The Letter Opener by Kyo Maclear

I stumbled across this book by title only, and couldn’t resist. A letter opener? The Undeliverable Mail Office of Canada Post? Based in Toronto??

It’s actually in fact a story about a woman, Naiko who works there, and her friend and colleague, Andrei, who one day disappears. The story itself is lovely, and thought-provoking, and all about the idea of lost things and lost people and the things lost people find and carry with them, and a wonderful read.

But bubbling up in the background every so often are tidbits and glimpses into where your mail goes when it gets lost. Originally called the Dead Letter Office (what a delight!), I loved reading all about the mysterious things that turn up undeliverable, and also about the rules governing the sorting of this undeliverable mail – perishable items disposed of immediately, separating valuables.

In the notes in the back of the book, I discovered that “the Toronto-area Undeliverable Mail Office of Canada post processes more than five million pieces of mail annually,” and returns 92% of items, andI’ve realized that I should indeed write both the deliver to and return addresses inside packages, just in case they get lost. If there is no legible address on the outside of a parcel, the Undeliverable Mail Office will open your package for clues.

Also tucked away were descriptions of the magic of pencils in this book, like Andrei’s notebook of inventions.

I flipped through the pages, filled with sketches and roughly hatched plans that he had never brought himself to patent. I followed the contours of curves and the collision of lines, appreciating the satisfying crispness of graph paper filled with 2B pencil.

Or, even more endearingly, the meeting of two lovers in university’s mathematics exam over a pencil in a time of need:

       It was mid-session exams. The classroom noisy with moving paper and chair legs scratching the floor. Nicolae was sitting by the window, leaning on his wooden desk. He was using a ruler to draw a gridding – grid? – a grid on his paper to complete the last question. Around us, everyone was concentrating.
       Only I was moving in my seat. I had forgotten my sharpener, and my flat pencil would not let me finish the final question. The more I tried to fix my…my grid the more messy it became, until I was looking at a terrible grey mark in the middle of my page. I must have sighed loudly, because a moment later there was a tiny sound on my desk. Nicolae had given me a new pencil. I held it up. The tip was a perfect point. I looked over to thank him but his nose was already back on his page.

As much as I enjoy the words describing the details of a pencil that make the physical nature of them so tangible, like a secret language between all adults who started out as children writing with a pencil in school, I love this serendipitous sharing of a pencil. Something so tactile and carrying with it so much possibility with each stroke it leaves on a page, sometimes sharp and sometimes messy, the start of a relationship also tactile and full of potential.

And, as a great coincidence (are there such things in this life?), I received Kyo Maclear’s Birds Art Life in the mail from a pen pal, along with her high recommendations, and I can’t wait to dive in.

 

***

 

In other book news, I continue to be plagued by Curious George.

I have very little to no recollection of having spent time reading Curious George books as a child, so I initially had no qualms about Caleb’s interest in this little monkey, but let me tell you, George is basically a self-absorbed little trouble maker who does whatever he wants in life with zero restraint. Make a huge mess in the kitchen? No problem! Just open the door and let a convenient pack of dogs come in and lick up everything.

For those of you not familiar, Curious George stars in a series of books wherein his curiosity gets the better of him, and he wreaks some sort of havoc/catastrophe/mess, completely unsupervised by the man in the yellow hat.

Caleb loves Curious George. He is delighted at all of his antics.

I, on the other hand, continue to be aghast at the tales of this George character. The amount of brain power and energy I have to exert in amending story lines is exhausting. I’m not saying I want a completely moralistic lesson in every book I read Caleb, and I’m all for a willing suspension of disbelief, but I would like Caleb to learn a little responsibility and thoughtfulness in life, along with rogue adventure.

For example, in our latest book, Curious George Feeds the Animals, George and the man with the yellow hat visit the zoo. George sees a zookeeper feeding the seals some fish, and gets the idea to share his treats with various animals (a koala, baby kangeroo, hippo, giraffe, crocodile, elephant, etc.). A zookeeper gets mad at him for feeding the animals since they might get sick, and George is sad.

