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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Letters, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Review – Once Upon An Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

I am a huge Oliver Jeffers fan but have to admit his last few picture books haven’t hit the mark. That of course excludes the absolutely brilliant The Day The Crayons Quit he did with Drew Daywalt last year which was simply outstanding. Oliver Jeffers illustrations have always been outstanding but it was his stories that seemed […]

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2. The Great War letters of an Oxford family

The First World War has survived as part of our national memory in a way no previous war has ever done. Below is an extract from Full of Hope and Fear: The Great War Letters of an Oxford Family, a collection of letters which lay untouched for almost ninety years. They allow a unique glimpse into the war as experienced by one family at the time, transporting us back to an era which is now slipping tantalizingly out of living memory. The Slaters – the family at the heart of these letters – lived in Oxford, and afford a first-hand account of the war on the Home Front, on the Western Front, and in British India. Violet and Gilbert’s eldest son Owen, a schoolboy in 1914, was fighting in France by war’s end.

Violet to Gilbert, [mid-October 1917]

I am sorry to only write a few miserable words. Yesterday I had a truly dreadful headache which lasted longer than usual but today I am much better . . . I heard from Katie Barnes that their Leonard has been very dangerously wounded they are terribly anxious. But are not allowed to go to him. Poor things it is ghastly and cruel, and then you read of the ‘Peace Offensive’ articles in the New Statesman by men who seem to have no heart or imagination. I cannot understand it . . . You yourself said in a letter to Owen last time that [the Germans] had been driven back across the Aisne ‘We hope with great loss.’ Think what it means in agony and pain to the poor soldiers and agony and pain to the poor Mothers or Wives. It is useless to pretend it could not be prevented! We have never tried any other way . . . No other way but cruel war is left untried. I suppose that there will be a time when a more advanced human being will be evolved and we have learnt not to behave in this spirit individually towards each other. If we kept knives & pistols & clubs perhaps we should still use them. Yesterday Pat & I went blackberrying and then I went alone to Yarnton . . . the only ripe ones were up high so I valiantly mounted the hedges regardless of scratching as if I were 12 & I got nice ones. Then I went to the Food Control counter & at last got 5 lbs. of sugar . . . It was quite a victory we have to contend with this sort of sport & victory consists in contending with obstacles.

Gilbert to Owen, [9 February 1918]

I have been so glad to get your two letters of Dec. 7th & 18th and to hear of your success in passing the chemistry; and also that you got the extension of time & to know where you are . . . I am looking forward to your letters which I hope will make me realise how you are living. Well, my dear boy, I am thinking of you continually, and hoping for your happiness and welfare. I have some hope that your course may be longer than the 4 months. I fear now there is small chance of peace before there has been bitter fighting on the west front, and little chance of peace before you are on active service. I wonder what your feelings are. I don’t think I ever funked death for its own sake, though I do on other accounts, the missing a finish of my work, and the possible pain, and, very much more than these, the results to my wife & bairns. I don’t know whether at your age I should have felt that I was losing much in the enjoyment of life, not as much as I hope you do. I fear you will have to go into peril of wounds, disease and death, yet perhaps the greater chance is that you will escape all three actually; and, I hope, when you have come through, you will feel that you are not sorry to have played your part.

Second Lieutenant Owen Slater ready for service in France

Second Lieutenant Owen Slater ready for service in France. Photo courtesy of Margaret Bonfiglioli. Do not reproduce without permission.

Owen to Mrs Grafflin, [3 November 1918]

This is just a very short note to thank you for the knitted helmet that Mother sent me from you some time ago. It is very comfortable & most useful as I wear it under my tin hat, a shrapnel helmet which is very large for me & it makes it a beautiful fit.

We are now out at rest & have been out of the line for several days & have been having quite a good time though we have not had any football matches & the whole company is feeling rather cut up because our O.C. [Officer Commanding] has died of wounds. He was an excellent [word indecipherable] father to his men & officers.

Margaret Bonfiglioli was born in Oxford, where she also read English. Tutoring literature at many levels led to her involvement in innovative access courses, all while raising five children. In 2008 she began to re-discover the hoard of family letters that form the basis of Full of Hope and Fear. Her father, Owen Slater, is one of the central correspondents. After eleven years tutoring history in the University of Oxford, James Munson began researching and writing full-time. In 1985 he edited Echoes of the Great War, the diary of the First World War kept by the Revd. Andrew Clark. He also wrote some 50 historical documentaries for the BBC.

