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wacky book of the day [Apr. 22nd, 2004|08:32 am]
Just me.
Postal Seance: A Scientific Investigation into the Possibility of a Postlife Postal Existence by Henrik Drescher 

Book Description (from amazon)
If you can write letters to Santa Claus c/o the North Pole, you ought to be able to write a letter to Jack Kerouac or Albert Einstein. As it turns out, you can. People have been trying to communicate with the dead for aeons, but it took renowned author and illustrator Henrik Drescher to break through the eternal barrier. Postal Seance is the result of his bizarre and ambitious experiment, in which the afterlife meets the epistolary impulse in the form of elaborately decorated letters to the dead. By sending out 52 ornately designed cards and letters to deceased luminaries throughout history -- including James Joyce, Dolly the Sheep (in two letters), Chairman Mao, Saul Steinberg, and others -- Drescher puts his faith in the efficacy of the international postal network. In some cases, the letter is returned, bearing evidence of its lengthy journey in the form of international postmarks as it bounced from Singapore to Manchester, Sydney to Kentucky, or Madrid to Moscow, at last surrendering to the ultimate defeat, the "Return to Sender" stamp. Of those not returned, it is deduced that the letter was successfully delivered. With a foldout map showing the post-life postal system and custom stamps for the reader's own far-reaching missives, Postal Seance is a uniquely imaginative presentation, and perhaps the closest we humans have ever come to contact with the dead.

Note that this is not some wacky 60's book (I guess the reference to Dolly the cloned sheep gives that away) but a book published this May by Chronicle books.

Chronicle books, for those not in the know, is known especially for coffee table/illustrated books on lightweight "lifestyle" topics such as airstream trailers or sangria recipes. About 5 years ago, the SF Weekly held a snarky contest for "guess which of the following titles is NOT an actual book published by Chronicle Books". I can't remember the actual winner, but I imagine it was less ludicrious than "Postal Seance" in its premise.

[User Picture]From: seattlesque
2004-04-22 05:04 am (UTC)

such great heights

The most serious part about this is that despite the "ludicrous" premise of this book...it points out our own possibly misplaced trust in the postal service (or email service)!!! We usually assume our letters are delivered, and when we don't hear anything back it's because the person got the letter (or email) and elected not to respond. Missing mail is assumed to be the exception, as opposed to any kind of systemic "rule"

We have an implicit trust of the post office (or our ISP) so we never think that the person might not have ever gotten the mail...or it would have been filtered out by a junk-mail system they don't know they have that's scanning for your name.

What's more, the person might be dead or nonexistent (e.g. on personal ad services that are merely fronts for "people databases" that lure you into signing up in order to get your $1). Just imagine how easy it would be to rip the content off of something like Friendster, go to a country that didn't have it, change the cities...and populate a database with 10% real ads and 90% fake ads...then charge a signup fee...etc...

On a less conspiracy-theory oriented note...as a seasoned humorist, I'm sure you're familiar with the joke that this book reminded me of:

There was a Rabbi, a Catholic Priest, and a Baptist Preacher walking on
the beach when they see a bag wash to shore.

They open it and find it's a bag full of money. Well the Rabbi says,
"This is a blessing from God. Here let's draw a circle in the sand, throw
the money up in the air. Whatever falls out of the circle we give back
to God."

The Catholic Priest says, "I have a better idea. Let's throw the money
up in the air. Whatever falls in the circle we give back to God."

The Baptist Preacher says, "I have an even better idea. Let's throw the money
up in the air. Whatever God wants, He keeps."
(Reply) (Thread)
From: dagmarathena
2004-04-22 06:16 am (UTC)
wow. you're a librarian so I guess I have to believe you that this book exists. but, wow. how many ppl have to buy into an idea before a book gets published?? and this thing made it into print? are you kidding me?

*shakes head at the wackiness of humankind*
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: rimrunner
2004-04-22 07:34 am (UTC)
Sounds like the one where that guy sold all his stuff on EBay, then went to visit the things in their new homes.

Because of some of my religious practices, I run into communicate-with-the-dead practices not infrequently. Writing letters (though not, necessarily, entrusting them to the vagaries of the postal system) isn't uncommon, and there's even automatic writing, by which the dead can presumably reply.

That's not even the weirdest one.
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