Tag Archives: letters

The Found Art of Letter Writing

letters cover

What would you say if I told you there is a brand new collection of letters that you just have to see?

“Letters,” I can hear you saying, “who writes letters, let alone reads letters, anymore?”

Well, bear with me a moment. I think you’ll find this worthwhile.

Might you be interested in a letter written by Emily Dickinson to her one, true love? Or one written by Mahatma Gandhi to Adolf Hitler? What about one by Philip K. Dick on getting a brief preview (he didn’t live to see the final cut) of Bladerunner, the movie adaptation of his novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Or maybe a letter by Groucho Marx to Woody Allen might hit just the right spot?

Still not sold? There is a smoking note by Nick Cave to MTV, written with appropriate sarcastic grace (often referred to as the “My Muse is Not a Horse” Letter), in rejection of their nomination of “Best Male Artist of the Year.” Or a letter from Jack Kerouac to Marlon Brando saying he’d be great as Dean Moriarty in a film version of On The Road. Or Mark David Chapmen to a memorabilia expert inquiring as to the possible worth of an album signed by John Lennon mere hours before he murdered him?

I could probably go on and on tantalizing you with glimpses into Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving a Wider Audience.

Nearly as amazing as the contents, however, is the presentation. It is something of a coffee table book, though perhaps a bit on the smaller end of the format. The fact that it is a tad oversize is put to great advantage – it reproduces, in large format, the original typed or handwritten letters, telegrams (one from the Titanic), plus a clay tablet, alongside transcripts (particularly useful in deciphering the dodgy handwriting of creative types), as well as brief summaries giving context to the various exchanges.

May I mention just a few more? How about letters by Charles Dickens, Jack the Ripper, Charles Bukowski, Leonardo da Vinci, Mary Stuart, and Albert Einstein addressing, respectively, the topics of public executions, unimaginably abominable behavior, censorship, employment as a military engineer, final thoughts before being executed, and a sixth grade class’s query as to whether scientists pray?

And, oh, yes, there is the thousand plus years old ancient Chinese form letter written in apology for drunken behavior at a dinner party the evening before. It begins:

Yesterday, having drunk too much, I was intoxicated as to pass all bounds; but none of the rude and coarse language I used was uttered in a conscious state. The next morning, after hearing others speak on the subject I realized what had happened, whereupon I was overwhelmed with confusion and ready to sink into the earth with shame.  …

That’s right, it’s a form letter – and you thought you knew how to party!

Billed by the publisher as a “spectacular collection of more than 125 letters,” this is no adperson’s hyberbole: it’s the real deal.

In my estimation, this collection is not the mourning of a passing art form but a celebration, a celebration perhaps not so much of the specific form itself (though it is, of course, that), but of the human races’ constant striving to communicate, to understand, and to survive.

Even if we don’t continue to write letters much anymore, we continue to communicate, which is reflected in the fact universities and libraries worldwide are collecting electronic correspondence as they once collected letters. The form may differ, but the creativity behind it is, if anything, becoming more varied and incredible as the years go by.

I do believe it might just be worth the wait to read the curated email correspondence of say, Margaret Atwood, or Neil Gaiman and, perhaps even of the notoriously reclusive Thomas Pynchon.

Just sayin’ or, more accurately, just readin’.

What follows is a letter from Mick Jagger to Andy Warhol in Letters of Note, at once charming, practical, and endearing, if sprinkled with casual obscenity, in a manner only Brits seem to be able to pull off with aplomb.

~ Don

jagger to warhol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thick As A Brick

Nothing says “summer reading” to me like a giant doorstop of a book that requires two hands to read and a huge tote bag to carry. This may not be the reading experience you want to have, and I can’t say I blame you: those suckers can get pretty heavy, which is why I’m always happy to help people find less hefty alternatives in our e-book collection. Nobody should have to throw out their back or shoulder to enjoy a book!