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3. We Are Living in a First-Draft World



The late David Markson did not have a computer. In March 2004, Laura Sims told him that there were things written about him on blogs. He replied:
NO, I've no idea what a Blog is. BLOG?
Sims sent him print-outs:
Hey, thank you for all that blog stuff but forgive me if after a nine-minute glance I have torn it all up. I bless your furry little heart, but please don't send any more. In spite of the lost conveniences, I am all the more glad I don't have a computer.

HOW CAN PEOPLE LIVE IN THAT FIRST-DRAFT WORLD?

They make a statement about my background, there's an error in it. They quote from a book, and they leave out a key line. They repudiate a statement of fact I've made, without checking, ergo announcing I'm a fake when the statement is 100% correct. Etc., etc., etc. Gawd.

I have just taken the sheets out of the trash basket & torn them into even smaller pieces.
 From the wonderful little book Fare Forward: Letters from David Markson, edited by Laura Sims.

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4. Two Things on Tuesday

Thing One

Dear Barbara O'Connor:
You are the best writer in the world. I promise that is not a joke. 


Thing Two

Dear Barbara O'Connor:
 I really appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to tell us about your book How to Steal a Dog. I learned that some of Mookie's quotes are real but some are fake and are from your brain.

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5. “A peaceful sun gilded her evening”

On 31 March 1855 – Easter Sunday – Charlotte Brontë died at Haworth Parsonage. She was 38 years old, and the last surviving Brontë child. In this deeply moving letter to her literary advisor W. S. Williams, written on 4 June 1849, she reflects on the deaths of her sisters Anne and Emily.

My dear Sir

I hardly know what I said when I wrote last—I was then feverish and exhausted—I am now better—and—I believe—quite calm.

Anne Brontë - drawing in pencil by Charlotte Brontë, 1845

Anne Brontë by Charlotte Brontë, 1845

You have been informed of my dear Sister Anne’s death—let me now add that she died without severe struggle—resigned—trusting in God—thankful for release from a suffering life—deeply assured that a better existence lay before her—she believed—she hoped, and declared her belief and hope with her last breath.—Her quiet Christian death did not rend my heart as Emily’s stern, simple, undemonstrative end did—I let Anne go to God and felt He had a right to her.

I could hardly let Emily go—I wanted to hold her back then—and I want her back hourly now—Anne, from her childhood seemed preparing for an early death—Emily’s spirit seemed strong enough to bear her to fullness of years—They are both gone—and so is poor Branwell—and Papa has now me only—the weakest—puniest—least promising of his six children—Consumption has taken the whole five.

For the present Anne’s ashes rest apart from the others—I have buried her here at Scarbro’ to save papa the anguish of return and a third funeral.

I am ordered to remain at the sea-side a while—I cannot rest here but neither can I go home—Possibly I may not write again soon—attribute my silence neither to illness nor negligence. No letters will find me at Scarbro’ after the 7th. I do not know what my next address will be—I shall wander a week or two on the east coast and only stop at quiet lonely places—No one need be anxious about me as far as I know—Friends and acquaintance seem to think this the worst time of suffering—they are sorely mistaken—Anne reposes now—what have the long desolate hours of her patient pain and fast decay been?

Why life is so blank, brief and bitter I do not know—Why younger and far better than I are snatched from it with projects unfulfilled I cannot comprehend—but I believe God is wise—perfect—merciful.

I have heard from Papa—he and the servants knew when they parted from Anne they would see her no more—all try to be resigned—I knew it likewise and I wanted her to die where she would be happiest—She loved Scarbro’—a peaceful sun gilded her evening.

Yours sincerely
C. Brontë

The Oxford World’s Classics edition of Charlotte Brontë’s Selected Letters is edited by Margaret Smith, with an introduction by Janet Gezari.

