It feels like it’s been a while since I did a Wednesday post that wasn’t a book review. But, it’s not because I haven’t finished a book… well not fully. It’s because I’m hoping to get a few interested bloggers to help me out with a project. So, if you fancy writing a little something for here then read on. If not, feel free to go about your business.
Dear Dear Fahrenheit 451,
As if it could end any other way? It’s the final day of this project so, of course, I’m writing to you. You are, after all, the book that started it all off. I mean the idea has been wandering around my head since the start of the year but I didn’t know how to approach it. Then I met you. I found you in my local bookshop one day but didn’t buy you. Well, I didn’t buy you until I went back the next day. I couldn’t get you out of my head. I was excited to read you and you didn’t disappoint.
It was a gimmick that could easily have gone wrong but Annie Spence’s letters were heartwarming, funny, and relatable. Anyone who loves books can see themselves in her words. We all have such strong bonds with certain books that the idea of telling them what they mean to us just makes sense. So I copied you. Instead of writing a review for each book that I felt had touched me in my life I decided to write them a letter. This decision possibly has something to do with time and my laziness but it also comes down to how you made me feel. I loved reading your letters and I wanted to replicate that feeling myself.
Not only did they give a good sense of the book but it allowed Annie to come through too. You can put yourself into a book review in some way but, in the end, it’s all about the book. If I was really going to celebrate the books that shaped my life then I felt like I had to be in it. It had to be about me too. And reading you gave me the confidence to do that. To explore my inner feelings and get a bit sentimental. Maybe a bit too sentimental at times but we’re bookish people. We have loads of emotions constantly fighting to get out. Some of the letters were harder to write and they were definitely not as funny as I’d hoped. It’s difficult when you’re starting point is something so bloody wonderful and charming. The comparison will never be a great one.
So, you may be the book on this list that I’ve known the least time but, in this context at least, you are the most important. I’ll never regret picking you up and I’ll always enjoy coming back to you. Dipping in and out of your letters. Dipping in and out of my own letters. I think I knew the moment I first picked you up in that shop that we would be friends forever. We’re on the same page… if you’ll pardon the super obvious pun. I just hope our relationship can survive my obvious attempt to copy your style. I feel like you’re Regina George and I’m Gretchen Weiners. And nobody wants to be Gretchen Weiners.
Please don’t weed me,
Dear One Of Us Is Lying,
It’s books like you that make me say things like “I don’t like YA books. They’re all shit.” What I mean is, I don’t like shit YA books. Books like you. Books that, somehow, manage to get a load of hype around them even though they don’t deserve the attention. And what’s worse… you had the audacity to create a link between yourself and The Breakfast Club. As if you had what it takes to rub shoulders with pop culture royalty. As if you had any right to share in its flawless reputation. All you were doing was desperately trying to pass off its acclaim as your own. Because you knew you didn’t deserve to get any of your own.
I’ve read a fair share of crime thrillers in my time and, even if I do say so myself, have become pretty good at spotting who the killer is. I can, usually, see a big twist coming a fair few pages before it happens. Do you want to know when I spotted your twist ending coming? The first paragraph. I’m not even joking. On the very first page the killer, literally, announces his plans in front of another character. It’s so blatantly obvious that it’s not just annoying but insulting to your audience. You clearly think your readers are so fucking stupid that they’ll spend the next few pages really confused.
But you aren’t just guilty of bad writing. Oh no, you’re guilty of lazy writing. You don’t feature a well-crafted narrative that twists and turns its way to the end. Nope. You are chock full of YA stereotypes that have been done so much better elsewhere. The jock who is secretly gay but too afraid to come out? Seen it a thousand times. Do you really think you added to the debate? I don’t. It added nothing to the character and didn’t even feature an empowering ending. It was just an easy way to give a character depth. But you stopped there. Aside from their basic traits, your main characters have no personality. There is nothing interesting or realistic about any of them. They have even less depth than a supporting character in a romantic-comedy. I know fuck all about any of them.
