grotesque or dark subjects. A man lying speared by a giant pen. Human arms or legs replaced by tools. People wearing wicker fishlike costumes. Maybe the most compelling quality of Codex Seraphinianus remains the fact that we do not know what it means. In an age in which information about anything is just a google away, it is amazing that no amount of research can reveal the secret of this book. It may not be long before we long for bringing back some mystery into our lives filled to the brim with information.


codex seraphinianus 2

Exhibition of Chris Byrne’s The Magician in Seattle

September 4 marks the opening reception for the exhibition of The Magician, a graphic novel/book art object by Chris Byrne. The event takes place between 5 and 7 pm, in the Paper Hammer gallery, in Seattle. The exhibition will continue until September 30, 2014, open Monday to Saturday, 11 am to 6 pm.


Chris Byrne’s project is about “creating a comic character who performs tricks (visual puns) without using words or captions.” Ed Marquand from Marquand Books also brought an important contribution to the visual aspect of the project and to the role played by the Paper Hammer Studios in Tieton.

The Magician Manual from Marquand Books on Vimeo.

The Magician had previous showings in Oxford (England), New York, Dallas and Buenos Aires. Columbia University and New York’s Visual Arts Library have already purchased copies to be included in their collections.

Protective book enclosure workshop, November 22, Vancouver

Members asked for more workshops and we listened! The Alcuin Society is happy to announce a new workshop where participants will learn how to make protective book enclosures. This event is for those who want to learn how to protect fragile books, or books that need special attention because of their value, emotional or otherwise. The enclosures can also be used to store papers or drawings. Participants will learn to make three types of enclosures: a slip cover, a phase box, and a portfolio. The images below are an accurate depiction of possible outcomes.



The workshop will take place on November 22, 10 am to 1 pm, at the Creekside Community Centre, on 1 Athletes Way, in the Olympic Village, Vancouver. Registration is $50 for the Alcuin members and $60 for non-members.

For more information about the necessary materials and registration, please contact Gina Page at gpage[at]sd38[dot]bc[dot]ca.

Literary World Cup

The World Cup is on, and everybody acknowledges that: the numerous brands with soccer flavoured commercials, your co-worker who takes 20-minute bathroom breaks to check the scores, and all the babies and pets who grudgingly sport national jerseys. Penguin couldn’t stay away from it either, so it came up with Penguin Cup, rounding up the best writers of a country to build a national team. That is the only chance for countries like Italy, Spain or England to play a strong game. Below is the British team, which is definitely the favourite: who could outplay Shakespeare?


Unfortunately Canada is still not featured, but that does not mean we would not have a strong team. Any suggestions?

Quiz about how many classics we have read.

Book quizzes

Do not dismiss quizzes just yet. There are so many kinds on so many subjects, that it is bound that sooner or later we all find our weaknesses reflected in one. For book lovers, there are book quizzes, of course. For example, on the Guardian website, there is this quiz where you need to guess books by their covers. We already know that for any given book, there can be numerous editions with as many covers, but it is still interesting to try. In fact, a simple search on the Guardian website will reveal quite a number of book quizzes on various themes, and whether you are into mystery novels, Franz Kafka, or monsters in fiction, you may be tempted to try a few.

Quiz about how many classics we have read.

A different type of quiz can be found on List Challenges. This website features many tops and lists, from those compiled by newspapers and magazines to those grouped around a writer or a theme, like for example this top 100 of all-time best novels, generated by Time magazine. The interesting part is that you can select the books you have read while going through the list, and at the end you are presented with your total. Nothing to be ashamed of if you are in the lower spectrum, you can catch up starting this very day. But definitely something to brag about if your score is high. You can even share it on Facebook and challenge your friends.

(This is the quiz featured in the image.)

Love thy books

Growing up, I feared my father’s frown when I folded book pages corners. Paperbacks were to be covered in paper to protect their covers. So I have always carried with me the feeling that books are something sacred, to be read with the minimum amount of damage, trying to leave no trace of my passage among revered pages. I would instinctually cringe when I saw students highlight passages in their books, or make notes on the borders of the pages. In Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, there is mention of a hiker who would tear the pages she read, to ease the weight of her heavy backpack: I understood the rationale, but I condemned the blasphemy.


