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Book Review: Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued From the Past by Ransom Riggs

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Ransom Riggs’s Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued From the Past is an unforgettable trip into the past. The stories found on the back of the pictures presented offer their own little surprises, adding depth to a seemingly simple text. Riggs’s shows the reader that sometimes only a few words are needed to engage a person’s imagination, and that a picture is at times worth more than a single glance.

When I visited New York City a few weeks ago, I came across a flea market that hosted various buckets of photographs. Old pictures, in varying stages of decay, were placed in different piles according to their types. Immediately, I understood why old photographs caught a person’s attention.

Whispers from the past pull the curious in, and a desire to know more about the worlds beyond the ones frozen in the photographs takes over. A person may imagine the lives of the people captured the moment a camera flashes, but Riggs, as he states in his introduction, suggests that perhaps it is better to find pictures with messages, rather than just be content with wordless pictures.

While Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was eerie, Talking Pictures is beautiful and haunting. Separated into different sections, the pictures decorating the pages of Riggs’s most recent text are at times funny, and more often sad.

The toughest section to view is the one dedicated to photographs depicting war and deceased soldiers. Here, Riggs’s turns smiling groups of soldiers into depressing memories by informing the reader that most, if not all, of the men and women in multiple pictures died days, or months, after the photograph was taken. It is the stolen moments, just before death claims its prize, that make this section so depressing.

It is fascinating how Riggs finds the most heartfelt messages hidden behind mundane pictures. From a section chronicling the short life of a smiling young girl, to a section where disaster lurks just beyond the photographs taken, Riggs’s manages to grab the reader’s attention effectively with few words and a lot of pictures, rather than paragraphs of fiction.

I recommend this book to history lovers, photography enthusiasts, and fans of Ransom Riggs.

If you read his debut and wanted more photography, rather than fiction, then you should give Talking Pictures a shot. The pictures can be viewed over and over again, and the emotions hidden within the little notes scribbled on the backs of the photographs will always incite a response from the reader.

Beautiful, joyful, heartbreaking, tender, and mysterious, Riggs has a winner of a book that touches on every human emotion simply by exploring the past.

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