You couldn’t be bothered to create realistic teenage characters or a realistic situation. You used real life issues and used them badly. You didn’t add any new insight into the narrative of suicide, homosexuality, or abusive relationships. Yet, you constantly used them as easy ways to progress your narrative. You carelessly throw these ideas around without any kind of care or attention. Yes, you are badly written, boring, obvious and lazy. But what is worse is that you don’t give a shit about your audience. You are potentially damaging. You are potentially triggering a whole bunch of your audience for cheap shocks and cheap emotional pull. It’s pathetic. You’re pathetic. You’re the worst book I’ve ever read… and I’ve read a lot of shit in my time.
Some [books] are too toxic to live
Dear His Dark Materials,
I feel weird writing this letter to you because we barely know each other. The truth is, I tried to read you when I was younger but, once I’d finished The Northern Lights, I put you aside never to go back. I just didn’t get you. I really wanted to love you and there were plenty of aspects that I did enjoy. I just got to the and realised I hadn’t really taken in what I’d just read. I’d basically been sleep reading the whole book and taken no real notice of the plot. It made me think, it’s probably not wise to continue. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you’re bad. I enjoyed the writing. There was no part of me that thought ‘this book is too bad to carry on with’. I just didn’t feel compelled to continue.
It’s something that I’ve always been vaguely embarrassed to admit to. I think I’ve always felt that it was, in some ways, super shameful to have not read you. You’re an important part of literary history. I remember when we got you. My mother found you in a bookshop in Scotland and bought them so I could read you. I started the first book almost immediately but, as I’ve already said, you remained incomplete. I don’t think I ever mentioned it to her that I didn’t finish it. In fact, I remember getting a copy of Lyra’s Oxford a few years later for Christmas. Clearly I’d managed to fool my family into thinking I’d read you. I imagine I did the same thing with everyone else. Which is crazy. No matter how great your reputation, you are still just a book. I shouldn’t have a problem with not having read you.
The problem is, this seems to be a bit of problem for a lot of people. Whenever I’ve mentioned on Bookstagram that I never finished you there are people who can’t believe it’s possible. Now I’m super happy that you have such dedicated and loyal fans. It’s great. However, the more people tell me to read you the more I pull away from you. I imagine nowadays that you and I could become friends. We probably do have a lot in common and would get on well. But you only get one chance to make a first impression. And, quite frankly. the first time we met you did very little to sell yourself to me. You’re like that one really popular person that all your friends love but who I have “a weird feeling about”. It’s not that I think you’re a terrible person but there’s something about you that bugs me.
So I don’t know if I’ll ever read you. I kind of want to and I kind of feel as though as I should. But, there are books I desire to read more. I can’t forget that year. That year young me (I can’t remember how old) made the decision not to do what people thought she should. When I made a choice not to read something for the sake of it. When I decided that this series probably wasn’t for me. I made that choice years ago and it’s difficult to go back on it.
I can’t choose my nature, but I can choose what I do,
Dear Fantastic Mr Fox,
I realise as a book lover that I should probably have been more drawn to Matilda when I was younger. I should probably have seen myself somewhere in the tale of a girl who loves books and teaching people a lesson. They’re kind of my favourite things to do. And I did love her. I mean she’s basically the poster child for the eternally bookish and the book is the same age as I am. Still, when I was younger, it was you, Fantastic Mr Fox, that captivated me so much as a child. And who wouldn’t love this epic story of good triumphing over evil… especially when that good is a really cunning fox?
As a child I was part of pretty tight-knit group of friends. It comprised of myself, my twin sister, and out best friend at the time. We spent nearly all of time together. We loved the same things. And one of those things was you. One of my most vivid memories from childhood is being driven somewhere by our friend’s mum and begging her to let us listen to the cassette tape of you audio book. We must have worn that tape out considering the amount we listened to it. I’m pretty sure we would speak along with it and everything. We must have driven her mother insane. But we loved it.