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter, Facebook, or here on the OUPblog. Subscribe to only Oxford World’s Classics articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

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Image credit: Anne Brontë – drawing in pencil by Charlotte Brontë, 1845. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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6. Things I Love Thursday


I love getting notes from teachers like this one:

Ms. O'Connor, I'm a 3rd grade teacher at __ School in Irving, Texas. This past Thursday I finished reading How to Steal a Dog to my class. I loved it and have been inspired to make a list of my own…

“How to Know Your Students Love a Book You’ve Read to Them”

1. When they check it out of the library to read it again.
2. When they beg you to keep reading at the end of each chapter.
3. When they keep making connections to it throughout the year. (“Mrs. E, I saw a homeless man and I thought of Mookie!”…)
4. When you hear students call out, “Yes! How to Steal a Dog!” when they see you pick it up.
5. When you  look in their faces and can see their emotions as you read it aloud.
6. When you hear their laughter at the funny parts.
7. When you all feel just a little sad when you read the last words aloud because you didn’t want it to end.

Thank you for a wonderful book!!

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7. Jane Austen and the art of letter writing

By Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade


Jane Austen at Writing Desk No, the image to the left is not a newly discovered picture of Jane Austen. The image was taken from my copy of The Complete Letter Writer, published in 1840, well after Jane Austen’s death in 1817. But letter writing manuals were popular throughout Jane Austen’s lifetime, and the text of my copy is very similar to that of much earlier editions of the book, published from the mid-1750s on. It is possible then that Jane Austen might have had access to one. Letter writing manuals contained “familiar letters on the most common occasions in life”, and showed examples of what a letter might look like to people who needed to learn the art of letter writing. The Complete Letter Writer also contains an English grammar, with rules of spelling, a list of punctuation marks and an account of the eight parts of speech. If Jane Austen had possessed a copy, she might have had access to this feature as well.

But I doubt if she did. Her father owned an extensive library, and Austen was an avid reader. But in genteel families such as hers letter writing skills were usually handed down within the family. “I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told, is to express on paper what one would say to the same person by word of mouth,” Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra on 3 January 1801, adding, “I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter.” But I don’t think George Austen’s library contained any English grammars either. He did teach boys at home, to prepare them for further education, but he taught them Latin, not English.

So Jane Austen didn’t learn to write from a book; she learnt to write just by practicing, from a very early age on. Her Juvenilia, a fascinating collection of stories and tales she wrote from around the age of twelve onward, have survived, in her own hand, as evidence of how she developed into an author. Her letters, too, illustrate this. She is believed to have written some 3,000 letters, only about 160 of which have survived, most of them addressed to Cassandra. The first letter that has come down to us reads a little awkwardly: it has no opening formula, contains flat adverbs – “We were so terrible good as to take James in our carriage”, which she would later employ to characterize her so-called “vulgar” characters – and even has an unusual conclusion: “yours ever J.A.”. Could this have been her first letter?

Cassandra wasn’t the only one she corresponded with. There are letters to her brothers, to friends, to her nieces and nephews as well as to her publishers and some of her literary admirers, with whom she slowly developed a slightly more intimate relationship. There is even a letter to Charles Haden, the handsome apothecary who she is believed to have been in love with. Her unusual ending, “Good bye”, suggests a kind of flirting on paper. The language of the letters shows how she varied her style depending on who she was writing to. She would use the word fun, considered a “low” word at the time, only to the younger generation of Austens. Jane Austen loved linguistic jokes, as shown by the reverse letter to her niece Cassandra Esten: “Ym raed Yssac, I hsiw uoy a yppah wen raey”, and she recorded her little nephew George’s inability to pronounce his own name: “I flatter myself that itty Dordy will not forget me at least under a week”.

It’s easy to see how the letters are a linguistic goldmine. They show us how she loved to talk to relatives and friends and how much she missed her sister when they were apart. They show us how she, like most people in those days, depended on the post for news about friends and family, how a new day wasn’t complete without the arrival of a letter. At a linguistic level, the letters show us a careful speller, even if she had different spelling preferences from what was general practice at the time, and someone who was able to adapt her language, word use and grammar alike, to the addressee.

Writing Desk

All her writing, letters as well as her fiction, was done at a writing desk, just like the one on the table on the image from the Complete Letter Writer, and just like my own. A present from her father on her nineteenth birthday, the desk, along with the letters written upon it, is on display as one of the “Treasures of the British Library”. The portable desk traveled with her wherever she went. “It was discovered that my writing and dressing boxes had been by accident put into a chaise which was just packing off as we came in,” she wrote on 24 October 1798. A near disaster, for “in my writing-box was all my worldly wealth, 7l”.

Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade has a chair in English Sociohistorical Linguistics at the University of Leiden Centre for Linguistics (Leiden, The Netherlands). Her most recent books include In Search of Jane Austen: The Language of the Letters, The Bishop’s Grammar: Robert Lowth and the Rise of Prescriptivism, and An Introduction to Late Modern English. She is currently the director of the research project “Bridging the Unbridgeable: Linguists, Prescriptivists and the General Public”.

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Image credits: (1) Image of Jane Austen from The Complete Letter Writer, public domain via Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade (2) Photo of writing desk, Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade.

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8. Letters as Genre

There was a review recently on the Publisher’s Weekly blog on a couple of new collections of letters. I love reading collections of letters, there is something thrilling about snooping through other people’s mail. While I am not so very interested in the collections reviewed, the reviewer makes some interesting comments about letters as their very own genre:

Private letters as a literary genre are perhaps closest to essay, that which is literally ‘to try.’ They try to communicate; they’re a genre for pleasure and leisure; meandering is tolerated, even welcome. Even Amazon ranks the sales of letter collections under a category ‘Letters & Correspondence,’ a subset of ‘Essays & Correspondence.’ Unlike essays, most letters are not written for publication. This is especially true if we extend the definition of letter to those we ‘pen’ to friends and family via email. Yet the letter is a genre whose final public or private fate depends on the significance, judged by others, of the author and recipient.

I like the idea of letters as being a literary genre. Perhaps letter writing is the most democratic of all genres, something anyone can do and is guaranteed at least one reader. But while letters can certainly be essayistic, I wouldn’t call them a subset of the personal essay. A letter is its very own thing, encompassing many genres really if you want to get right down to it. Essay, memoir, fiction, creative nonfiction, diary even, they can all be there in letters.

I do love writing letters and reading them too. That might explain why I am excited about a new book by Simon Garfield, To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing. I disagree that letter writing is a lost art, there are still a good many people who do it and do it regularly. Nonetheless, Garfield’s book sounds like great fun, filled with anecdotes, letters and historical interest. The review of the book indicates Garfield takes a bit of an alarmist stance on the demise of the letter but it doesn’t sound so very off-putting that it detracts from the pleasure of the book as a whole. Which I hope is really the case because I requested a copy from the library. They are on order, I am number eight in line and the library system is buying 13 copies so as soon as they are received and cataloged, one will be making its way to me. I think the book will make for pleasant reading in what is already shaping up to be a very cold and snowy month.


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9. That would be excellent

         




I've been a very bad blogger this year, mainly because of this, of course. But G's treatments are now done, and we're working toward getting our life back to our "new normal." But first, we're moving apartments this week and packing is exhausting!

As always happens, while packing I've been finding forgotten things, like this letter Grace had sent me back when we were both seniors in high school. I had brought this with me from my parents' house in California a while back because I wanted to quote some of the letter in a talk I was giving, I think.

In it, we talked about boys, of course. I had asked her to send me a boyfriend, so she sent me this guy:


Cute, huh? She named him Roger.

And here are a few snippets from the letter:

"I'm going to illustrate children's books, y'know. That would be so cool. One day when we're all grown up, you'll see in a book store: Illustrated by Grace P. Lin. That would be excellent."

and:

"I wish I could show you my portfolio. Then you could tell me if you think I'm talented. Or then you could lie to me and tell me you think I'm the bestest artist in the world and of course I will make it into RISD."

I wonder if Grace has the letter I wrote back to her. But I'm sure I said something like:

I think you're talented, Grace! You are the bestest artist in the world, you will make it into RISD, and you will become a famous children's book author and illustrator.

See, I can predict the future!

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10. Monthly etymology gleanings for August 2013, part 2

By Anatoly Liberman


My apologies for the mistakes, and thanks to those who found them. With regard to the word painter “rope,” I was misled by some dictionary, and while writing about gobble-de-gook, I was thinking of galumph. Whatever harm has been done, it has now been undone and even erased. All things considered, I am not broken-hearted, for over the years I have written almost 400 posts and made considerably fewer mistakes. And now to business.

The letters of the alphabet.
One of the questions related to this topic was answered in the comments. Although alphabetical writing attempts to render pronunciation and is therefore from a historical point of view secondary, we hardly know more about its origin than about the origin of language. Every ancient alphabet appears to have been borrowed, but the source of the initial idea remains hidden. According to a credible surmise, A is a natural beginning because it renders or represents the most elementary sound (an open mouth and a yell), but what are we supposed to do with the rest of the sequence?

