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Pickle Me This

September 23, 2011

Envelopes by Harriet Russell

As any bookish person would, I spent much of Heather Birrell‘s daughter’s birthday party a few weeks back examining the family bookshelves (while HB led the kids in a round of Pass the Parcel). I was, naturally, interested to discover Harriet Russell‘s book Envelopes, which combines my two great passions of Harriets and the postal system, and the book did not disappoint. Harriet Russell is an artist who came upon the greatest idea ever, which is to send letters to herself with cryptically addressed envelopes requiring a postal worker to solve her puzzles.

As Lynn Truss writes in her foreward to the book, “each envelope… is also a triumph of humanity– because, after all, in nearly every case, the letter arrived! Therefore a human person must have worked out Harriet’s code, or enjoyed the conceit, or (at the very least) held the envelope at arm’s length, recognising the handiwork of that annoyign woman in that flat on Montague street.”

Eventually, the postal workers started writing, “Solved by the Glasgow Mail Centre” on the backs of the envelopes, and their own annotations in the process of solving the puzzles are, as Russell writes, “[now] a real part of the work, adding an extra element that would not be there had they not participated.”

I think my favourite envelope was one made from an old map of London with an X, and the note, “Please deliver here. This is a very old map and the street used to be called Grand Junction.” Also, the drawing of the house with a note reading, “Please deliver to the house pictured”. The address is hidden in a crossword puzzle, connect the dots, colour by number, shopping lists, excerpts from a dictionary, a script from a play, a photograph, a menu, musical notation, and the periodic table of elements. Etc. Etc.

Cover to cover delight.

5 thoughts on “Envelopes by Harriet Russell”

  1. This sounds incredibly charming. Must get my hands on it.

  2. Oh my…this is one of those “perfect book suggestion at the perfect time” moments. 🙂

    So now I need to know if you’re the person who has the only circulating copy from the public library…if it’s you, I’ll wait until you’re done…otherwise I’m slapping a hold on it pronto. ::grin::

    Or, should I skip that step and go straight to purchasing…that would be easier to justify if I hadn’t just been to that booksale too…

    What a delightful “problem” to have!

    1. Kerry says:

      I will be returning the book to the library tomorrow, so it’s all yours (hopefully)! It’s a wonderful book. I’d like to own it but yes, there IS the matter of yesterday…

  3. Nedra says:

    I recently got the book as a gift from a friend. It is truly HILARIOUS!

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