There is no writer who can quite match up to Roald Dahl for being able to give a child what they want from a book. He never crosses the line with his darkness but he isn’t afraid to scare kids a bit. Boggis and Bunce and Bean are grotesque characters. They are genuinely disgusting and vicious and that’s really refreshing for a child. As a young reader, you aren’t really used to characters who are so realistically evil. You are used to fairy tale villains who are obviously just fictional. You know, evil queens who kill people who are more beautiful than they are. Or evil stepmothers who hate their beautiful stepdaughters. Basically we’re used to villains who are obsessed with looks and nothing else.
But you were different. You presented us with an image that was understandable in the real world. A group of farmers that wanted to kill a wild animal. And, let’s be honest, they were justified. I love Mr Fox, don’t get me wrong, but he did keep eating their livestock. I always wanted him to succeed but I could totally get why they were a bit miffed. This isn’t normal for children’s literature. You don’t get evil people who it is, on some deep deep level, okay to sympathise with… just a little bit. I worry I’m coming across as the kind of person who wants to see people kill foxes. I’m not. I love them. Mostly because of you; partly because of The Animals of Farthing Wood. Love them. Still, I’d be annoyed if one kept eating my chickens just to piss me off.
You are as clever and well-written as any other Roald Dahl book but there was obviously something so wonderful about you that we all kept coming back to. The cynical and realistic part of me wants to say it was because we all just bloody loved animals. It’s true. Part of the reason I love Aladdin so much is because Jasmine has a fucking tiger. I’ve wanted to be her all my life. But, I also like to think, in my nostalgic and dreamy way, that we knew then that you were special. That we knew you were a simple story told in a truly Dahl-esque style. That you were funny and scary at the same time. That you were rich in detail despite being so short. That you showed us that it’s important to stick up for yourselves. That it’s so easy to be underestimated and you can use that to your advantage. That you were more than just the tale of a fox being able to outsmart a group of farmers.
But probably not. We probably just loved that you were about a fox and that you got your tail shot off. Oh, and that rhyme is bloody memorable.
To Mr Fox! Long may he live!
This is a difficult letter to write. It’s always hard to reach out to a past love without it being weird. Because I did love you once. Or at least I think I did. I, at least, felt like I should. You were so important a figure. So distinguished. So loved. It was like I didn’t have a choice but to love you. Especially because I’d already decided that my future lay, at least in terms of my education, in the realm of Romanticism. If you want to study this period it’s kind of impossible to ignore you. We all know you were like the father of the whole movement. Plus, I went to a university in Lancashire, near your beloved Lake District, so they properly loved you.
So I tried. I played the part. And I did love some of your poems. Tintern Abbey is a wonderful piece of prose and the first book of The Prelude is a fabulous thing to read. I don’t think you are terrible, by any means, but I can’t say that I was as enamoured as I felt I should be. I don’t wish to sound rude but there are better poets out there. Obviously there are worse (not mentioning any names *cough* Keats) but it’s not like you were that special. I kept thinking “maybe I’m just not getting it” or “maybe it’s just too clever for me”. I started to doubt myself and just forced myself to like you more. I got deeper and deeper until I genuinely didn’t know what to believe anymore. But, really, I think you’re okay.
Have you ever heard the song ‘If I didn’t have you’ by Tim Minchin? I don’t see why you would have considering you died in 1850 but go with me for a second. In that song, the comedian postulates that if he hadn’t met his wife when he did then he’s probably just have fallen in love with someone else. It’s a great song, worth a listen if you ever feel like it. But, my point is, if I hadn’t ever read any of your poems then I don’t feel as though my life would be missing something. Basically, if I didn’t have you then some other poet would do. And even you have to admit that in between all of your big hitters there are a lot of duds. Coleridge knew it. Hazlitt knew it. You must have known it. Surely just because ‘I wandered lonely’ has stood the test of time doesn’t mean we can forgive all of your boring political shit later in life? Right?