When people decide that they need more letters, they traditionally add them to the end of the alphabet. This is what the Greeks and the modern Scandinavians did (but it is amusing that Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish letters follow in a different order—so much for the Pan-Scandinavian unity). Some letters drop out, as evidenced by the history of English and Russian, among others. However, examples of an order different from the one familiar to us are not far to seek. One is Sanskrit, another is the Old Scandinavian runic alphabet (futhark). Its strange order (why begin with an f?) has been the object of endless speculation, but a convincing answer has not been found. Each hypothesis explains some oddity rather than the overall system.

Letters often have names. For instance, aleph means “ox,” the runic f was associated with the word for “property” (of which Engl. fee is a distant echo), and so forth. Such names are usually added in retrospect, to facilitate the process of memorization; they can be called mnemonic rules for learners. Our “names” (B = bee, F = ef, etc.) are instances of vocalization. Its history is also partly obscure. I dealt with the name aitch for H in a recent blog. Professor Weinstock cited alphabets in which H and K follow immediately upon each other. See the picture in his article “The Rise of the Letter-Name ‘Aitch’” (English Studies 76, 1995, p. 356).

Rigveda MS in Sanskrit on paper, India, early 19th c.

Rigveda MS in Sanskrit on paper, India, early 19th c., 4 vols., 795 ff. (complete), 10×20 cm, single column, (7×17 cm), 10 lines in Devanagari script with deletions in yellow, Vedic accents, corrections etc in red. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Definition of literacy.
In my file I discovered a question asked long ago. I doubt that I ever answered it and don’t know whether our correspondent still needs an answer. In any case, I am sorry that I mislaid the letter. Can the American Sign Language (ASL) be viewed as having literacy? “ASL has never been considered as purely oral. It does not have a written system but some of us consider ASL as having literacy.” Judging by the usage familiar to most of us, literacy deals with writing. The person who cannot read and write is “illiterate.” The communities of the past that had no writing systems are sometimes referred to as preliterate (an unfortunate term, for it implies that literacy is a natural state in the development of culture). To the extent that ASL addresses itself to the eye it probably cannot be called a form of literacy. Our correspondent added the following statement: “As you may be aware, literacy is much more than reading/writing. I am trying to argue that ASL with no written system of its own can truly be considered as literate or having literacy. This is not a major concern because approximately 67% of the spoken languages in the world have no written forms.” It seems that, unless we broaden the definitions and make too much of such phrases as computer literacy, in which literacy means “expertise,” and literate as synonymous with “educated, learned; well-read” (he is very literate), ASL cannot be called a literate language. Like several other sign languages, it is a means of communication that bypasses writing.

“Week” and its cognates.
Why does Engl. week have a so-called long vowel, while German has Woche, Swedish has vecka, and so forth, all of them with a short vowel in the root? The oldest form of the word must have been wika. Initial w tended to change the vowel that followed it; hence the labial vowels u and o (as in German Woche). In the Scandinavian languages, w was lost before u and o, which explains Norwegian uke and Danish uge. In the languages in which the vowel did not become u or o, it often became e (o in Woche goes back to e). In Old English, the form was wice ~ wicu, but in Middle English, as in the other Germanic languages, a vowel standing before a single consonant tended to get length. That is why German Name and its English cognate name have long vowels. However, in English, short i and short u tended to resist lengthening, and, if they succumbed to the change, they became long e and long o (long in its etymological sense, that is protracted, with an increase in duration, not as they are understood in Modern English!). Engl. wice became weke (with long e), and this long e changed to ee by the Great Vowel Shift. Similar processes occurred in many Scandinavian dialects. Elsewhere we have only a more open vowel (short e), without lengthening; hence Swedish vecka. The Norwegian and Swedish forms have long vowels, even though it is u rather than i or e. Sorry for an overabundance of technicalities, but here the answer depended entirely on details of this nature.

Meleda.
I should have quoted the letter of our correspondent rather than retelling it. This would have made some comments unnecessary.

“The particular name I am interested in is meleda from Pieter van Delft & Jack Botermans’ 1978 Creative Puzzles of the World: ‘Meleda first appeared in Europe in the mid-16th century and was described by the Italian mathematician Geronimo Cardano.’ Some folk appear to have taken this to mean that Cardano himself used the word but I do not see it in the relevant De Subtilitate paragraphs which describe the ‘instrument’ in Latin. In fact, at present I have no reference to meleda prior to 1978. Google’s Ngram Viewer suggests major usage only after 1900 but this appears to be an island name and (perhaps) a disease related to it.”

