“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.

Advertisements

image

“I could not help but hear the faint clinking of glass containers among the muffled noises… that peculiar, fricative sound of air and liquid. I did not realize that beer produced such a forlorn sobbing.”

– p. 105, The Ruined Map, Kobo Abe

Kobo Abe really harshing my beer-reading buzz.

I’ve been neglecting this little blog this week, but entirely unintentionally.

DSC08384I’ve been struggling over how to write a review on Ismail Kadare’s The Palace of Dreams – I finished it a few days ago and I have ~feelings~ about it. It’s rare that I reread a book straight after I’ve finished, but this is one of those times. I’m going to read it again this weekend and spend some time with my thoughts.

In other news, I got a job at a bookstore! It’s only a short term position for the moment, but I’m pretty excited. It’s a dangerous place for me to be, three guesses on where all my pay is going to go…

 

“God bless us, every one!”

It’s one of my Christmas traditions to read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve (somewhere between last minute present wrapping, panicking over the Christmas lunch, and rewatching the Muppet’s Christmas Carol), so I better go get started on that.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

Merry Christmas internet-world.

 

“I want that Easter Ham. Where’s my Thanksgiving Turkey?”

I love A Confederacy of Dunces. It’s been a good couple of years since I last read it, an oversight I’m planning to rectify these holidays, but it always springs to mind when people ask me for book recommendations.

I shouldn’t be admitting this, but I’ve always felt a certain affinity with Ignatius J. Reilly, the hero (and I use that term lightly) of the book. He’s over-educated, bombastic, prone to delusions, gluttony and flatulence, and is entirely unemployable. I have far more self-awareness, obviously, and I’d like to think I have better standards of hygiene, but the similarities are there.

image

Ignatius J. and I just hanging about in New Orleans. My eyes are up here, buddy.

Food is a constant presence in the book – from the potato chip crumbs lingering in Ignatius’ moustache on the very first page, to his love of macaroons and wine cakes, job pushing a hotdog cart, and obsession with the now-defunct soft drink Dr Nut – but when flatulence and digestive issues play an equally central role to the storyline, A Confederacy of Dunces might seem an unlikely choice to inspire a cookbook.

confederacyofdunces-1_custom-1d5b6590c80ae1e696cbb89a620429ae19d36e5d-s800-c85

But inspire it has, and the world is now a better place for the existence of The Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook, by Cynthia LeJune Nobels.  200 recipes – inspired by Ignatius’ favourites, supporting characters, and New Orleans itself – are paired with historical research on 1960s New Orleans, outlining how food, history, and culture intersect throughout the novel.

At nearly $50AU, I’m going to have to wait until it drops in price, comes out in paperback, or hope someone gives me a fat wad of cash for Christmas. Or maybe someone will finally hire me, but given that Ignatius and I share a lack of “some particular perversion which today’s employer is seeking”, I won’t hold much hope for that.

To explain the URL, I could lie and say it’s a reference to Matsuo Bashō – one of the most famous Japanese poets of the Edo period, still much lauded for his clear, natural style of haiku.

image

See? Glorious.

…but I’ll be honest with you, it’s a reference to the Simpsons.  I don’t claim to be an intellectual powerhouse all of the time… just most of it.

(Bashō does happen to be one of my favourite poets, but that is simply beside the point.)