But maybe this isn’t a fair assessment. I think it’s safe to say we have a pretty messy break-up so it might be clouding my judgement. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the greatest idea to write my undergraduate dissertation on a poet that I wasn’t sure I liked but that was the choice I made. For months I studied your poems, your diaries, and you letters. I knew you so well it meant there were very few surprises left. Our relationship started to go stale. By the end, we were like the married couple in ‘Brothers on a Hotel Bed’ by Death Cab For Cutie. Saying goodbye from our own separate sides. We spent too much time together. Stopped appreciating each other. We only stayed together for the essay. Once it grew up and moved out of the house we had nothing left keeping us together.
So, that’s why I haven’t really been in touch with you lately. I went through a period of saying hurtful things about you to make myself feel better. It wasn’t the most mature thing I’ve ever done but it made me feel better. And I learnt my lesson. Everything I wrote about in my postgraduate dissertation is still something I love. I ended up finding something good. So I hope you have too. One day, maybe, we can be friends again. After all, we went through so much together that it feels like such a shame to waste it. We’ll see.
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
Dear Northanger Abbey,
I have a question for you: why do so many people hate you? I seriously do not understand it. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Jane Austen in general but I know a lot of people who are hardcore fans. And what confuses me more than their absolute adoration of her as a writer is that they all seem to share a dislike of you. Which is crazy. You’re the best thing she’s ever written. You are, by far, the most entertaining of the Austen novels I’ve read and you’re heroine is the one I found most endearing. I know everyone wants to be Lizzy Bennett but I always saw Catherine Morland as someone I may once have been.
Most book nerds have, unofficially, pronounced Belle from Beauty and the Beast as the icon of what we live for. She lives in her books and craves adventure so I get it. However, if we want to find a female character who really typifies what it means to be a book lover then it’s Catherine. She is so obsessed with what she reads that she imagines it happening around her. If she were living this day then she would be writing fanfiction and creating Tumblrs about her favourite ships. Belle has a pretentious side to her whilst Catherine is just straight up adorable. Naive, definitely, but her behaviour is totally forgivable. Totally understandable. I see people like her on Bookstagram all the time so I don’t see why more of them don’t adore her.
Maybe it’s just that modern audiences don’t get the parody? I know a lot of people who have read this and then gone on to read The Mysteries of Udolpho, which is great because Ann Radcliffe is a sensation. However, it means you don’t get the context until after the fact. If you go into this book without an understand of what very early gothic fiction was like then you’ll think it’s all just melodramatic nonsense. Instead of a very clever parody. They won’t fully appreciate how intricate it all is. How funny. How subversive. You don’t get enough credit.
Neither does your romantic hero. There’s a lot of love for Mr Darcy out there. A lot. Another thing I don’t get about Austen fans. Darcy isn’t the kind of man you fall in love with. Who is the kind of guy you fall for? Why, Henry Tilney, of course. Henry doesn’t take time to get used to. He’s charming, funny, sweet, and kind from the off set. He is patient with Catherine and forgives her for being a bit excitable. He lacks the good looks of someone like Willoughby or Wickham but he’s in no way unattractive. He loves his sister and is an avid reader. Basically, Henry Tilney is the perfect man. So why don’t more people see it?
I don’t understand. I’ll always love you. You were the book that made me give Jane Austen a second chance. I was sure I would never be able to fully appreciate anything that she wrote until you came along. Now, I’m willing to see more positives. I reread Sense and Sensibility a few years after I read you and I enjoyed it more. You were the book that finally made me see that there was more to Jane Austen. I can’t say that you’ve fully changed my opinion but you’ve made me more open minded. You were my Henry Tilney.
I am delighted with the book!