So the puzzle (I mean the earliest recorded use of the word) remains.

If you will and related matters.
Here is an elegant example of will after if. “‘If he [Snowden] wants to go somewhere and somebody will host him—no problem,’ Putin said.” Unfortunately, this is a translation. The Associated Press did not quote the Russian original, and I wonder what Putin meant. I suspect something like …“and if somebody is willing to host him.” Compare another sentence: “If a girl younger than sixteen gives birth and won’t name the father, a new Mississippi law… says…” (also from the Associated Press). Is the sequence justified? And finally, an extract from a letter to the editor: “…if someone—anyone—reading this will think of their family before getting behind the wheel, it would bring me some sense of peace.” Does if someone will think mean “please think”? And does would after will sound like today’s standard American usage? It is not my intention to police anyone’s speech habits (let her rip): as a linguist I am just wondering what has happened to auxiliary verbs in conditional clauses.

Vodka.
Yes, of course I am aware of the alternate etymology of vodka, and Chernykh’s two-volume dictionary stands on my shelf next to Vasmer’s and a few others. However, the origin of the word remains unsolved (clearly not “little water”!).

I still have several unanswered questions. Next month!

Anatoly Liberman is the author of Word Origins…And How We Know Them as well as An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction. His column on word origins, The Oxford Etymologist, appears on the OUPblog each Wednesday. Send your etymology question to him care of blog@oup.com; he’ll do his best to avoid responding with “origin unknown.”

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11. Mumento Sábado

Dear Lucas,

I awoke around 8:45am and your other mother was just returning from a walk with her sweet dog. The two of them sauntered up the stairs, stopping every few steps to trade smiles and tail wags.  There was a package in tow. The mail had arrived early for Saturday.

I rolled over in bed and perched myself on one elbow. I placed a pair of eyeglasses on my nose and accepted the slim box. It was addressed to “The Tiny Redhead’s Parents” with no return label. I peeled back the brown paper and inside were a letter and photo. I began reading.

        My Daughter,

        I feel so canned these days.

I stopped reading and moved my eyes quickly to the signature.

        I love you,

        Your Momma

Back to the top, I observed the date: 2005.

I looked at the photo. It was an 8” by 10” color print of your other mother, me and your grandmother. We were at the beach. We were standing apart, each of us filling a separate corner of the frame.

I looked back at the words, but I failed to achieve focus. Somehow Mum has written a coherent letter eight years ago and then crafted a way to delay delivery until nine months after her death.

A river of tears came up from the center of my heart.

I awoke again. It was 8:45am and your other mother was just returning from a walk with her sweet dog. The two of them sauntered up the stairs, stopping every few steps to trade smiles and tail wags. The bedroom door cracked open and they peeked in to say good morning. There was no package in tow.

“I had such a vivid dream just now,” I said. The river of tears quickly changed places from my heart to my eyes to my cheeks to my pillow case. I could only compose short, incomplete sentences. Certain grief tilted my voice toward a higher octave.

“Maybe this is just your mom’s way of saying she’s got her eye on you,” she gently replied. I nodded and closed my eyes. I longed to be asleep. I longer to see my letter again.

Instead I wrapped myself into your other mother’s arms and pressed my face against her neck. I stayed awake. And I dreamt of you.

you my heart

Ocean Mum


Tagged: dreaming a dream, letters, maddening grief, mother lode, the mind is an ocean

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12. Things I Love Thursday

I love getting letters like this from kids:

It was fun to meet you in person and it felt good that we got similar reading and writing report card grades. 

Also, it felt really good you called me an author during our library meeting. My mom was proud. If I become an author, I'll come to my old schools to inspire future authors, too.

3 Comments on Things I Love Thursday, last added: 4/24/2013
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13. Dear Barbara O'Connor


Dear Barbara O'Connor:

One last thing: If Popeye's Uncle Dooley shot Popeye in the eye, his eye would fall out, wouldn't it?