But, under the correct circumstances–a warm (yet breezy) day, a comfy shady spot, a refreshing cold beverage nearby–curling up with one of those text-monsters sends a definite signal: I am not at all kidding around about reading this giant book here; think twice before dragging me away from it, because I am enjoying myself immensely. It’s an incredibly pleasurable, self-indulgent reading experience, the kind I think everyone should treat themselves to from time to time.

bigbooks

Image spotted at LetterMidst

However, if you’re going to do this, you have to make sure you pick the right book. There’s nothing worse than lugging what one book blogger calls “chunksters” all the way home only to find yourself flailing with disappointment by page three. No matter what you’re in the mood for, though, there’s bound to be a “thick as a brick” pick for you to while away a cool summer night with. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

ozeki A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki (422 pages). Ruth, an author suffering from writers’ block, finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox on the beach. The contents? The diary of a Japanese teen called Nao. Despite her conviction that suicide is the only answer to her problems, Nao is determined to write down the story of her grandmother, a Buddhist nun, before checking out permanently. Fascinated by Nao’s tale, Ruth drops her own project to solve the literary mystery that has magically landed in her lap. A lovely, layered tale with a fair share of heartbreak, but also equal parts wonder and joy.

NOS4A2, Joe Hill (692 pages). Beat the summer sun with Hill’s bone-chilling novel about the madman of Christmasland, and the Hillone woman who’s managed to outsmart him. Victoria escaped the clutches of the preternatural Charlie Manx as a teen, but evil always comes back, and this time Victoria’s son is in danger. Can she find her way back to Christmasland and save her boy before it’s too late? A page-turner with a number of wickedly clever “Wait, what???” surprises.

AdichieAmericanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (477 pages). Ifemelu does, and does not, want to go home to Nigeria. A scholarship to an American college has opened doors for her, and her blog about racism in America has earned her a fellowship at Princeton. Still, Ifemelu can’t forget the country–and the man–she left behind, even though returning to both will prove difficult. A sweeping novel that travels back and forth in time, explores life on three continents, and pulls no punches in its examination of race and culture.

 The Eye of the World , Robert Jordan (670 pages). If you’ve been meaning to try out the epic fantasy genre, the long, lazy days of summer jordanare the perfect time. Also, now that the Wheel of Time series is finally complete, you have no excuse not to dive in. There’s an evil power seeking to hasten the end of the world (isn’t there always?), and it falls to three unremarkable boys from a small backwater village to take up the hero’s mantle and try to save the day. Jordan’s saga, which rambles over fourteen volumes, begins with The Eye of the World, in which we meet our heroes, a mysterious priestess, the knight who is bound to her honor, and the big bad who just wants to break things. Good fun for anyone relishing an old-school tale of fantasy adventure.

krantzMistral’s Daughter, Judith Krantz (531 pages). This is not a romance novel to be tossed aside lightly. This is a romance novel meant to be heaved across the room with great force at anyone who makes fun of you for reading romance novels. Krantz’s tale spans three generations in the life of passionate painter Julien Mistral, and the three women who mean the most to him: Maggy (his lover), Teddy (his best beloved), and Fauve (his daughter). From the bohemian arts circles of Paris in the 1920s up to the ritzy glitz of New York in the 1980s, Krantz spins a tale of passion, fashion, exotic locales, heartbreak, jealousy, deceit, art, and haute couture. It’s a delicious romp through the social circles of the wealthy and talented, with just enough sex and scandal to keep you hooked until the end. A classic masterpiece to discover–or rediscover–on a steamy summer night (or three!).

The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout, eds. (676 pages). Non-fiction and literature lovers cathertake note: Jewell and Stout’s volume is a treasure trove of living history. Cather, who wanted to be judged by her work and not her personal life, specifically stated in her will that her letters were not to be published. The editors went ahead and produced the volume anyway–presumably with permission from Cather’s literary executor!–on the grounds that enough time had passed to soften any objections Cather might have had to the letters being exposed. Arranged chronologically, the correspondence includes missives from Cather’s years living in Pittsburgh, as well as the only known letter from Cather to her partner, Edith Lewis. There are no scandals or secrets here, but the letters are rich with details of Cather’s ordinary life, filled with joy and love of nature and travel, and, of course, many thoughts on writing.

What say you, constant readers? Will you be giving the chunksters some love this summer? Or do you prefer to put in your weight training time at the gym? What’s the biggest book you’ve ever hauled around just for the love of it?

