Letter Writing

There are reasons that a person would not like getting mail. For one, there may be an overwhelming anxiety because of a obligation to respond, which takes planning, time, and money. For another there may be a sense of doom because the box is chock-full of hate mail and spam adverts or, worse yet, bills. There was a time when I wrote at least several letters a month, something I enjoyed for its intimacy and privacy, but gave up for a variety of reasons. Now I mostly write intermittently to a few friends and to my great aunt who serves as my primary postal correspondent since she writes back.

I am going to go back to writing letters more regularly, hopefully composing at least one or two every week for the year. In part this means that people who I know in person and whose addresses I have are going to be bombarded by folded paper, but it doesn’t need to be restricted to them. As such, if you want to receive one or more letters this year, send your mailing address to jpnudell@gmail.com. I am willing to mail letters anywhere the USPS lets me.

If you give me an address…

  1. I promise to sent you at least one letter in 2016.
  2. The letter might be irreverent about society based on my own opinion, but will never be vulgar, crass, lewd or threatening.
  3. You are under no obligation to reply, but I would of course welcome letters back.
  4. I prefer that you give me your own address, but if you give me someone else’s you must also give me their name so I can make a proper salutation and I will be sure to let the recipient know who inflicted this upon them.

Hypothetical FAQ:

Why do this?
Consider it a sort of New Year’s Resolution. I want to write letters because correspondences fascinate me, particularly from yesteryear when letter correspondences were published. (I guess we just have email leaks and/or dumps so publishing letters in an edited collection isn’t necessary anymore.) This fascination also expands to handwriting and the topics people choose to write about. I also save letters I receive from people and have, at less busy times in my life, gone back to read them. I have no expectations, but am curious to see what will happen.

What will you write about?
I honestly don’t know and it will likely vary widely depending on how well I know the recipient. Anticipated topics include: the weather, universities, sports, history, books I’ve been reading, the election cycle, baking, or whatever else is on my mind. One of the things I might do is something of an “analog twitter” where I compose two-sentence observations or thoughts and mail a short collection of those. Or maybe I’ll doodle marginalia. The rewards for this project are almost entirely internal so I am going to have some fun with it.

Can I control the form or content that the content takes?
If you express a preference for topic, I will take that under advisement, but make no promises.

My 2015 – Listicle

I did one of these back in 2013/2014, but then was busy and (IIRC) frustrated in early January last year and just skipped doing it. In the two years since, I did manage to read some of the books on on the various reading goals, though most of those were last year and not the year before. So it goes.

Five novels I really loved in 2015

  • Dear Committee Members, Julie Schumacher
  • Baron in the Trees, Italo Calvino
  • Hyperion, Dan Simmons
  • The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu
  • Postmortal, Drew Magary

Three international news stories I’m following going into this year

  • Continuing destruction of Syria and wave of refugees crossing Turkey
  • Regional power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran
  • Unrest in Turkey about Erdogan’s government and the new Turkish military operations against Kurds

Five books I am particularly looking forward to reading in 2016

  • Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie
  • Beware of Pity, Stefan Zweig
  • Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
  • The Plague, Albert Camus
  • Tun Huang, Yusashi Inoue

Five books I would like to reread in 2016

  • The Last Temptation of Christ, Nikos Kazantzakis
  • The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
  • Catch 22, Joseph Heller
  • Dr. Faustus, Thomas Mann
  • The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, John Le Carre

Four books I once started, but didn’t finish…that I’d like to give another shot in 2016 [to my shame, I did not read any of these in the two years since the last list]

  • Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
  • Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Foucault’s Pendulum, Umberto Eco
  • Bleak House, Charles Dickens

Three new-to-me music groups I found in 2015

  • Cowboy Mouth
  • Old Crow Medicine Show
  • The Tallest Man on Earth

December 2015 Reading Recap

PSA: I’ve been doing these monthly reading recaps for the last few years and it has been a good opportunity to give mini-reviews of anything for which I do not write out longer posts. That will still likely be true for such posts, but for the books I have reviewed, I will likely just give a link to the longer review and forego a more detailed summary. The blurbs that accompany the recap post will be used as a chance for further reflection, updating, amending, or otherwise adding tidbits not in the original post.

