image

I got a pretty sweet book haul this Christmas (and a bottle of oyster vinegarette – books and oysters, my two favourites!)

I hope everyone has had as equally wonderful a Christmas season as I have ❤

“Sometimes,…our ignoble desire to read private letters is matched by a letter-writer’s ignoble desire to be read.”

I used to send my first ex-boyfriend postcards from each new city I visited, for quite a while after we stopped seeing each other  – unsigned, of course; a dramatic moment never passes me by.  I’d usually get a coy text message in response, “someone’s been sending me mail, I wonder who that could be…”

Cute, right? Vomit inducing. But I still wonder what happened to those postcards, even now nearly a decade on – are they tucked away in a drawer somewhere? Were they read and chucked straight in the bin? Were they even read, and I mean read, those short lines I’d imbued with so much meaning?

image

A postcard I sent to my parents from NY. It still holds pride of place on their fridge.

And there is meaning in hand-written communication; the particular weight that time, thought, and effort offers up, that can’t be replicated by any other means – emails and text messages are but pixels; even a typed, printed letter doesn’t quite have the same power as something hand-written.

imageIt’s this power that John O’Connell explores in his book, For the Love of Letters: The Joy of Slow Communication, published 2012.

I don’t generally like light history books; I tend to find them a bit toothless in both content and analysis, and a bit forced in their attempts to be airily amusing. The blurb on For the Love of Letters’ dust jacket made it sound like just that kind of book, but I’m glad I worked through my initial cringe and read it anyway. O’Connell is not only genuinely witty and deeply knowledgable about the history of letters, but the deeply personal context of the book set it apart for me.

The book opens with O’Connell preparing to pen a reply to a letter of condolence, hand-written and sent by a friend following the death of O’Connell’s mother; and closes as he completes his reply – a copy of which is included as an epilogue, a touch which adds a particular legitimacy to the narrative. What happens between is an agile trip through the history of letters, from the rhetorical theory set out by Isocrates around 400 BC, the origin of the modern postal system, to famous letter writers and styles – love letters, advisory letters, letters confronting death.

It’s light history, light philosophy, and light humour, but it’s the personal and charming elements of the book that make it a satisfying read – it feels far more like having a conversation with an old friend than anything else.

image

I’m always interested in how people attempt to shore up their lives against time, the kinds of precautions we all take to safeguard our experiences against the unsympathetic eye of reality and history, so I am likely the kind of reader O’Connell imagined appreciating his book.

…the reason we write letters is the main reason we write anything: to convert the chaos of our lives into solid, time-locked narrative.
The writing of narrative, any kind of narrative, helps us stay sane by convincing us that we are stable, autonomous individuals moving smoothly through the world. (p. 22)

Perhaps I’ll spend this holiday season writing some letters of my own.

John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces is so steeped in the character of New Orleans that it is impossible to imagine that the novel could exist anywhere else. Even though I loved the novel dearly when I first read it years ago, it took on an entirely different life after I visited New Orleans in person.

image

It’s Ignatius J and I!

If, like me, you can’t get enough of the world of A Confederacy of Dunces, you should head over to An Ignatian Journey! A walking tour audio guide and a detailed story map, the site describes and explains a number of the places in New Orleans that appear in the novel, and were significant to author John Kennedy Toole.

journeyheader

I can’t wait to head back to NOLA to give the walking tour audio guide a go, but reading through the story map is more than enough to make me feel like I’m right back there. Each of the 36 stops on the map are full of photographs (historical and contemporary), relevant quotes from the novel, and historical and cultural information on the locations. The narrative was written by Cynthia LeJeune Nobels, and she has done an excellent job in bringing the energy and quirks of Ignatius J Reilly’s New Orleans to life.

The site is a great addition to the scholarship around A Confederacy of Dunces, and will become even more valuable as each year passes, and the city of New Orleans inevitably changes. This is the real power of the app, in my opinion – the tidbits that make the 1960s New Orleans of the book accessible and palpable to visitors of the city as it exists today. One nugget that I personally love is that the former Dr Nut soft drink plant at Elysian Fields is now the site of Dirty Coast Press (see entry 12)! I rep their shirts at every possible chance (I’ve got two more coming in the mail, as it happens!), and now I’ll feel an extra layer of connection to the city when I wear them!

The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities did a wonderful thing by commissioning this project, and couldn’t have chosen better people to bring it to life.

Do yourself a favour this holiday season –

  1. read John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces;
  2. visit An Ignatian Journey and pretend you’re there tramping those streets;
  3. buy and read A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook, cook all the food and glut yourself in a way that would make Ignatius J. Reilly proud.