Dear Agatha Christie,
I admit that I probably took a bit of time actually getting around to reading your books. There were so many times that I’d heard them dismissed as “cosy crime” that I thought they were beneath me. They definitely sounded like the kind of thing that I, a super serious and embarrassingly pretentious literature student, shouldn’t be reading. I was, to put it mildly, an idiot. I cared so much about the image I was portraying that I stopped reading for enjoyment. When I remembered that was the main aim I was able to see what I’d been missing. I’ve had lots of enjoyable reading experiences over the years but none compare to your novels. Even now, when I reread books I know the ending to, I still find myself utterly engrossed in your plots. Still convinced that the ending I know is coming will never happen. I was a fool to dismiss you. But, in my defence, it’s not like I’m alone. So many people see you in a nostalgic light. As something silly and old that takes them back. You’ve essentially been categorised as an old friend, which you are, but it’s not the end of the story.
The thing is, you aren’t just “cosy crime”. I mean you are when compared to the identical examples of psychological thrillers that are being churned out every few months. Books like Gone Girl and Girl on a Train. The ones that need to rely on unnecessary violence and supremely grim ‘reality’ because it’s all they have. The truth is, for all the sexual violence and pseudo-psychology of these books, I hated them. They bored me. They weren’t well written and they were super obvious. I could tell from the first few chapters of Girl on a Train who the killer was and I stopped reading Gone Girl because it was blatantly obvious where Gillian Flynn was going with it. These books are all style and no substance… but they have that high fashion thing that nobody in the real-world really likes but has to accept because they don’t get it.
You’re books are the real deal. To dismiss them as “cosy” is the biggest injustice of all time. To refer to them as casual reading that you do between heavy reads is an insult. You didn’t write to shock your audience or to make headlines. You didn’t need to be the next big sensation. You wrote for real readers. Readers who don’t need thoughtless melodrama to excite them. You wrote well-plotted stories about characters that seem realistic. You had such a sense of people. That’s the reason your books have lasted. You understand the importance of the plot and what drives the plot. At the heart of every one of your murder mysteries is the one piece that moves everything else forward: the body. Once that’s in place, you have all the pieces you need to explore all aspects of humanity. To dig deep into the effect that evil has on the world. To question why people would commit murder. There’s a lot of depth people often refuse to see.
And yes, you also happen to have written some of the most exciting and shocking plot twists of all time. I remember the first times I read The Murder of Roger Aykroyd and And Then There Were None. I was genuinely shocked by the twists. I pride myself on being able to figure out where mystery writers are going with their plots but, more often than not, you stump me. You’re so detail focused that the reader becomes embroiled in the mystery. They don’t have a choice but to take on the role of detective and solve the crime too. Some of your endings were groundbreaking and still haven’t been surpassed to this day. Roger Aykroyd changed literature for fuck’s sake. It’s changed my view of you and of the genre.
You have written some of the most deceptive plots in all of literary history but the biggest piece of deception you are guilty of is your own writing. You manage to create books that can be enjoyed by people of various ages. They are simple enough for a younger reader whilst still with enough depth for a seasoned one. You skirt on the edge of darkness and evil without every firmly planting yourself in it. These are books that are so easily dismissed as childish and simplistic. But there is so much hidden away beneath the surface. You just need to engage you little grey cells to see it.
Very few of us are what we seem.
Dear George RR Martin,
First and foremost, I have a confession to make: I didn’t start reading your A Song of Ice and Fire series until after I’d seen the TV show. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing but I think I’ve been too afraid to say it out loud before. You know what some bookish people are like. To be fair though, I was only 8 when the first book came out. If the publishing industry didn’t give a shut about fantasy at that time then why would you expect me to be? I was probably too occupied by whatever 8 year-old me was bothered about. Probably my dog or Dawson’s Creek or something.
So I was in my 20s by the time I read your books but, from that moment, I adored them. You were like Tolkien and JK Rowling had a child who grew up to write awesome books. Combining the epic fantasy setting of Tolkien with the hard-hearted attitude to character death of Rowling. Plus a bit of uncomfortable sex scenes for good measure. And we all know I love a creepy book sex scene. Especially if it involves a dwarf whose nose got cut off in battle.
