The Month of Letters 2016 is Coming

       I have been reading To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing by Simon Garfield (Gotham Books: New York, 2014) in preparation for this year’s Month of Letters (;, coming, as it does, in February. In the introductory chapter, “The Magic of Letters,” Garfield writes eloquently about what we are in danger of losing:

Letters have the power to grant us a larger life. They reveal motivation and deepen understanding. They are evidential. They change lives, and they rewire history. The world used to run upon their transmission — the lubricant of human interaction and the freefall of ideas, the silent conduit of the worthy and the incidental, the time we were coming for dinner, the account of our marvelous day, the weightiest joys and sorrows of love. It must have seemed impossible that their worth would ever be taken for granted or swept aside. A world without letters would surely be a world without oxygen (p. 19).

Letters have their own oxygen; they breathe something of the souls of their authors. They carry tone in the impression of their letters and need no emoticons to convey emotion.

            Join me in writing letters this month. Leave some history behind. Remind someone she or he is important. Don’t forget Valentine’s Day. Send a lecture to your children. Thank someone for something. Tell your best friend about your day.

            If you haven’t written a letter for a while, give it a try again. If you can’t think of anyone to whom to write, you can find a vibrant community of new acquaintance through the Month of Letters website. And if you do join in, drop me a line.

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith. Mulholland Books (Little, Brown and Company), New York; 2015. Hardback. 497 pages. ISBN: 978-0-0316-349933-2.

     I was reading and just finished Career of Evil, the third installment in Robert Galbraith’s* mystery series. Detectives Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott receive a severed leg at the office and it soon becomes apparent that someone from Strike’s past is trying to destroy him through Ellacott. The plot twists several strands into the tale of a serial murderer and provides the reader with welcome information about the histories of the protagonists. We learn about some of the old SIB cases Strike believes have come to back to haunt him and find out the details behind Ellacott’s withdrawal from college. Interwoven into this tapestry are the impending nuptials of two couples: those of Prince William and Kate Middleton, and the later ones of Ellacott and her fiancé, Matthew Cunliffe.

     The complexities of the plot allow Galbraith to highlight various kinds of violence against women and the different ways women react to it. While none come away unscathed, it was a relief to see some of the women fight back. Ellacott particularly shows unexpected strength, extricating herself from an attack from which we at first expect Strike will have to rescue her.

     The narrative suffers, though, from too many ostentatious lacunae, too many places where we are told someone will do something in a way that almost taunts us with the awareness that vital clues are being withheld. And in the end, the resolution rests on Strike failing to see something that turns out to have been too much right before his eyes for us easily to believe he could have missed it.

   Despite these flaws, Career of Evil is still a good read and, as a part of the kind of longer story that unfolds in a series, provides another layer of foundational information on which to continue to build more exciting mysteries for Ellacott and Strike to solve.


*Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J. K. Rowling

International Talk Like a Pirate Day, pARRRt two

Talk Like a Pirate Day be almost over for some of us — though others may be just getting warmed up (another round!). There are so many aspects of TLAPD I enjoy: its random origins, its serious silliness, its function as an excuse to have fun, its smarts — and its foundation in the power of language to make our lives something different, even briefly. Talking “Pirate” is (safely) transgressive, both socially and grammatically. A little pirate lingo perks up our movies and our ears, can be funny or threatening (or both), so why limit ourselves to one day of it, especially when there are many swashbuckling books out there to keep us sailing?

So, mateys, if ye want more Pirate Talk, here be some excellent books to stow in yer chest:

295     Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, Treasure Island

The Princess Bride by William Goldman    828035

Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean: How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved Out an Empire in the New World in Their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom–and Revenge by Edward Kritzler (One, Samuel Palache, was a rabbi.)




Janet Yolen’s ballad,  122073  The Pirate Queens


Peter Pan, by James Barrie  34268



9970915  The Pirate King by Laurie R. King (Sherlock Holmes and pirates)

Patrick O’Brian’s wonderful Aubrey-Maturin series, starting with Master and Commander
(These novels may not be focused on pirates, but Jack has some fine piratical qualities to be sure.)


An Invitation to Danger and Daring: The Act and Art of Letter Writing and the Month of Letters

            It is a Dangerous and Daring Act to write a letter. I know this because I have been reading The Dangerous Book for Boys and its afterthought, The Daring Book for Girls,* and both treat means of properly engaging in this risky pastime. The boys’ book cuts right to the chase regarding the perils of committing one’s thoughts to a writing surface, warning that “The problem with hiding a message in the lining of a coat or tattooed on a scalp is that anyone can read it. It makes a lot of sense to practice ‘cryptography’” (p. 64). The dangers of letter-writing are also emphasized in the section on “Secret Inks” (page 149 tells us that “Secret inks allow you to send confidential information by mail,” after we are informed that “Milk, lemon juice, egg white and, yes, urine will work as a secret ink”). There are also instructions for “Grinding an Italic Nib” and improving one’s “Grammar” (three sections!).

            For inexplicable reasons, it is left to girls to brave the perils of conventional letter-writing, of daring to expose themselves by writing what can be read by anyone,** and to them the secrets of letter-writing are directly imparted. The Daring Book spells out how to compose a thank-you letter and lays out the essential facets of personal letters. In other sections it provides a “History of Writing” and a sampling of “Abigail Adams’ Letters with John Adams,” and while it sadly lacks a discussion of ink of any kind, it does explain how to “Make Your Own Quill Pen” — an endeavour so fraught with peril that parental supervision is required.

            Now that you have been duly advised, I invite you to join me in participating in this year’s Month of Letters. The basic challenge is simple: send one piece of mail every day the post runs. What with Sundays and holidays, that comes to a mere twenty-three pieces of mail. Now is the time to send out all the thank-you notes you owe, the letter that will make your mother so happy, the protest to the newspaper, the postcards to your siblings from places you’ve never been. And if you have all those bases covered already, there are plenty of people in the MoL community who are looking for pen-pals. The challenge is on; screw your courage to the sticking point, buy some stamps, pick up a pen, be dangerous and daring — write a letter.




* Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden, The Dangerous Book for Boys (New York: Collins, 2006); Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz, The Daring Book for Girls, (New York: Collins, 2007). The gender divisions are ridiculous. There is nothing in either book that shouldn’t interest all children.


** Ruth Calderon, in her book A Bride for One Night (The Jewish Publication Society; Philadelphia: 2014, p. 156, n. 10), notes that “Yochanan Muffs teaches that all conversations require the courage to reveal oneself to another. … ‘One who attempts to communicate with another endangers his own life, for to do this, he must reveal what is in his own heart. …There is always the possibility that the ear of the listener will be impervious. Any real communication, then, is a dangerous leap’ (The Personhood of God [Woodstock VT: Jewish Lights, 2005], 16).”

A Better Pick-Up Line

      Just in time for all those New Year’s book store sales (our local book store has one), my brother has sent the perfect ice-breaker:

Buy you a book? 150125_10152426115028862_8301236306719344618_n

The gender, of course, should be irrelevant, and there really ought to be a period after “favor.” Also, I do rather wish there were a comma after “for me” and agreement in number between “some person” and “their.” But the idea is brilliant; let us hope the above heralds a new age of more literary one-night stands.