Monday, December 30, 2013

5 books of letters

I miss writing letters. Actual sit-myself-down-with-a-pen-and-paper type letters. If I had to write about what I missed about letter writing, I think it would be the deliberateness of the act - it was one that required much organisation of thoughts, and words, and ideas. When I moved away from home at 18, I would write home to my parents often. Not about anything earth shattering. I wasn't that kind of a writer. My letters home were full of my thoughts about life outside of Auckland, finding my place and purpose without family around, political opinions (I was suddenly old enough to vote and suddenly so much more politically aware), etc. Like I said, nothing particularly earth shattering. But mum kept them. In fact, when I was going through mum's papers a few years back, she'd kept all kinds of letters. Ones my siblings and I had written her over the years, postcards from my gran and sister who travelled a lot, notes we'd left for mum about trivial life things. (It really is a shame that we couldn't have kept the notes we'd leave for each other pinned to the toilet flush button - things like "Dad! Wake me up when you leave, please!" or "Mum! I need lunch money!" or "Jaq: I know you took my tape SO GIVE IT BACK!" I also remember toothpaste scribbled notes on the mirror for mum and dad). It was a funny (weird/strange) thing to sit and read through all our old letters and have this awkward life shot of who you were at that point in time. (Let's face it: Youth is wasted on the young, and not many of us truly appreciate it at the time). I did a terrible thing - I threw them away. And the photos of myself of when I was younger. And also all of my old school reports and certificates and awards. Sometimes, looking back is just painfully cheesy and serves only to remind me of how dorkily awkward I was. Now, some ten years or so later and feeling a tad bit more settled in my own skin, I wish I'd left them amongst mum's papers. I think they wouldn't seem so cringe worthy today. Maybe. I think that's why I'm still fascinated by letters that people write, to themselves, to parents, to strangers, for whatever reason that seemed right at the time, be it anger, forgiveness, grief or love. Maybe it's a more effusive form of tagging and graffiti - it so boldly and painstakingly says I WAS HERE, I LIVED, I LOVED, I WAS. That was uppermost in my mind when I came across all of these books listed below. I'm not sure if that's what you'll get out of them, but I sincerely hope you enjoyed them as much as I did. Et voila: 5 books of letters.

1. Dear me : a letter to my sixteen-year-old self / edited by Joseph Galliano
We could have all used words of wisdom at the difficult age of 16 -- we think we are grown up but are really still children. What would you have needed to hear at that age, that with the wisdom of experience you could now impart? Celebrities, writers, musicians, actors, captains of industry and inspirational figures are invited to write a personal letter to their 16-year-old self offering words of comfort, warning, cajoling, succour and advice. The letters can be faxed, emailed, written on hotel stationery, the back of a cereal box, loo roll, in pen, ink, pencil or blood, in any form. Each letter will offer a unique and personal insight into those personalities featured.

2. Kiwi kids' letters to Mum / compiled by Phil Kerslake & Gillian Kerslake ; illustrated by Ahmad Shawkash
The letters in this book reflect the thoughts, feelings, questions and complaints that a selection of New Zealand children aged 6 - 11 wanted to express to and about their Mums. Their letters offer an unswerving perspective on how children see their Mums. Like children themselves the letters are poignant, often hilarious; always priceless.

Dear Mum, I think you play my playstation games a bit crazily. I think that you need to practice a bit.
Nicholas, 8.

3. Letters of note : correspondence deserving of a wider audience / compiled by Shaun Usher
A beautifully produced, illustrated book based on the inspirational, hugely popular and utterly addictive website, with additional new content. From Virginia Woolf's heartbreaking suicide letter, to Queen Elizabeth II's recipe for drop scones sent to President Eisenhower; from the first recorded use of the expression 'OMG' in a letter to Winston Churchill, to Gandhi's appeal for calm to Hitler; and from Iggy Pop's beautiful letter of advice to a troubled young fan, to Leonardo da Vinci's remarkable job application letter, Letters of Note is a celebration of the power of written correspondence which captures the humour, seriousness, sadness and brilliance that make up all of our lives. Including letters from: Queen Elizabeth II, Elvis Presley, Charles Schulz, Leonardo da Vinci, Iggy Pop, Fidel Castro, Anais Nin, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Amelia Earhart, Charles Darwin, Roald Dahl, Albert Einstein, Dorothy Parker, John F. Kennedy, Groucho Marx, Charles Dickens, Katharine Hepburn, Mick Jagger, Steve Martin, Clementine Churchill, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut and many more.

4. Yours ever : people and their letters / Thomas Mallon
An exuberant reintroduction to a vast and entertaining literature, the art of letter writing. Yours Ever explores the offhand masterpieces dispatched through the ages by messenger, postal service, and BlackBerry. Thomas Mallon weaves a remarkable assortment of epistolary riches into his own insightful commentary on the circumstances and characters of the world's most intriguing letter writers. Here are Madame de Sévigné's devastatingly sharp reports from the court of Louis XIV, F. Scott Fitzgerald's tormented advice to his young daughter, the besotted midlife billets-doux of a suddenly rejuvenated Woodrow Wilson, the casually brilliant spiritual musings of Flannery O'Connor, the lustful boastings of Lord Byron, the cries from prison of Sacco and Vanzetti. Along with the confessions and complaints and revelations sent from battlefields, frontier cabins, and luxury liners, a reader will find Mallon considering travel bulletins, suicide notes, fan letters, and hate mail--forms as varied as the human experiences behind them.

5. Love in time of war : letter writing in the Second World War / Deborah Montgomerie
Using letters between soldiers and their loved ones, parents, sweethearts, wives, and children, this compilation traces the emotional and psychological ways New Zealanders made sense of the upheaval they experienced during World War II. Contrary to stereotypes, these writings show movingly and graphically that New Zealand soldiers were able to maintain a sense of their prewar selves and their connections to home through feats of the imagination and messages of love, hope, and longing that they sent back home.

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