The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco

The one book from December that I did not review. (Actually, as I write this I am still trying to figure out how to write a review of Don Delillo’s White Noise, though I am going to finish that post before this one is published, so there.) The Name of the Rose is a book that I thought I read years and years ago, but I do not know that I ever finished it and yet it is so ingrained in culture that I consume, through references, through discussions, and through games, that it was as though I had read it. Adso, the apprentice of William of Baskerville, accompanies his master to a rich and esteemed monastery in Northern Italy to attend to a theological dispute, but a series of deaths derails the specific inquest and forces the visitors to dive into a series of other mysteries, including the labyrinthine (and forbidden) library, the inquisition, longstanding philosophical disagreements, heresy, and challenges of living on earth. William is tasked with unravelling the mysteries using the powers of logic that positions the story within the rich world of medieval philosophy. Eco’s work is deep and allusive, but this story is at some level an excellent mystery.

Stamboul Train, Graham Greene

Reviewed here, I don’t have much new to add about Greene’s entertainment, but am again thinking of the distinction between “serious” literature and “fluff.” To an extent there are structural differences, particularly when judging serious literature by the standards of the Nobel committee, which usually has a preference for books that make the Oscar voters’ choices of movies look downright optimistic. Non-serious literature, by contrast, is designed to be easily read. It is a caricature to suggest that easily read books can’t deal with important issues or profound topics hidden beneath the glitz and glam.

A Small Town Called Hibiscus, Gu Hua

Reviewed here, Hibiscus is Gu Hua’s critique of the Cultural Revolution in 1970s China. He idealizes capitalism and the success of small-businesses, who succeed through hard work and through the support of the town officials and town community. It is a deliberate choice (as often happens) to praise these virtues through the remote, anachronistic, and bucolic village. Nothing is ever perfect, of course, but it is possible to create a healthy and comfortable life if one works hard because the universe of the town is limited to the surrounding villages and the town is thus unpolluted by the wider, impersonal forces that cause people to become disconnected and then to turn on one another. There is probably a parallel story that could be told where the force that corrupts the town is a large retail establishment instead of the government.

Hyperion, Dan Simmons

Reviewed here, Hyperion is a beautiful and moving work of science fiction that, other than stories-within-story structure, stunning imagery, and suffering of nearly every character, is notable for a major reason: it has no real ending. It is as though Dorothy went with her companions to see the wizard, with the entire story consisting of how the Tin Man came to be without a heart*, etc, and then left off as they approached the Emerald City. There is a sequel to Hyperion, which suggests that this story is nothing but an extended prologue. Yet, I like that this is a story about the intersection of the characters both in the specific case of the pilgrimage and in wider events. In other words, the story is about the journeys, not the destination. I already wonder if the second book (which I have not yet read) will too dramatically shift these messages and leave me wishing that Hyperion existed as a standalone work that just ends without conclusion.

*According to Wikipedia, this story exists and the Wizard of Oz movie would have been even more horrifying had it been told in vivid technicolor.

White Noise, Don Delillo

Live Tweet and (short) review. The college that Jack Gladney works at in this novel is known as College-on-the-Hill, set, of course, in the midwest. Delillo shows that it is possible to flee the unbearable crush of the big city by going to the midwest, but that it is impossible to escape. However, the college (for all its faults) is still presented as aspiring to be a genuine refuge, presumably for both the students and the teachers. I suspect the name is meant ironically, particularly since it clearly does not save Gladney from his family, but I would like for the school to serve as more than just a foil for the rest of society because it perpetuates a vision of an ivory tower that really doesn’t exist.

Siam, or the woman who shot a man, Lily Tuck

Reviewed here, Siam was the only book I read last month that provoked an extremely negative response from me. The knee-jerk hostility has somewhat waned, though I stand by everything I said in the review. Claire’s relationship and situation does not work out in Southeast Asia and I was frustrated by how the story doesn’t much engage with the relationship between Claire and James, the latter of whom is frequently absent, which, in turn puts further strain on the relationship–i.e. I didn’t get a sense of why or how Claire cared a whit about James outside of the physical relationship. However, part of the problem with my frustration is that the story is a psychological study about Claire’s isolation, not a study about the failures of the relationship between Claire and James. I still did not like the book, but I think Tuck is more successful than I gave her credit for.

Favorite from December: Hyperion.
Currently reading: The Green House, one of the early books by Mario Vargas Llosa. After that I have a lengthy list, but no concrete plans. 2016 is a blank slate and I have some ambitions, but those are for another post.