–Leigh Anne

with apologies to Jethro Tull

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The Lost Art of the Handwritten Letter

Dear Eleventh Stack Readers,

Even in (or perhaps despite?) this digital age I live in, I’ve always loved handwritten letters. There’s just something special about someone willing to take the time to craft a newsy letter and it’s even more fun to receive it in the mail; it’s a bonus if it’s handwritten on lovely paper. For over twenty years now, I’ve corresponded with a grad school friend whom I have not seen since 1991 but, every month, we exchange letters. In fact, she refuses to correspond with me via email and, to tell the truth, it wouldn’t be the same. Email makes it too easy to be short and abbreviated but, with paper and pen, I can take my time telling my news; it’s almost meditative.

My minimalist tendencies, however, get in my way. Currently I am trying to use up all of my stationery stock before I even consider buying more. But it has made me even more creative (okay, let’s face it, cheap) and I’ve even taken to using old library book due date cards and old postcards. My friend, on the other hand, always seems to have a limitless supply of beautiful writing papers and cards for every occasion.

I love to write so writing letters and coming up with things to write about has never been a problem for me but, if it is for you, the library has several books to help:

For the Love of Letters : a 21st-Century Guide to the Art of Letter Writing by Samara O’Shea

The Art of the Handwritten Note : a Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication by Margaret Shepherd

Just Write : the Art of Personal Correspondence by Molly O’Shaughnessy

In closing, as an English major, I can’t let the moment go by without mentioning a few of my favorite epistolary novels that tell a story through letters:

Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Until next time,
Maria

P.S. There’s even a lovely little zine in our Zine Collection about letter writing:  All This is Mine #12 by Sugene

Source: All This is Mine

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All Day, And All of the Night: Read to the People

What do Urban Mommies, a famous Froggy, and a local mystery maven have in common?  They’ll all be making an appearance at Read to the People, the 24-hour read-a-thon that begins today at noon.  That’s right:  144 volunteer readers, including many local celebrities, signed up for a collective 1,440 minutes of reading out loud to raise awareness of the Our Library, Our Future voter initiative.   That’s 24 hours of library love.  Makes me feel warm and fuzzy all over.

I’m biased, of course.  But, quite frankly, even if I didn’t work here, I’d still visit every day.  For starters,  you’d better believe I’d be getting my money’s worth from the library.  The amount of money I save on books alone is so embarrassingly high I’m surprised it’s not illegal:  $850 per every fifty books checked out on my card.  That makes the cost of a Donor Plus membership look, by comparison, decidedly affordable.  Add in the value of free internet access, free magazines and research journals, free cultural/educational programming, and all the other free perks that come with library membership? I’d be a fool not to spend my time here (especially if I were actually searching for a new job).

It’s the intangibles that matter most to me, though, namely my emotional attachment to the library as a palace of letters and light.  Illusory though it may be, it comforts me to think that, in our frazzled, consumption-driven world, there is still one place where any citizen may go and be treated with courtesy and respect.  One haven where, if they’re willing to work and learn, people can teach themselves anything they care to know.  A sanctuary that values both quiet spaces and noisy, cheerful, collaborative ones.  A place for children to dream and explore, and for adults to remember how to dream and explore.  A safe space to navigate the sometimes muddy waters of being a teen (and, of course, to have fun while doing so).  A place where, no matter how many times you’ve failed, you can always start over.

As lovely as all that sounds, I know that libraries can’t sustain themselves on dreams and illusions.  They need you:  your time, your ear, your voice, your donations, your vote.  That’s why I’m part of the volunteer crew staying up all night for Read to the People:  I love the library so much, I’m not content to be with it in the daytime. I’m going to stay up all night to support it, and so are a lot of your friends and neighbors.  Won’t you join us?

In conjunction with the brouhaha, Eleventh Stack will update frequently this weekend with photos and short posts about read-aloud festivities.  You can also get read-aloud tidbits on Facebook and Twitter, and participate virtually by retweeting and sharing links and photos in your social networks.  Spread the word, and we hope to see you soon, either outside or online!

