Monday, July 26, 2010

William Faulkner | The Sound and the Fury | 1929

Dear Caddy,

A boy at acting camp (he was from Boston) compared me to you and said, Ali, you must read Faulkner so you can know Caddy, she has this innocence worth preserving. Maybe he said this because you and I are both from the South, and there they teach their girls to be sweet.

I was working on a monologue--Kay in Godfather II, the scene when she reveals her abortion and then Michael smacks her in the face--and he was directing me. He said, be broken, but I wasn't sure how to break.

I was 15 and liked the attention from an older boy would-be director who seemed to want to be my big brother, who saw something in me he wanted to keep safe. He didn’t really, though. Just like the boys in your life didn't really want to keep you safe. When they can’t sleep with you, they're suddenly very interested in the chivalrous version of themselves. Not that you were theirs to worry about anyway.

I'm retouching my lipstick on a train that's taking me to a show that I'm not performing in because I don't act.

I would advise the younger you to change your underpants, and not to let those boys do the talking for you. I don't have any advice for you now, you're probably doing all right. Stuck in a good book ain't a bad place to be. I should be asking you for advice. I imagine you're a fine actress.

Allison G. Yarrow

Vladimir Nabokov | Pale Fire | 1962

Dear Hazel Shade,

Wow, I wish we could have met. Gotten coffee or something. You were the most interesting character in the whole labyrinthine, genius, too-pretty-for-its-own-good perambulating book, and even the narrator seemed to kind of hate you. (I mean, whoever was the narrator at any given time. That book is some kind of fucked up.) And apparantly you talked to ghosts? That's so cool. If you'd stuck around long enough you'd see that weirdo outcast girls are the new rockstars. Emo, I think the word is. Blond skinny perky chicks still rule the universe, unfortunately. But we're getting there. We're getting there.

You would have been so awesome. You'd have loved _Six Feet Under_ and Lemony Snicket and Tim Burton and every Todd Solondz movie. You'd burn incense in your room and listen to the Magnetic Fields on Friday nights. You'd wear ankle-length skirts and shuffle down the halls, and kids would look at you with lots of awe because they knew you got into Wesleyan and could kick the shit out of them in Academic Bowl. And when you read Prozac Nation, which you could swear was your autobiography except for all the sex, you would learn that drowning is one of the least painful ways to die. Is that actually true? I know there's some debate over whether or not you did, in fact, kill yourself, but I'm not passing judgment. I'm just curious. We're all a little curious about the road not taken.

Actually I went on a blind date once. It didn't end as badly as yours did, but it still ended badly. This was when I was living in Baltimore with five roommates. I wasn't even set up. I was just like, You know what would be fun? So I wrote back to this Craigslist ad. My coworker did my hair and my makeup and all that. I was excited. And I met him and, first of all, we went to the fucking Inner Harbor. The Harbor is actually kind of cool, but we were in the part where there's like the Hard Rock Cafe and ESPNZone and outdoor concerts where they charge eight dollars for a Heineken. He didn't talk much, and I don't talk much, and anyway it was hard to hear. So we went into Barnes and Noble and walked around. I think I held out some ridiculous hope for a "Holy shit! We like the same obscure books! Let's go talk about them somewhere in Fells Point where booze is a little cheaper and get drunk and make out, so at least I'll have something cool to tell my roommates, all of whom think I lead a nerdy, fairly pedestrian life!" Well. We got as far as "Family Guy is still funny, even though we're supposed to be grown-ups." Then at about 7 PM (I'd left work at 5, remember) he said he had to head home and go to bed. In all fairness, I think he had just started a new job or something. But seriously. Seven o'clock. Home to bed. He didn't give me a ride, either. I had to take the bus.

He was a much nicer guy than Peter Provost, that ass who took you out. Peter was a dick. Your dad was a dick too. Do you get the theme that basically men are dicks? For real, Hazel. You should have hung on a little longer and wrote your own Pale Fire sendup/fuck-you book. Some Simone de Beauvoir/Margaret Atwood type of thing. Undergrad girls at hundreds of universities would get coffee stains on it. I would totally buy your book secondhand and loan it out to someone who would probably forget to bring it back.

Amy Bergen

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Daniyal Mueenuddin | In Other Rooms, Other Wonders | 2009

Dear Saleema,

Do you remember the first time Rafik spoke to you? He was in the shower on the other side of the wooden door of the stall where you were crying. The other men had treated you badly. Ask her what she hasn't done to me. And then you noticed the three bars of light above your head that filled you with hope.