As the years went by your books got harder to read but not because they’re bad. You’ve just put so much into them. There are so many additional characters and subplots that it’s difficult to keep track. And that book that focused on the South despite all the good shit happening in the North? Not the best. However, I’m not really writing this letter because your books changed my life. Don’t get me wrong, I adore them and would call it my favourite series. But I’m writing this to you, George RR, because you get a lot of shit these days. It’s been… a while since the 5th book was released. And, you may have noticed, people are getting frustrated. Very frustrated.
I bet you look back to the pre-HBO times and just think “remember when I only had a few loyal fans who were willing to wait years between books?” Not anymore. The TV crowd, people like me, are more impatient. They’ve never has to wait for your books. So this is hell. And they’re taking it out on you. I say “fuck them”. Readers like to think they own books but we just loan them from the writer. We share them and take what we need from them. But these books are yours. I’d rather read a book you’re proud to publish than a book you’ve rushed to meet a deadline. Yes, maybe you did put too much into the story. Maybe you’re finding it too difficult to tie up all of the loose ends. But the loose ends are the reason we love the books. So take the necessary months and years it’ll take to finish.
Because these books are like no other. You’ve introduced to some of my most loved characters and have made me feel a cavalcade of emotions. I read the Red Wedding scene and literally threw the book across the room I was so upset. I’m always terrified you’ll kill off someone I love. Like Brienne. I swear, if she meets a grisly end I’ll find you. Liam Neeson style. She’s perfect. She speaks to me in a way no other female character ever has. We’ve shared so many experiences. Shared so many feelings. I need her to survive. Just like I need your books. But I need them to be finished. So finish them and take as much time as you need.
A true man does what he will, not what he must.
Dear The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,
Picture the scene: September 2010, a 22 year-old me is at an English department meet and greet before starting my Postgraduate degree and I’m stuck talking to my strange new Professor. It’s all as awkward as you’d hope until he asks me one simple question: “why did you chose to study the Romantic period?” Well?
It was an Ancient Mariner,
And he really spoke to me.
With his long grey beard and glittering eye,
He changed the life of me.
I’ve decided it’s better that I don’t continue the rest of this letter by butchering Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s sensational words but, hopefully, you get the point. The reason I was so desperate to study Romanticism was you.
It was during my A Level studies that I was first introduced to you and it really did change my life. I’d read and kind of enjoyed poetry before but it was all rather pedestrian. It was poetry that seemed as though it was meant to be studied but not enjoyed, if that makes sense. I didn’t hate poetry, by any means, but I still hadn’t been brought around to the idea that one could really enjoy consuming it. Until we studied the epic tale of a crazy old sailor. I was genuinely amazed by what I was reading. I didn’t know poetry could excite me so much.
This was a new world and I was obsessed. I loved every line. I loved every rhyme. I loved every time … I read you. You were the first poem that I read so often I was able to learn you off by heart. And I’m not just talking about your first two stanzas. I knew loads. Not all of you, because you’re quite long, but I still think it was pretty impressive. I’m sure even Coleridge needed to be reminded of the later stanzas too. You were the first poem to convince me I could, and should, read poetry outside of the classroom. I admit, being about 15/16 at the time, it was a little depressing that it took me so long but I was never very by sonnets.
You were so much more than the poems we’d studied previously. You were archaic but new. You were gothic and scary yet reassuring and joyful. Expertly mixing the supernatural with the natural. You were everything that early Romanticism stood for and I wanted more. Just like your titular mariner, you hypnotised me. Your words opened my eyes to a new world of prose. Your simple structure and metre only complimented the complexity within your story. The dramatic tale and the ever-moving narrative would always draw me in. Still always draws me in.
I admit that, as the years go by, I can see all the faults that Coleridge saw. The moral is a little hammy and the archaic language is a bit much. Turns out you aren’t as perfect as my naive teenage self once thought you were. But. I still love you. I always will. You changed the whole trajectory of my life. I went to university and studied as much of this era as I could. You pushed me further towards gothic fiction. Everything I achieved during my four years of higher education can be traced back to you. You inspired me. You made me.