—Leigh Anne

serendipitously celebrating nine years of library employment today

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Dear John

Love letters get lots of attention, but those of us who find them a little saccharine and overwrought know that the really juicy bits are saved for the breakup letter.  Hell Hath No Fury: Women’s Letters from the End of the Affair is a compilation of breakup letters from antiquity to the present, written by celebrities and average Janes.  Some of the gems in this volume include a letter from Rebecca West to her lover H.G. Wells, where she writes:

I always knew that you would hurt me to death one day, but I had hoped to choose the time and place…You want a world of people falling over each other like puppies, people to quarrel and play with, people who rage and ache instead of people who burn…I can’t concieve of a person who runs about lighting bonfires and yet nourishes a dislike of flame.

or this letter from Agnes von Kurowsky to a 19-year old Ernest Hemingway:

After a couple of months away from you, I know that I am still very fond of you, but, it is more as a mother than as a sweetheart…So, Kid (still kid to me & always will be) can you forgive me some day for unwittingly deceiving you? …I am and always will be too old, & that’s the truth, & I can’t get away from the fact that you’re just a boy– a kid.

or this very short letter from Jacqueline Susann to her husband:

Irving, when we were at the Essex House and I had room service and I could buy all my Florence Lustig dresses, I found that I loved you very much, but now that you’re in the army and getting fifty-six dollars a month, I feel that my love has waned.

These are among the more “gentle” of the letters in this volume!  The background notes that accompany each letter are almost as intriguing as the letters themselves.  Rebecca West and H.G. Wells got back together and had a son before ending it for good. Ernest Hemingway stayed in bed for a week and wound up using this letter as inspiration for his story “A Very Short Story” and modeled A Farewell to Arms on his relationship with von Kurowsky.  Jacqueline Susann and her husband reconciled (presumably after he started making more money!).

If you’re struggling with your own Dear John letter and the letters in this book don’t give you quite the inspiration you’re searching for, you can always try the Do-it-yourself Dear John Letter for help coming up with the right words.

–Irene

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Love letters?

Or emails?  Or notes?  Or text messages?

I recently finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows, and rediscovered how much fun it can be to read epistolary novels. You know, the ones that tell the story through letters or other writings. (I had to look it up – can you tell?)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society takes place just after World War II, and begins with a letter from a pig farmer to an author, asking for help finding a book and mentioning that the literary society kept them going through the war.  With that intriguing start, the letters build a story of the war and survival, of love and loss, and of the importance of books and stories in every life.

Of course, we all know that “no one writes letters any more,” and epistolary novels keep up with the times.  Boy Meets Girl, by Meg Cabot, uses emails, memos, faxes, and even restaurant receipts to tell the story of a young woman dealing with a nasty boss, a lawsuit, and a disarmingly handsome lawyer. Anyone who’s had their own “T.O.D.” (or “Tyrannical Office Despot”) can compare notes with Kate Mackenzie.

If you’re looking for other suggestions, you could also try:

  • Ella Minnow Pea: A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable, by Mark Dunn, takes place on the island of Nollop, home to the creator of the sentence “The quick, brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,” whose residents are so proud of their facility with language that they’ve eschewed more modern forms of communication and kept letter-writing as their primary communication tool. When one of the letters falls off of Nevin Nollop’s statue, the island’s government decides it is a sign that the letter should be banished from use. As another letter falls, then another, the island’s inhabitants must use fewer and fewer letters in their letters, and try to figure out a way around the linguistically-challenging laws.
  • A Celibate Season, by Carol Shields, Blanche Howard, in which each author wrote the letters for one partner in a marriage that’s going through a temporary separation after 20 years. When Jock takes a job assignment on the other side of the country, she and Chas decide that they will use letters to communicate. The combination of news, familiarity, and raw emotion that is so characteristic of this kind of interchange will strike a nerve in anyone who has corresponded with someone close to them.
  • Another email novel, Dear Stranger, Dearest Friend, by Laney Katz Becker, starts on a bulletin board for breast cancer. Lara and Susan find an instant connection through a shared sense of humor, which blossoms into a full and loving friendship that goes far beyond a disease.
  • In It’s Getting Later All the Time: A Novel in the Form of Letters, by Antonio Tabucchi, the letters appear to be one-sided communications that each tell the story of a relationship, until the final answer. As in any good epistolary novel, what has really happened is left to the imagination.

And if you’d like even more suggestions, do a search for “epistolary novels” in our good-book-finding database, Novelist. It requires a library card number if you’re not inside the library, and it’s so worth it. You might also try looking here, or here. If you’ve enjoyed one yourself, post it in the comments. Nothing beats a personal recommendation!

-Kaarin

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