My dog was restless last night, ears pricked when a bird called, when the leaves rustled beneath the dogwood tree, and I began to think about the way it was for me. Always the same. So little time. Always the leaving too soon.

At 10 past six, the same kind of light that gave you hope appeared like bars on the wall of my room. By 6:30 it shimmered like electricity, like water flickering in the paint farther to the right.

When you asked Rafik to tell you that he loved you once, I listened, hoping to understand, the way you must have when he said to you, "I did. I do. I loved you more." What does that mean, I loved you more? What could that possibly mean?

I want to tell you that the man I love is lying next to me. But he isn't. The man I love is neither here nor there. Do you know what he said to me? He said, I could never make you happy because I'll always turn out different from what you want me to be.

I am sorry, Saleema, that you turned to rocket pills and heroin. I am sorry. And I'm sorry for your boy. I think of him always when the sparrows clatter in the bamboo at the back of my fence. Their eyes so alert, their beaks and claws so busy.

Love always,

John Steinbeck | East of Eden | 1952

Dearest Samuel Hamilton,

When I think about characters who have a strong female following, I think of Mr Darcy. How many times have I heard someone express their feelings for him? Though I admit, he has his charms, he has always felt a bit...delicate? Other girls literary fantasies seem to be filled with Darcys and Pemberleys. As far as I'm concerned none of that has ever held a candle to you, and your dusty barren farm.

I know that technically you were a grandpa, and your beard was white. Who cares. What a sight you must have been alone on the road in the moonlight. I imagine you to be the type of man women think of as not existing anymore. A big strapping, HANDSOME man. A man who works hard all day, and smells of earth and sweat. A man who does what's right, because he would never think to do anything else. And you were ALIVE! So alive! Like your children, I feel that you could never die. I know your death is there, within the pages, but I refuse to believe it. I reject it completely.

I know that you loved Liza, and nothing would have changed that. That's one of the things I love about you. But I also wonder about that other girl, the one you fell in love with before Liza. I wish I knew what that girl was like so I could do my best to emulate her. Because whatever it was you loved about her, must have undeniably lovely. I wish I could have seen how blue your eyes were, or heard your voice when you were excited about a new idea, or heard you laugh (or seen you punch Adam Trask). If I had known you, I would have been in love with you, there's no doubt. I would have settled with being your friend. I am certain you would have been the best friend to have, and the fact that I am also certain you were the most handsome and wonderful man alive would just be a bonus.

Yours always,
E.A. Pervorse

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Beverly Cleary | Ramona Forever | 1984

Dear Beezus,

I'm sorry you've been turned into a teen-Disney Lolita with a romantic interest in Henry Huggins. That's not who you are.


You're the book-loving, beleaguered older sister who had to stand in the shadow of that erratic, trouble-making, attention-grabbing brat Ramona. Nobody noticed Beezus unless she was saving Ramona's ass. That sucks.

And now they have coated you with lipgloss and glitter to make you more appealing to a target demographic that grew up on Hannah Montana and worships Justin Bieber.

Damnit Beezus, it makes me mad. You're awesome just the way you are.

There are leagues of oldest sisters who adore and admire you, the real you. The Beezus who comes home from school on Friday and gets her homework done right away so she doesn't have to worry about it, the girl who likes to spend time curled into a big chair reading a book, the girl who doesn't see that her embroidering and craftiness is just as creative as Ramona with her imaginary pets.

Thank you, Beezus. Thank you for being the older sister we could relate to, the older sister who made us feel not so alone and unnoticed. You taught us how to handle the responsibilities thrust upon us at a young age with grace and maturity beyond our years. A role model, that;s what you've been to all the older sisters out there.
You're the best, Beezus, and I'm sorry if this movie sullies your image. I promise, we'll remember who you really are and carry that image with us forever.

Jodi Chromey

Harper Lee | To Kill a Mockingbird | 1960

Dear Boo,

I waited through the whole play to see you. Your name was in the program next to my brother’s, and I fidgeted in my seat in the high school auditorium, afraid, like everyone, of the man who wouldn’t come out of his house.

We weren’t close then, me and Dave. We spoke to each other mainly in the language of teenagers: trading record albums, passing the salt at dinner, throwing an elbow to the ribs on the way to the bathroom. But when I saw him come out of the little door on stage, his head hung low, his skin powdered white, I was proud. “Miss Jean Louise, would you take me home?” he said, his only line, and I started crying. I didn’t know that this mysterious person whose bedroom shared a wall with mine could be so meek and frightened and alone.

