Monday, October 25, 2010

Message From the Proprietors: How to Hate

The Library Science Degree blog has just posted a list of the fifty most hated characters in literature. The kids from Twilight top the list, though in doing so, they demonstrate that there's a thin line between love and hate (cf. Holden Caulfield who's at #3). Iago's fifth, Humbert Humbert is sixteenth, and Satan is all the way down at #50. How do you feel about unsympathetic characters? Are they villains? Do they need to be? Can self-centered behavior and overexposure convert a character from a flawed hero or heroine into something more malignant? Several of the hated characters have been featured here; others have thus far escaped unscathed. Go, look at the list, then come back here and write a letter to that character--or any other character who gets under your skin/gets your goat/gets your blood boiling.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Michael Ondaatje | Anil's Ghost | 2000

Dear Gunesena,

I know it's been a while since our last encounter. Guess what? We have a mutual friend, do you remember Anil? Check this out, so Anil and I were talking and she told me about her work as a forensic anthropologist and as she proceeded to tell me about her adventure, your name popped up in the conversation. I know its been some time Gunesena, but why didn't you tell me what happen to you? I know all about how she found you laying on the tarmac with nails in your hands. She didn't go into depth, but why did this happen to you? Do you know the people that did it? Have you seen this type of torture done to anyone else? Why did you trust Anil and Sarath enough to get into their vehicle? I have plenty more questions, but my main concern is you. Let’s reunite and rekindle our friendship again. I worry about you. Please keep in touch.

Your friend,
Arielis Hernandez

Michael Ondaatje | Anil's Ghost | 2000

Linus Corea,

My dad once said to me that “you will know what love is when you have your first child...that child will mean the world to you.” Most people are raised to be that way, that is, loving your family. You Gaimini, you have a family but you love your job more than your children and your wife. Everyone wants a job that they can enjoy, a job that they are good at instead of a job that ends up in day-to-day misery.

You wrote the annonymous letter that was sent to your family, didn't you? The letter that said “If you wish to see me again, come with the children. If you do not wish to, I will understand.” Eight months you waited to contact your family. And when they finally arrive at the base hospital where you were held, your sleep was more important then your family that you havent seen in EIGHT months. Anyone else would be ecstatic, but you, you couldn't care less. Being a neurosurgeon, preforming surgery, leaving your family behind. You said it yourself right in front of your wife and kids: "It's my life.” I think there is something wrong with that equation. From what I was told, your kids should be your life.

Carlos Estrella

Message From the Proprietors: Letters With Character In the Schools

Letters With Character is more than an entertaining way of connecting readers with the books they love. It is a valuable learning tool. Recently, students in Helen Kapstein's Introduction to Modern Literature class at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, used the site to respond to Michael Ondaatje's novel Anil's Ghost. We will be posting a selection of those letters periodically over the next week. They can be read either in the flow of the overall blog, or by clicking this special capital-letter LINK. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

J.D. Salinger | Franny & Zooey | 1961

Dear Franny,

I know, sweetheart. I know how you feel. I left school because I was surrounded by people who failed to recognize their potential as human beings. They nattered on and on about the most insubstantial things, and they could not see past the end of their egotistical noses, and more than once I felt queasy when I stared down at a chicken sandwich, inane prattle ringing in my ears. But I promise you that there are still people who are bright and good and kind. I promise you that there are girls just like you, who have curled up on couches and pulled the blankets up to their ears and slept for days just so they wouldn't have to remember what a heartbreaking world we live in. I promise it will get better--not because everyone around you will get better, but because you will find the strength in you to carry on being polite and brave and wise in spite of the wreckage. But if you want it to get better, sweetheart, you have to get up and do something about it.

Drink your chicken soup, think of the Fat Lady, and hug your brother - he doesn't mean to shout.

With love,
C. M. Dougan

Jane Austen | Pride and Prejudice | 1813

Dear Miss Elizabeth,

When I received your latest letter, I had formed no expectation at all of its contents. But such as it was, it may well be supposed how eagerly I went through it and what a contrareity of emotion it excited.

My feelings as I read are scarcely to be defined. I read, with an eagerness which hardly left me power of comprehension, and from impatience of knowing what the next sentence might bring, I was incapable of attending to the sense of the one before my eyes.

Your kind enquiries for the health of my aunt and sisters aroused my warm appreciation, but when this subject was succeeded by your account of future engagements, my feelings were more acutely painful and more difficult of definition. Astonishment, apprehension and even horror, oppressed me. I wished to discredit it entirely, repeatedly exclaiming, "This must be false! This cannot be!"

In this perturbed state, I took a walk, with thoughts that could rest on nothing. But it would not do, in half a minute I was unfolding the letter again and, collecting myself as best I could, pursuing the mortifying perusal of the future engagements that will preclude you from joining us for tea this coming fortnight.

