Transcript / LoLT: Postcard Pen Pals and Two New Books — 30 June 2023

Transcript / LoLT: Postcard Pen Pals and Two New Books — 30 June 2023

Friday, 30 June, 2023

This is a transcription of Postcard Pen Pals and Two New Books — 30 June 2023’


[cheerful music]

Melissa: Coming up, a travel guide to unique places of myth, legend, and literature.

David: The adventures of a ‘death investigator’ in Manhattan.

Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.

David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.

Melissa: When Ken Jennings was on his Jeopardy! winning streak in 2004, I saw every show and became a super-fan. I was so delighted when he quit his job as a software engineer to become a writer. His book Maphead is a love letter to the world of weird maps and Brainiac dives deep into the world of trivia competitions. I loved both of them. His writing style is conversational and funny, and it never feels like you’re seeing his research on the page. It’s clear he’s done a lot of research, then lived with the information long enough that he can turn it into a story.

Melissa: He has a new book called 100 Places to See After You Die. It’s a guidebook to the afterlife that explores destinations from literature, mythology, and pop culture. It’s written in the style of a travel guide, with tips for getting the most out of your time in places like Valhalla and Hades. It has suggestions for what you might wear in the palace of the Hindu Lord Vishnu and tells you how to avoid the flesh-eating serpents in the afterlife of the Star Trek Klingons. Jennings also visit the Hieronymus Bosch painting The Garden of Earthly Delights, Disneyland rides, and the TV shows Twin Peaks and it’s spiritual opposite The Good Place.

Melissa: Kirkus says it’s everything you always wanted to know about the afterlife but were too alive to ask. Worth noting, if you enjoy audiobooks and want to approximate hanging out with Ken Jennings, he did the narration for his book himself. It’s 100 Places to See After You Die by Ken Jennings.

David: Barbara Butcher was the second woman ever hired as a Death Investigator at the Medical Examiner’s Office in Manhattan. She was the first to last more than three months. That work was gritty and demanding and morbid, and she really enjoyed it. She went on to have a twenty-year career at the ME’s Office. She would ultimately investigate over 5,000 death scenes and more than 650 homicides. Those are boggling numbers to me.

David: She’s written a book about that experience. It’s called What the Dead Know: Learning About Life as a New York City Death Investigator. This is obviously not a book for everyone. There are a lot of grim stories here — including details about how the ME Office handled 9/11. But many of the reviews I read mentioned the author’s dark sense of humor — which I would imagine is a prerequisite to this job — and how honest she is about her own challenges in the field.

David: One reviewer said that, quote — ‘Reading this book felt like getting to know a new, fascinating friend.’

David: If you’re curious about true crime, this sounds like a heck of a read. It’s What the Dead Know: Learning About Life as a New York City Death Investigator by Barbara Butcher.

David: And now, our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]

Melissa: If you love to receive and/or look at postcards, I’ve got a website you need to know about. It’s called Postcrossing, and it connects people online to send and receive postcards from all over the globe. It’s a one for one deal — for every postcard you send, you receive one from another random postcross member somewhere in the world.

Melissa: To get started, you register for free and create a profile, then when you’re ready to send a postcard, you’re assigned an ID and given the address for your postcard recipient. And them, after some time passes, you receive a postcard from… SOMEWHERE.

Melissa: Those are the basics. There are some other fun things you can do. There’s an option to do direct swaps, so you can go to the online forums and request a postcard from a specific person or place. You can also set your account to Travel Mode in case you want to send postcards to strangers from places you’re visiting. The site also has a pretty sweet blog that has posts with prompts for writing postcards, essays about postcard cafes and special stamps and handmade postcards… and there’s a calendar of meetups.

Melissa: I learned about Postcrossing from one of our fabulous patrons — Hello, Hope S.! I went searching on Reddit to see what other people had to say about their experiences, and it was overwhelmingly positive. Several people shared stories of meeting their postcard pen pals in person and what fun it was — including a Postcrosser who’s sent and received 1500 postcards over the last 6 years and traveled to meetups in other states and overseas. Another member a direct swap with someone and that evolved into an online weekly book club with four people in four different states. One person said that they favorite postcard included a drawing of a dish from the sender’s country along with a recipe. Another said that Postcrossing is receiving happiness from strangers.

Melissa: The Postcrossing site crunches each members stats, so you can see how many postcards you’ve gotten from each country and how long it takes for cards to arrive. Travel time for a postcard to French Polynesia is about 109 days! Czech Republic is about 25, which is better than I expected, based on personal experience with Czech mail. And Germany has the most active postcard senders, followed by the USA and, this was surprising, Russia.

Melissa: Two more numbers to close this out: Since 2005, more than 72 million postcards have been exchanged via Postcrossing, and as I’m telling you this story, there are about 376,000 postcards traveling through the mail. Summer is a great time to collect pretty postcards and pop them in the mail.

Melissa: Visit for more about the books we discussed and for everything you need to join Postcrossing.

David: Thanks for joining us in the Libary of Lost Time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent book store to lose some time yourself.

Melissa: Stay curious! We’ll talk to you soon.

[cheerful music]


Top image courtesy of Becky Phan/Unsplash.

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In this episode, we get excited about two new book releases: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers. Then we daydream about receiving a postcard from the ancient city of Timbuktu.

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