It’s funny how boo used to be just a scary word. You were a ghost, Boo, a friendly one who put a blanket around Scout and left little gifts for her in a tree. Boo is different now. I say “Boo, pass the sugar,” and “Do you want to go for a walk, little boo?” to my husband and my dog. It means honey, sweetie, love.

Thanks, Boo.

Gretchen VanEsselstyn

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Franz Kafka | The Metamorphosis | 1915

Dear Gregor,

I know you’re feeling low about losing your job, but you’d be the first to admit that your lame sales position was already a non-starter and that you didn’t like it much anyway. You still owe Herr Direktor a lot of money, so what can you do?

You are well aware that your family situation is currently somewhat unusual. I believe it is so unique, so compelling, that legions of people would be willing pay top dollar to see it live.

So, consider this: Insect Reality Theatre. My associates and I will provide your home with a glass façade, permitting a view of the interior. Tickets would be sold for daily performances only during specific hours. During this time, you and your family will simply go about your normal business. Before you refuse, please consider that for only a few hours of work per day, the Samsas will make a mint and become the toast of Prague!

Just think of those episodes when your father chased you around whipping apples at you, or when you accidentally wandered into the front room and scared those boarders. Those are moments of comedy gold for which you could be paid!

Moreover, Grete could provide the musical score on her violin. Don’t deny her this chance to perform in front of an audience. I’m also sure your temperamental parents would only love to get in on the act. Best yet, think of Herr Direktor’s jealous face when he sees all those fans lined up outside your house.

Gregor, don’t think of it as an exoskeleton--think of it as an opportunity.

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely yours,
Eddy Portnoy

Jorge Luis Borges | "The Library of Babel" | 1941

Dear Narrator,

I found that book you were looking for.

You can pick it up from the information desk on your way down.

Thank you for your patience.

Charles London

Monday, July 19, 2010

James Joyce | Ulysses | 1922

Dear Leopold Bloom,

I'm sure you're good at the newspaper ad sales thing. Growth business for sure. But wouldn't it be nice to work with Molly? Spend all day together, bond, keep track of her, if you know what I mean? And what are you guys really good at? That's right: I'm thinking amateur porn site. You guys going at it, with those crappy Irish songs you guys like in the background to make it seem more homemade and raw. Maybe some leftover organ meat sitting on a plate in the corner. Use your imagination. I'm just saying: You need a change, man.

Joel Stein

Victor Appleton | Tom Swift and His Electric Locomotive | 1922

Dear Tom,

You were ahead of your time. I don't just mean that you were ahead of your time as an inventor, although the speeds you got out of the train were pretty impressive: 120 mph is still in the upper bound of high-speed trains on real tracks, though if you go maglev you can get out over 250. I mean you were ahead of your time for being involved in breathtaking adventure stories that also sound a little like porn. I have a copy of this, one of your most exciting adventures. I opened it to a random page and this is what I read: "There was a mighty jerk that brought a shout from Ned Newton's lips and a grunt from Mr. Damon." Sounds to me like maybe there's three ducks in a pond, if you know what I mean. Or three hot dogs in a bun. Or three sparklers in a glove compartment. A few years before you made the electric locomotive, there was a book called "Tom Swift and His Big Tunnel." Indeed.

Manny Johnson

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fyodor Dostoevsky | The Brothers Karamazov | 1880

Dear Alyosha Karamazov,

Or should I call you Alexey? Well it isn't any matter, whichever you prefer.

You see my friend I have come into a bit of trouble. I am not sure how to live without your company. It is true your story was intended to go on, that you were to be a great hero. But alas! I saw you last rejoicing on a hill amongst a crowd of children and then suddenly you were gone. You walked along and over the hill and vanished from my life. You are perhaps the most beautiful person I have ever met and will ever meet. I have come into to trouble as I have lived feeling that you were real, far more real than any person I have encountered thus far.

The trouble is this, where you were real I have begun to feel less than real. Although you exist in a finite sense within pages, you were depicted fully, as if from outside of yourself as well as from within. I cannot see myself from the outside, and therefore feel far less real, far less whole, especially in your absence. It is true that neither of us is at present aware of our fate, or will ever be until we meet it. Still I would have liked to think that we might have met some day within the realm of the real. You have the greatest heart of all men. I would be sure to know you immediately if ever we do meet again.


