Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Julie Otsuka | When the Emperor Was Divine | 2003

Dear Girl,

First of all, I hope that you are doing well. You were always so headstrong and independent. After you got out of the internment camp, you seemed to have lost all your spunk and your liveliness. The last time I saw you, I recall not being able to see any sparkle in your eyes. I did see though, how much more independent you have become. Is it because you feel like you cannot depend on anyone else anymore? You were forced out of your home and everything changed. Your dad was gone. He was taken away from you and could not be there to protect you. You know that it was not his fault. He did not ask to be taken away in the middle of the night, without any time to change out of his bathrobe and slippers. You acted indifferent about your father and that you re ally did not care whether he was gone or not. You told Ted Ishimoto that your dad never wrote you any letters. That was a lie. I know that you are angry and hurt, but I think that you need to forgive your father. He really does care for you. If he could, I know that he would never want to leave your side. He loves you.

In the camps, you never wanted to spend any time with your mom or your brother. You were always off with your friends: dancing, playing bingo, jump roping, secretly smoking. Did you also feel betrayed by your mother? Like your father, you wanted her to be there to protect you. She was supposed to maintain the home and create a safe, happy place to live. That internment camp was not a home. She made you and your brother pack your belongings and leave your house. She was the one who took you away to that awful place. I hope you understand that she could not prevent it from happening; it was a governmental order. She could not break the law, but please realize that if she had the power, she would never wish for this to happen to you.

I bet you felt frustrated all the time. You were going through puberty at the time and you felt awkward and uncomfortable. You were struggling with newfound feelings and your body was changing. Not only were you struggling with the pain of puberty, but you also felt the weight of an inner turmoil that most kids your age never had to deal with. You were ashamed of your ethnicity, your heritage, and your face. Why did you have to be different? Why did everyone hate you? Why did you have to be Japanese? At the time, you would have given anything to be anyone else. Once again you blamed your parents. From the beginning, everything that happened was their fault. They were the reason you were so despised in the first place. They were the ones who made you Japanese. Please learn to forgive them, but most of all please learn to love yourself. You are beautiful. You always talk about how pretty you think your mother is and if she is as lovely as you say, because she is your mother, you are every ounce as lovely as she is.

Girl, take my words into consideration. All I want is to see that sparkle come back in your eyes. Please take care so that maybe one day I can see you exactly as you were before.

Best regards,
Stephanie Rabino

Kent Haruf | Plainsong | 1999

Dear Ella,

​Have you thought of seeking professional help? I don’t mean to come on so strong so I apologize in advance. However, you are a fictional character therefore I will just say what is on my mind. You are not obligated to tell the world of readers out here what exactly is going on in your personal life, but we are nosy and would like some additional information. I have the feeling that you feel as if you married the wrong person and that you are not upset that you are a mother to two wonderful boys, but that perhaps the picture perfect family wasn’t precisely what you wanted to shape your life around. Did you marry Guthrie too soon? Do you feel as if it is impossible to make him understand from where you are coming? I think I am correct when I say that you love Ike and Bobby. They are beautiful boys. You should be proud! I understand that it is hard to judge someone else’s situation unless you have had an identical obstacle yourself. I am not a mother. I am not married. I do not want to run away from everything to which I am attached. However, as a young woman with a wild spirit that cannot be tamed, I have fallen in love before only to want to run away from everything good just because I had to try and I didn’t have the emotional drive to do so. I know what it is like to know the guidelines of how to feel and act and not be able, for all the money in the world, to loyally abide by them at heart.I’ve been depressed before, believe it or not! There have been times when sunlight made me want to cry. Waking up was the most tiring activity on the planet. When you are depressed, sleep is a temporary escape. Running away and starting things anew can seem like the only promising thing, but what happens when things start going bad again? Most certainly, they will with the cycle of life. What you need to know is that there is a way out. This is not a terminal illness. Even if things do not work out with Guthrie you have two sons who need and miss their mother more than she will ever know. There are two people who love you unconditionally. You do not need to be preached to, but to be helped. Know that you are not a bad or malfunctioning individual. I sympathize with you. There is a way to get back to feeling healthy and like the Ella you know. If there is one thing you can do for your sons, it is talking openly with a person who is not judgmental. Will you think about it?

Sincerely yours,
Miss Myca Jester

Margaret Wise Brown | Goodnight Moon | 1947

Dear Quiet Old Lady,

You were always old. Were you ever young? Or were you born a Jungian crone?

And reliable, oh yes, you were reliable. I never had to go to sleep alone, you were always by my bed.

It was comforting in a way, that predicability. No matter how awful the day, no matter what horrors it held, I could rely on you to hush me to sleep.

Hush me to sleep. Keep me quiet. So the awful days could keep coming.

Whisper me hush, wise old woman. I know what tomorrow brings.

Gillian King

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,