0 Comments on Dear Barbara O'Connor as of 3/25/2013 6:08:00 AM
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14. welcome baby Finn!

while currently working on my mermaid series of paintings, i received a custom order (my first one in a while....)

about 5 years back, i did a nursery art set of paintings for a sweet baby girl named Fia. well mom loved everything so much that she approached me last week to do their baby boy's name panels as well (and two other coordinating paintings). of course i said YES! besides, cute little animals and bright colors?! right up my alley...;)

below are some peeks of the panels in progress. and a peek at baby Fia's paintings i did...5 years ago!






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15. Reading Coincidences

I’m in the middle of reading The Letters of Horace Walpole, Volume 1 on my Kindle and I just have to say part of the fun of these letters is names. No, not funny names but names I have come across in other settings. Like The Duke of Suffolk and the Howard family, both players in Wolf Hall. Walpole is writing in the late 1730s and early 1740s so Suffolk and the Howards are descendants from Henry VIII’s time. And then imagine my delight as I am reading along and Walpole mentions Lord Grantham! I thought Lord Grantham was made up for Downton Abbey! Guess not. Grantham doesn’t get mentioned very often but when he does I can’t help but giggle. Lord Sackville, an ancestor of Vita Sackville-West, appears too.

Walpole also has much criticism for Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, an aristocrat and writer famous for her letters. Walpole finds her shabby, uncouth and not so witty as her reputation led him to believe. He meets her while staying in Italy and is somewhat distressed that his mother likes her quite a lot so he ends up seeing more of her than he’d like. I wonder though if he disparages her because he feels a bit threatened?

Walpole’s father is Sir Robert Walpole often considered the first Prime Minister of Great Britain. Horace, who enters parliament in 1741, includes lots of information in his letters on the wheelings and dealings of government and what turns out to be the end of his father’s career as Prime Minister. The politics are not quite so brutal as during Henry VIII’s time which is a relief. If you jump across the pond though and watch some fictional politics on the new Netflix TV show House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey, it’s remarkably similar if slower moving due to the lack of cell phones and television.

It is all rather amusing how these things echo across history and through fiction and nonfiction. And it is rather delightful that they have happened to serendipitously converge in my reading (and TV viewing) at the moment. I love when this happens!


Filed under: Books, Letters Tagged: Horace Walpole, Wolf Hall

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16. Dear Barbara O'Connor


Dear Barbara O'Connor:

You’re very good at first impressions. 

I like your ideas and I think you are very neat and organized. 

0 Comments on Dear Barbara O'Connor as of 2/6/2013 5:42:00 AM
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17. Lotsa Letters

A coworker asked me on Friday who I was rooting for to win the Super Bowl Sunday. I looked at her and said, “The Super Bowl is this Sunday?” Yup, that’s how much I care. I didn’t know when the game was and I have no idea who is even in it. Sorry sports fans.

Something I do care very much about is the United States Postal Service. Seriously. I mean, think about what an amazing system it is. I can post a letter to anywhere in the United States, including Hawaii and the-middle-of-a-glacier Alaska, for forty-six cents. Sure, last week it was forty-five cents, but just stop and consider how gosh darn amazing the whole enterprise is.

After you have thought about the awesomeness that is the postal service, take a gander at an in-depth and fascinating article about the mail at Esquire. It delves into the nitty gritty of how the system works as well as the P.O.’s current fiscal problems and the politics surrounding them. And then when you are really angry at Congress for screwing over the post office, go sign a petition demanding it be saved. Don’t wait on signing the petition, over 90,000 signatures are needed on it by February 18th and it hasn’t broken 3,000 yet.

Then to seal your love for the postal service, read Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal and/or watch the movie version (streaming on Netflix) which is almost as hilarious as the book.

I mentioned earlier in January that I am doing Melwyk’s Postal Reading Challenge. I have finished one book so far towards the challenge (about the letters of William and Henry James) and have begun a second (volume one of Horace Walpole’s letters).

And now I have taken up a second postal challenge: A Month of Letters. This means that I will attempt to send out twenty-three pieces of mail this month. That’s a letter a day excluding Sundays and one federal holiday, days when there is no mail delivery. I am a pretty good correspondent but even sending that much mail in one month is a stretch. I’m going to try though. At the moment I am behind with two mail days and only one piece of mail sent. But I like to send things out in batches rather than one at a time so I am not worried.

