Monday, 30 April 2012

Bill Hicks on Freedom of Speech



As an outspoken stand-up comedian with strong, unbending views on the most divisive of subjects, the late-Bill Hicks was no stranger to controversy during his all-too-brief career. In May of 1993, less than a year before he succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 32, a live recording of Hicks’ Revelations show was broadcast on television in the UK. Shortly afterwards, deeply offended by its "blasphemous" content, a priest wrote to the broadcaster, Channel 4, and complained about the recent screening. After reading the complaint, Hicks, never one to avoid a discussion, replied to the priest directly by letter.

(Source: Love All the People: The Essential Bill Hicks, Revised Edition. Reprinted with permission; Image: Bill Hicks, via The Quiet Front.)

8 June 1993

Dear Sir,

After reading your letter expressing your concerns regarding my special 'Revelations', I felt duty-bound to respond to you myself in hopes of clarifying my position on the points you brought up, and perhaps enlighten you as to who I really am.

Where I come from — America — there exists this wacky concept called 'freedom of speech', which many people feel is one of the paramount achievements in mankind's mental development. I myself am a strong supporter of the 'Right of freedom of speech', as I'm sure most people would be if they truly understood the concept. 'Freedom of speech' means you support the right of people to say exactly those ideas which you do not agree with. (Otherwise, you don't believe in 'freedom of speech', but rather only those ideas which you believe to be acceptably stated.) Seeing as how there are so many different beliefs in the world, and as it would be virtually impossible for all of us to agree on any one belief, you may begin to realize just how important an idea like 'freedom of speech' really is. The idea basically states 'while I don't agree or care for what you are saying, I do support your right to say it, for herein lies true freedom'.

You say you found my material 'offensive' and 'blasphemous'. I find it interesting that you feel your beliefs are denigrated or threatened when I'd be willing to bet you've never received a single letter complaining about your beliefs, or asking why they are allowed to be. (If you have received such a letter, it definitely did not come from me.) Furthermore, I imagine a quick perusal of an average week of television programming would reveal many more shows of a religious nature, than one of my shows — which are called 'specials' by virtue of the fact that they are very rarely on.

All I'm doing in 'Revelations' is giving my point of view in my language based on my experiences — much the same way religious broadcasters might organize their programs. While I've found many of the religious shows I've viewed over the years not to be to my liking, or in line with my own beliefs, I've never considered it my place to exert any greater type of censorship than changing the channel, or better yet — turning off the TV completely.

Now, for the part of your letter I found most disturbing.

In support of your position of outrage, you posit the hypothetical scenario regarding the possibly 'angry' reaction of Muslims to material they might find similarly offensive. Here is my question to you: Are you tacitly condoning the violent terrorism of a handful of thugs to whom the idea of 'freedom of speech' and tolerance is perhaps as foreign as Christ's message itself? If you are somehow implying that their intolerance to contrary beliefs is justifiable, admirable, or perhaps even preferable to one of acceptance and forgiveness, then I wonder what your true beliefs really are.

If you had watched my entire show, you would have noticed in my summation of my beliefs the fervent plea to the governments of the world to spend less money on the machinery of war, and more on feeding, clothing, and educating the poor and needy of the world ... A not-so-unchristian sentiment at that!

Ultimately, the message in my material is a call for understanding rather than ignorance, peace rather than war, forgiveness rather than condemnation, and love rather than fear. While this message may have understandably been lost on your ears (due to my presentation), I assure you the thousands of people I played to in my tours of the United Kingdom got it.

I hope I helped answer some of your questions. Also, I hope you consider this an invitation to keep open the lines of communication. Please feel free to contact me personally with comments, thoughts, or questions, if you so choose. If not, I invite you to enjoy my two upcoming specials entitled 'Mohammed the TWIT' and 'Buddha, you fat PIG'. (JOKE)

Sincerely,

Bill Hicks

Friday, 27 April 2012

Greetings Worm



From the pages of Diane Keaton's memoir, Then Again, come four brief and unsurprisingly entertaining letters from the inimitable Woody Allen. Says Keaton:
I was his endearing oaf. He was my "White Thing." [...] We thrived on demeaning each other. His insights into my character were dead on and—duh!—hilarious. This bond remains the core of our friendship and, for me, love.
The first letter was written in March of 1969, as the pair starred in Woody's Broadway play, Play It Again, Sam; the remaining three were penned in 1974/5, as they filmed Love and Death.

(Source: Then Again, by Diane Keaton; Image: Diane Keaton & Woody Allen, via.)

Beet Head,

Humans are clean slates. There are no qualities indigenous to men or women. True, there is a different biology, but all defining choices in life affect both sexes & a woman, any woman is capable of defining herself with total FREEDOM. Therefore women are anything they choose to be & frequently have chosen & defined themselves greater than men. Don't be fooled by THE ARTS! They're no big deal; certainly no excuse for people acting like jerks & by that I mean, so what if up till now there were very few women artists. There may have been women far deeper than, say, Mozart or Da Vinci but contributing their genius in a different socially circumscribed context. Note how I switched from pen to pencil at this moment because in Lelouch's film, A MAN & A WOMAN, he switches from color to black & White—So I underline my point using the same symbolism—Very clever? OK, then, very stupid.

