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.)


International Talk Like A Pirate Day 2015, pARRRt one


Gentle Readers,

Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, a holiday dreamed up by John Baur and Mark Summers twenty years ago. Their dream became a reality when the guys got Dave Barry to write a column about a day dedicated to, well, talking like a pirate. You can find the full story of the origins of this glorious excuse for a party on the official TLAPD website (don’t skip the Sing-Along video).

As a tribute to the day, I offer a translation of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet, Sonnet Eighteen (but who’s counting?). Here’s the original:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.


And now the TLAPD version (by me):

Ahoy, me beauty!

Hot as the Caribbean August past;
The only wench who hasn’t slapped me face.
There’s a tempest shakin’ me by the mast,
And the crew’s got to board by morning’s race
Before the sun melts the black tar we smear’d.
I’ve gold in me pockets, doubloons, real gold,
To make fair me scars, me age, me untrimm’d beard,
Don’ believe me, eh? Go down to me hold.
But you, wench, will always be me beauty,
Even though you work in this shady place,
And ne’er be part of Davy Jones’ booty;
You’ll swim in me heart with a mermaid’s grace.
Here is the token that tells ye it’s true:
Your face depicted in this here tattoo.



Review of The Vintage Caper


I was reading The Vintage Caper (Vintage Books, 2010; 0307389197), a work of charm and temptation by Peter Mayle. Detective Sam Levitt eats and drinks his way through Marseilles to solve the theft of five hundred bottles of rare wine belonging to an obnoxious Hollywood collector. The mystery is less the point of the novel than an excuse to write about life in southern France and to introduce us to some engaging characters. There are some nice little twists — the victim is more villainous than the perpetrator of the heist — but delightfully, there were no fraught car chases or moments of unbearable tension. The book is merely a joy from start to finish, and I am quite happy that it is the first in a series. I look forward to renewing my acquaintance with Mr. Levitt and friends in the next installment.