However, at that point in time, a missing parrot swoops down onto George, and another zookeeper is thrilled that George has “found” the missing parrot. George then climbs up with his monkey-climbing abilities and fixes the hole in the net out of which the parrot flew. All his surreptitious animal feeding is forgiven.

Each time we read this book – and there have been many – I need to sneak in some real life examples of why you can’t just feed animals whatever you want, and while being sad is great at having potentially killed an endangered animal is great, feelings don’t take the place of responsibility.

The common plot line in many, if not basically all Curious George stories is that he does something that makes a mess for someone else, or maybe something actually fairly dangerous, and then through some fortunate plot twist, he uses his agility to rescue or fix or save something else and then all his previous thoughtlessness is forgotten. Feeding potentially endangered animals?? And all is forgotten because some parrot swooped in on him and then he climbed up and fixed some netting?? Being agile is not sufficient reparation for poisoning another animal.

These are not funny stories of misadventure, they’re stories of a monkey doing whatever he wants with no consequences, which is basically not even a story.

In my personal favourite of these “stories,” George and the man in the yellow hat are in the city for some holiday shopping. George destroys the display of a hard working store clerk (I can certainly empathize here), and upon getting in trouble, runs away and gets lost in the big city. He miraculously finds his way back to the store, and then delights the crowd with his four limbed gift wrapping magic to make up for his previous mess. He then remembers he didn’t get a present for the man in the yellow hat. So what does he do? He wraps himself into a present. George himself is the gift. What a joke.*

 

In any case. We’re keeping busy back here. After our long Christmas break and cottage excitement, Caleb is back into his pre-school routine, and the baby and I are settling into our routine. Slowly boxes are trickling into the warehouse as we restock from the holidays, and it’s been strangely satisfying to finally see our shelves filled up again with neatly stacked, plastic wrapped pads of paper.

Caleb stole my footrest from under my desk, and I can’t find it so, so my feet are dangling uncomfortably and every so often I have to complain out loud to Jon. So basically things are back to usual – pre-schools and packages and Caleb messing around with things.

 

 

*I do realize that I ostensibly titled and started out writing about this great book by Kyo Maclear and then spent a not insignificant amount of time ranting about a fictional monkey for children, but I just had to get it off my chest.

Also, interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the Hungarian translation for Curious George is Bajkeverő majom, which means “troublemaker monkey,” so apparently the Hungarians are in agreement with me.

 

8 Comments

  1. Ben

    This is the best!!! I would have used much less elegant words to describe George and his bull***t. I’m so happy to have another adult agree with me!

    • wonderpens

      HAHA! I also use some special words when discussing George with Jon! Glad to hear some support, and glad to hear from you as well. Hope all is well with you and the family! 🙂

  2. Andrea

    My husband wholeheartedly agrees with you about Curious George. He thinks George needs a firm hand and the man with the yellow hat needs a kick in the butt for allowing all the unsupervised nonsense!

  3. Jonathan Leung

    That’s a really interesting take on Curious George! When I was younger I always loved the few chances I had at watching the show (which weren’t often since we didn’t have cable or most of the children channels). To me, the stories were more about “check things out, go explore, be curious” than being able to get away with anything… but looking back at it I definitely see your point haha.

    • wonderpens

      I think Caleb would love the show (if we had a TV)! Perhaps we’ll have to consider YouTube.

      He is indeed exploring and being curious, but sometimes I feel as though he is a very self-entitled little monkey… 🙂

  4. Nadine

    Im so happy to learn that I am not the only adult up in arms over th3 curious George books! The man with the yellow hat needs to Wake up!

    • wonderpens

      Tell me about it! I can’t imagine him as a parent volunteer on a school field trip. I feel like I sometimes need to rope him into my reprimands about George’s behaviour so I can spread the responsibility a little, haha.

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