David Foster Wallace | Infinite Jest | 1996

Dear Madame Psychosis,

The night is not the same without your voice on the airwaves. Your disquisitions on the esoteric and the intangibles of life were the shimmering payoff for a day cluttered with radio spots selling unflinching car financing and cheap, mismatched mattresses. Your slot has fallen on hard times since you left, but you probably knew that already. A friend of mine taped your hour most nights, luckily. On weekends we put them on and listen. We listen and we listen until the moon is low again and meaning's been smashed out of us. When I wake up on the couch with my shoes still on and the sunlight creeping into the room, your voice is still in my head, lulling me to a place that's fleeting, thin as air. Some things are better the second time around.

A fan,
Dylan Brown

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ernest Hemingway | The Torrents of Spring | 1926

Dear Yogi,

When I see a squaw, I think the way you do, which is that I am gripped by a new feeling, and something rises up inside me, and I consider rushing forth and conquering the frontier. Sometimes I imagine that there is a horse between my legs and I whip it. That is what happens when I see a squaw.

Robert McDonald

Bharati Mukherjee | Jasmine | 1988

Dear Jasmine,

Or would you prefer Jyoti? Or Jane? You remind me so much of John Handford, from Dickens. He also had so many identities and no identities. Also, you are beautiful. I don't see why a man would treat you the way a man treated you. I take inspiration from your strength. I cherish your story and read it so many times, over and over again, to try to figure the way in which your life fits across mine. I now think I know the answer, but I will keep it to myself.

Anita Mehta

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Joan Didion | Play It As It Lays | 1970

Dear Maria,

The other day I was out driving in the desert and saw a snake and thought of you. More to the point: I saw the snake, and pulled my car over to the side of the road and watched it, and for a moment I imagined that the snake was thinking of you. I read your story last year. You are older than I am, but I am at the age you were when you had your trouble, and so much of what you went through, I went through: the sex, the drugs, the alcohol. I'm proud of none of it, though some of it has been exciting. Mostly my life has been like a movie I've been watching, hoping that it ends well. I drove away and left the snake there by the side of the road. I'm guessing it's still there.


George Orwell | Animal Farm | 1945

Dear Snowball,

Please do not trust Napoleon. I know that your instinct is to throw in your lot with him to achieve the betterment of all pigs, but that one is bad pork. I don't see anything good coming of your partnership with him.

Be careful,
Louis Restrepo

Friday, July 9, 2010

William Gaddis | The Recognitions | 1955

Dear Wyatt,

I'm jealous of your memory. As an art historian-in-training, there are moments where I would give my right hand (my writing hand) to be able to cleanly recall anything back to the time of pagan Greeks and Romans. I'm sorry your memory didn't serve you long into old age, but after the few scattered references to Van Gogh, I think I was expecting that. I also wanted to let you know that your later "restoration" work will not have been done in vain. I'll keep chipping away at those old master paintings for you.

Yours in Titian (since we all study with him),
Taylor Poulin

Marcel Proust | In Search of Lost Time | 1913-1927

Dear Narrator,

I confess I am embarrassed to address you in English. It is neither yours nor my native language. And it is a language I do not master perfectly. What I have to say is quite easy, though. I love you, Narrator. Je t’aime. Ti amo.

I suspect I could hardly be your type. I am neither a Gilberte nor an Albertine. But I do not care, Narrator. My love for you is of the purest form. It is the perfect love that cannot be experienced anywhere but in our minds. It is the love for a man whose sensitivity I consider so affine to mine that when I read your words I can imagine having written them. The love for an image in the mirror. The love that makes us suffer every time we miss a lover and the promise of an impossible, perfect union. I miss you in every lover I have lost, my dear Narrator.

Forever yours,
Elisa Caldarola

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Jean-Paul Sartre | Nausea | 1938

Dear Antoine Roquentin,

Objectivists are definately more attractive. Maybe you want to read up on that.
Jesslyn Watson

Marcy Dermansky | Bad Marie | 2010

Dear Marie,

I know it's not what it looks like. The kidnapping charge is totally bogus. Ellen should be furious with Benoit Doniel, not you. No father wants to leave his daughter behind. But Benoit's clearly an unfit parent (and a lying son-of-a-bitch to boot), so you did what you had to do. You're great with kids. Everyone knows you took good care of Caitlin. No harm done.

Gloria Allred's not cheap, but she's definitely the lawyer to get you off. And I'm not surprised your mother's going to pay the bill. Mothers eventually always come through

Now please, please, stay out of trouble.

Ann Dermansky