But the article “How well do you treat books?” on The Guardian blog put things into perspective. The author, Alison Flood, talks about having a real, strong relationship with her books, books that are so loved that they are revisited, and as a consequence they show the signs: cracked spines, pages falling out. It made me think of my favourite jacket, showing signs of wear, just because unlike other pristine jackets in my wardrobe, I prefer it. So I guess there is such a thing like loving a book so much that you can read it to death. (I can imagine quite a few antiquarians and book collectors scowling when reading this sentence.)

But we need not ponder this dilemma too long: with the Age of the Digital upon us, all e-books will look like new and completely the same no matter how many times we read them. The time will come when we will miss the smell of a musty old book, going through its yellow pages, and caressing the stain left on its cover by a glass of wine.

Book covers containing acacia trees

The acacia tree stands for Africa

Book covers are the greatest opportunity for creativity in book publishing, and they have a major role in alluring the readers. A good cover stands out, intrigues, is a good representation of the content, and at its best, can be a work of art. There are many that meet all these requirements and more, wonderful pieces worthy of being framed, such as the Haruki Murakami covers created by Celia Arellano which we presented a while ago. But in spite of their potential for creativity, book covers (as any other form of art) is still prone to clich├ęs, as is the case of the acacia trees that adorn the books written about Africa or by African authors. But I was not aware of the extent of this till I glimpsed the visual put together by Simon Stevens.

Book covers containing acacia trees

The number is overwhelming, some of them well-known bestsellers. It is hard to say if it is hilarious, unnerving, or puzzling that one tree with the mandatory sunset background has come to represent not one country, one people, but a whole continent with all its associations. To me it is interesting not only that cover designers get away with it, but that marketing departments agree to this readymade, pedestrian solution. Or maybe they even prefer it as a cautious approach that already sold so many books about Africa, imagining that it communicates one of the themes of the book clearly and promptly. It would be refreshing to see what readers prefer: clarity or creativity?

Charles Mayrs Exhibition in West Vancouver

Charles Mayrs, who specializes in producing solely limited edition books, will present eleven of his esoteric creations at an exhibition at West Vancouver Memorial Library on 1950 Marine Drive, on Saturday, May 31, from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm. Charles demonstrates a host of skills and talents in developing the text, photography, illustration and design of his books, pared with an extensive knowledge of letterpress. He will be happy to discuss with those attending the process of putting his books together, from inception to the final product, as well as the impact and role of the letterpress books in the book arts.

exhibition poster 2
Mayrs’ books are sought after by private collectors and libraries’ Rare Books and Special Collections departments alike. Not only is he a member of the Alcuin Society, but his book British Columbia. In Light and Dark received the Alcuin Society first prize in the limited edition category in 2009.

Should we ban books, or learn how to read them?

Recently The Province published an article about books banned in libraries, as Vancouver Public Library received a request to eliminate a Dr. Seuss book (If I Ran the Zoo) off their shelves. The reason mentioned is that it portrays Asian and African people in a way that is perceived as racist and disrespectful. While such accusations are not to be treated lightly, there is something to be said for having an open mind and trying not to get overly and unnecessarily sensitive. Particularly in this case, when a children’s book is involved, the most important reaction would be not banning and censoring, but teaching children to be understanding, tolerant, and how to think for themselves.

if i ran the zoo

In time, a whole host books have been banned, for one reason or another. But banning and censoring is usually the weapon of a totalitarian, tyrannical government, that would try to banish certain ideas and situations. If these ideas are so bad, a sane, normal mind would just reject them: first acknowledge they exist, then examine them, and in the end, dismiss them, after first learning why they are not suitable. This is a logical, common-sense process, and this is what we should teach our children. (On the other hand, how beautiful the world would be in which all bad literature is banned; but then again, how would we learn to appreciate the good literature?)