Today I spent some time making envelopes and I have some postcards I made up recently too:

mailtogo

Wouldn’t you just love something in your mailbox? If so, feel free to email me your address or add it to my Postable account. If you go the Postable route, don’t worry, all of your information is private, your address won’t be mined and sold. If you give me your address and I send you mail, you are not obligated to return the favor.

Who doesn’t like a card or letter? It’s only February third, still early enough in the month that you can take up the Month of Letters Challenge too. C’mon, what are you waiting for?


Filed under: Challenges, Letters

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18. Things I Love Thursday



I love receiving letters like this:

Hello (: My name's Autumn. I'm thirteen years old and live in North Carolina.  I just wanted to tell you that your book "How to Steal a Dog" is the best book ever!! I read it last year in sixth grade and was inspired. 

I've been writing for a while now and I absolutely love it. The details and plot of that book is amazing. I love the relationship of her and her brother. When she takes the dog and goes to the old house and when her, her brother and her mother  are living in the car having trouble, I could really relate and picture the setting in my mind. 

I just wanted to say thank you :)

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19. Writing Advice from C.S. Lewis

Due to vacations and the fall semester starting and the planets aligning – or not aligning as the case may be – I had to work today on a Sunday, something I haven’t had to do in years. I am a bit discombobulated, the schedule of my usual goings on all tossed overboard. On the plus side, I will get to have Friday off, something I never get to do unless it is a holiday or I take a vacation day which means since September 3rd is a holiday I will have a 4-day weekend next weekend to compensate for the one-day weekend I had this weekend. And I am rambling on merrily – see what happens when I get thrown off my usual?

At any rate, I did manage some reading this weekend on Saturday but none today. And since I am not at home at the moment, typing this at a very quiet library circulation desk (shh, don’t tell anyone!), I cannot post about Lolita which I finished last week. It will have to wait. No, today all I can do is ramble and now point you to a marvelous letter written by C.S. Lewis to a young fan in Florida, USA in 1956. What a generous and kind man he is in his letter. The girl must have sent him something she wrote and asked for writing advice. Here is his general advice:

1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.

2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.

3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”

4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”

5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite

Good advice for any writer of any age. Pop over to Letters of Note to read the entire letter.

And now I shall cease my rambling and get back to doing actual library work. As you were!


Filed under: Letters

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20. Dear Barbara O'Connor


Dear Barbara O'Connor:

I was wondering how old you are. Because I want to know are you 30 or 26 or 41.
Do you, Ms. O'Connor, have a husband? Do you?
I'm just asking.

4 Comments on Dear Barbara O'Connor, last added: 9/8/2012
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21. A for ABRAMS

We over here at ABRAMS KIDS have started a campaign on Instagram and Twitter called A for ABRAMS ( #aforabrams ) We are collecting A's that are artful, well designed, or just plain cool from any where that you might find them. The idea is when ever you happen to see one of these artful A's out and about you can join us by hash tagging your A #aforabrams as well as including our Instagram or twitter handle @abramskids or @abramsbooks.  Have some fun and we hope you all get to see the world around you a little better.

Here area few examples of different A's I have found.

You can find artful A's in out books!





From PANTONE COLORS designer by Meagan Bennett



From  I HAD A FAVORITE DRESS by Julia Denos

Or on your favorite wimpy book!



Or you can be crafty and make one to hang on your window.



Or you can find one in your local Museum!


 Found at MOMA


Or at your local bookstore!


Found at R. J. Julia Independent Booksellers in Madison, Ct


Or at your favorite restaurant!


Found at Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn


Good luck hunting! A for ABRAMS #aforbrams @abramsbooks and @abramskids

0 Comments on A for ABRAMS as of 9/10/2012 10:38:00 AM
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22. Dear Barbara O'Connor

Dear Barbara O'Connor:

The story you wrote, How to Steal a Dog, is amazing, but a little emotional, at least for my teacher. 


0 Comments on Dear Barbara O'Connor as of 9/11/2012 6:50:00 AM
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23. Reading my readers


Thank YOU for the conversation

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24. Dear Barbara O'Connor


Dear Barbara O'Connor:

I like your spicy words.

0 Comments on Dear Barbara O'Connor as of 10/10/2012 5:34:00 AM
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25. Dear Barbara O'Connor

Dear Barbara O'Connor:

I liked when Georgina told Toby to shut up. I liked when Carmela cried her lungs out.


0 Comments on Dear Barbara O'Connor as of 12/7/2012 5:39:00 AM
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