I do see that our humble abode, our plain manner of living, our small rooms and the little we see of the world would make us extremely dull to a young lady like yourself. But I do hope that you will believe us grateful for your company and know that we would do every thing in our power to prevent your spending your time unpleasantly.

A grain of hope remains the only solace for my wretchedness, the hope that a narrow opening in your future engagements might give us the grace of your company. This would be an extraordinary kindness to brighten the hopes of my heart.

I remain yours sincerely,
Gillian King

Colum McCann | Let the Great World Spin | 2009


I want to cover your bruises and wash your t-shirts and make cupcakes in your kitchen. I want to leave notes on your doorway; I want to walk the streets of the Bronx with you; I want to bring coffee to the hookers and kiss the feet of strangers with you. I want to make you feel so completely and utterly loved, because it’s how you make others feel, and you don’t ask for it back. How is that? How do you do it? How do you love the world that turns its back? You said the meek might actually want it someday. I think they do, but I think it’s because you give them strength. The world is very big, but it’s also very small, but I think you know that. I want you to know that after the crash, it went on, it kept spinning, but your finger prints were still all over it, sticky and sweet.

You give me hope in the heart of people,

Thursday, October 7, 2010

John Steinbeck | The Grapes of Wrath | 1939

Dear Ma,

How do you do it? Your family (or shall I say "fambily") is falling to pieces and you still keep on truckin'. You're inner strength inspires me and though I don't always agree with some decisions made, I know that you doing the best thing for your people. When you fed those little children in the camp your left over stew, a tear nearly came to my eye. It was so selfless. You are so caring and (even though the family and in particular Pa) may drive you a little crazy sometimes, your bark is worse than your bite. You are far too kind hearted. You would starve yourself in order for the family to be more comfortable. Heck, after realizing you slept next to a dead body for close to a day, I believe your powers are limitless! So Ma, just stick to your guns and don't let those men push you around too much. Stay strong!!

All the best of luck,
Stephanie F.

David Almond | Skelling | 1998

Dear Joy,

Your life has just begun and, yet, already you have been through so much. You were born then your heart began to fight against you. But you never gave up. You kept fighting. Just remember that. Never give up in life. Always keep fighting. And remember, as Mina would tell you…..You are extraordinary.

Always have hope,
Kaytlen Ainley

Homer | The Iliad | 800 B.C.

Dear Hector:

It's time you stopped to rethink all that family loyalty and personal honor crap you keep spouting every time you wander into Troy from another lengthy conversation with someone whom you've just degutted on the battlefield. Face it, the Scaean gates have more malleability than your sense of duty. After watching you out on the field of battle today, I've decided to butt in where I may not be welcome.

I have to ask, do you really think telling Andromache you'd rather be dead than see her and little Astyanax enslaved and sent into bondage was a really excellent example of your moral rectitude? I don't think she felt the love on that one, bubba. Really? It kind of made you look like a coward. The only answer you can think of to avoid humiliation is to die? Nice one.

Your wife would probably prefer you dump the flashing helmet, grab a few gold trinkets out of the treasure house to pawn on the journey, maybe even the robe your mom wasted placating Athena (she hates your brother's guts, you know. Not all the robes in Phthia will change THAT bitch's mind) and get your family the hell outta Dodge.

I know Priam thinks you're tits. He's constantly holding you up to your other bros as an example of perfection. It must be hard to be yourself with all that kingly pressure to perform on your shoulders, but let's be realistic here. We're talking about fighting Achilles! The dude's half god, and even if his Goddess mom does cross-dress him every once in a while, he's still a killer
underneath. Forget all that whiney-baby stuff he pulled after you wasted his boy-toy Patroclus; that just pissed him off more. He's coming for you, bud, and you'll never be ready, no matter how many libations you pour.

Why don't you pick up your kid and take the little lady by the hand and slip out the back door while there's still time? Your cousin Aeneas is gonna do it, and he'll get an entire epic named after him! Who knows? Maybe tending goats and sheep incognito would be an okay gig--it's better than the alternative. I'll let you in on a secret: Even Achilles will regret his decision to stay and fight after he actually sees what's in store for him down at Hade's place.

Hector, you're the best of them all. I know Homer tried to make Achille's the big kahuna, but you're really the hero of the piece, but when tomorrow comes and that old reprobate Zeus holds up those golden scales, you'll be a really dead hero; your wife will soon be sleeping in some Greek dude's bed; your kid will be as dead as you, tossed off those walls you're so intent on
protecting, and your old man will be food for dogs. Don't be a horse's ass.

Get out while there's still time. Duty's really not all it's cracked up to be,. Ask me, I know. Just say no. Choose life.

JP Reese