Posts Tagged ‘letters’

A series of letters to a fictional niece, who is struggling to read Jane Austen, is the hook on which Fay Weldon hangs this collection of fifteen essays (for want of a better word) about Jane Austen, her life, her novels, and the era in which she lived. This subject is the basis for thoughts about writing, what it means to be an author, and how people approach the art of writing a book; and how readers consider and enjoy books. The author also offers snippets of advice about life and love to her 18 year old niece.

I enjoyed this book a lot. It’s very eloquently written, and easy to take in. I learned about aspects of Jane Austen’s life, and discovered new perspectives from which to read her books. It is certainly not necessary to like – or even to have read – Jane Austen to enjoy this book (indeed, the fictional character it is aimed at is not enjoying reading Austen), but I would imagine that if you have never picked up an Austen novel, this would make you want to.

As you might expect, Weldon is forthright, honest and intelligent. She is also often amusing, and made me think – and also made me want to reread Emma very soon!

I would certainly recommend this enjoyable collection of letters, whether or not you are a fan of Jane Austen.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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As the title suggests, this book is a collection of letters sent to and from comedian and actor Groucho Marx.  Groucho was a prolific letter writer, and corresponded with friends, colleagues, politicians, other writers, and many more.

I am not going to list the many people who received or sent the letters in this book – it would take too long, for one thing – but the book is a shining example of Groucho’s wit and wisdom, his acerbic sense of humour, and (to a lesser extent) his beliefs.

My favourite exchange was between Groucho and T.S. Eliot.  It was clear that Groucho was much in awe of Eliot’s work, and when the two met for dinner, he hoped for a ‘literary evening’ – only to discover that Eliot was equally in awe of Groucho, and just wanted to discuss Marx Brothers’ films!

I liked this book, and thought that it was great to dip in and out of – there were some extremely funny one-liners, and Groucho was also clearly a very astute man.  My only criticism is really an editorial one – a lot of the correspondents may not be known to people reading the book (I know that I certainly had to look some of them up to see who they were, and how they were connected to Groucho), and therefore, the context of the letters isn’t always entirely clear.

Nonetheless though, this was highly enjoyable read, and one that I would definitely recommend.

(For more information about Groucho Marx/The Marx Brothers, please click here.)

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Just to round off the year, I read this rather sweet little book.  It’s very short – 88 pages of widely spaced font, but packs a punch with it’s story.  Oscar is a young boy who is dying of leukaemia, and lives in hospital.  He receives visits from the ‘lady in pink’ who he calls Granny Rose, and she is the only person who he thinks understands him.  He resents his parents and Doctor for their inability to tell him he’s dying, or to treat him normally.  Granny Rose encourages him to see each of the following 12 days – which lead up to Christmas – as a decade of his life, and to write a letter to God each day, telling him what had happened in that decade.  Even though Oscar doesn’t even believe that God exists he starts to write the letters anyway.

The book is narrated by Oscar (through his letters to God) and he shares the great things about his life – falling in love with another patient, the friends he has at the hospital,and especially Granny Rose; and the not-so-great – his frustration with his parents, feeling tired all the time.  He is a very wise for a child, but somehow this all seems believable.  I adored Granny Rose especially and found the myths and tales that she told Oscar to be very entertaining (it was easy to see why he loved her).

Although the book consists of letters to God, it is not preachy in any way – it is just a deceptively simple story.  I’d recommend this – it would only take about an hour to read and I think many people would enjoy it.

(Author’s website can be found here.)


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Dawn French is of course well known as one half of the comedy duo French and Saunders (Jennifer Saunders is in fact the “Fatty” referred to in the book’s title). This is Dawn’s biography of sorts – it is told in the form of various letters to people who have played some role in her life.

Many of the letters are written to her father who committed suicide when Dawn was just 19 years old.  The memories of him and his love have clearly been a huge force in her life and she writes honestly and openly about the good and the bad times she spent with him.  Other letter recipients include her mother, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn’s husband Lenny (Henry), her Best Friend (BF, whose name is never revealed in the book), old schoolfriends, Val Doonican, Madonna and The Monkees.

Some parts of the book read better than others.  The earlier letters, which more or less chart Dawn’s childhood and early family life were not as interesting as the later ones, which tell her life from the age of about 20.

Family is clearly of huge importance to her – when she writes about her parents, husband and daughter and her brother, the love comes shining through and is genuinely touching.  I admired her honesty in talking about a rough patch her marriage went through – she described her whole gamut of emotions, from anger to fear to forgiveness in a way that was easy to empathise with.  Another letter which actually moved me to tears (and highlighted the perils of reading while waiting in a supermarket queue) was the one to her friend Scottie, who died of AIDS – yet she juxtaposes the sadness with a hilarious tale about her mission to scatter Scottie’s ashes in the location he had intended.

Comic relief (no pun intended) is provided through a number of her letters to Madonna (who repeatedly refused to appear on the French and Saunders show) and doting-schoolgirl missives to The Monkees and David Cassidy.  I also enjoyed reading about the early days of the Comic Strip, and her work on The Vicar of Dibley.

Overall, after a slow start, this was an enjoyable read, which perfectly illustrated the warmth and humour for which Dawn French is so much admired and loved.

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