Woody

----------------

Greetings Worm,

We have enough rehearsal time, but not as much as in L.A. Still, I think Love and Death will be easier than Sleeper as there is not a lot of...falls and spills and water stunts...Our dialogue exchanges should be brisk and lively...but we'll get into that ...so snookums...speak with you soon.

Also finished 1st draft of 2 New Yorker pieces. Hey! My book—Getting even—is a hit in France. Go figure. You remain a flower—too, too delicate for this harsh world & Dorrie is a flower & your mother is a flower & your father is a vegetable & Randy is a flower in his way & Robin is a cat. And I remain a weed.

Will call.

Woody

----------------

Greetings Worm,

I am jettisoning some old socks in my travel bag to make room for some idiot's sunflower seeds. Guess who? You, my pal, are my cross to bear.

So they’re saying I’m a genius—but you know better, you little hellgrammite. Are you sure they're not calling me "White Thing?" "And he changes his underwear to sleep in." And all the things you call me rather than genius? I am tortured by the most incredible dreams of sexuality that revolve around you and a large 2E BRA that speaks Russian

That genial pal and good egg, Woody

----------------

Lamp-head,-simpleton-oaf—

I have decided to let your family make me rich! It turns out they are wonderful material for a film. A quite serious one, although one of the three sisters is a fool and a clown. (I think you can guess which, ducky!) I didn’t send you a big letter, because you’re coming to Paris soon. I wonder if your observations about my family clock them as weirdly as I see yours? Do you have insights into my father & mother? I can imagine. The blind perceiving the blind. Last night I had a tender dream about me & my mother. First dream of her in years. Wonder why? I wept in the dream & ate my laundry. Just kidding—I ate her boiled chicken which tastes worse.

Love from the fabulous Mister A, a man with healing humour.

----------------

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism



Early-1966, believing its contents to be "immoral," the Hanover County School Board in Virginia decided to remove all copies of Harper Lee's classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, from the county's school libraries. As soon as she was alerted, Lee responded perfectly by way of the following letter, written to, and later published in, The Richmond News Leader.

Also sent, as mentioned in the letter, was a contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund — a project set up by the newspaper in 1959 to highlight/compensate for "official stupidities," and which subsequently gave away copies of the banned book to all children who asked.

(Source: Understanding To Kill a Mockingbird; Image: Harper Lee, via.)

Monroeville, Alabama
January, 1966

Editor, The News Leader:

Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board's activities, and what I've heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read.

Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that "To Kill a Mockingbird" spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is "immoral" has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink.

I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism. Therefore I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.

Harper Lee

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Forget your personal tragedy



In 1925, following publication of his magnum opus, The Great Gatsby, author F. Scott Fitzgerald began work on his fourth novel, Tender Is the Night—a tale about the troubled lives of Dick and Nicole Diver, a couple based largely on Gerald and Sara Murphy, a wealthy, popular couple who moved in the same social circles as Fitzgerald in the 1920s. It would be another 9 years before Tender Is the Night was complete, and on May 10th of 1934, a month after its publication, Fitzgerald wrote to his friend and fellow novelist, Ernest Hemingway, to ask for his honest opinion on what was to be his final book. Hemingway certainly didn’t hold back, and replied with a brutally honest letter that contains valuable advice for writers the world over.

Note: Hemingway's spelling is shown accurately. For example, he twice wrote "write" where, presumably, he meant "right."

(This letter, along with 124 other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, Letters of Note. For more info, visit Books of Note.)

Key West
28 May 1934

Dear Scott:

I liked it and I didn't. It started off with that marvelous description of Sara and Gerald (goddamn it Dos took it with him so I can't refer to it. So if I make any mistakes—). Then you started fooling with them, making them come from things they didn't come from, changing them into other people and you can't do that, Scott. If you take real people and write about them you cannot give them other parents than they have (they are made by their parents and what happens to them) you cannot make them do anything they would not do. You can take you or me or Zelda or Pauline or Hadley or Sara or Gerald but you have to keep them the same and you can only make them do what they would do. You can't make one be another. Invention is the finest thing but you cannot invent anything that would not actually happen.

That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best—make it all up—but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way.

Goddamn it you took liberties with peoples' pasts and futures that produced not people but damned marvellously faked case histories. You, who can write better than anybody can, who are so lousy with talent that you have to—the hell with it. Scott for gods sake write and write truly no matter who or what it hurts but do not make these silly compromises. You could write a fine book about Gerald and Sara for instance if you knew enough about them and they would not have any feeling, except passing, if it were true.

There were wonderful places and nobody else nor none of the boys can write a good one half as good reading as one that doesn't come out by you, but you cheated too damned much in this one. And you don't need to.

In the first place I've always claimed that you can't think. All right, we'll admit you can think. But say you couldn't think; then you ought to write, invent, out of what you know and keep the people's antecedants straight. Second place, a long time ago you stopped listening except to the answers to your own questions. You had good stuff in too that it didn't need. That's what dries a writer up (we all dry up. That's no insult to you in person) not listening. That is where it all comes from. Seeing, listening. You see well enough. But you stop listening.

It's a lot better than I say. But it's not as good as you can do.

You can study Clausewitz in the field and economics and psychology and nothing else will do you any bloody good once you are writing. We are like lousy damned acrobats but we make some mighty fine jumps, bo, and they have all these other acrobats that won't jump.

For Christ sake write and don't worry about what the boys will say nor whether it will be a masterpiece nor what. I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket. You feel you have to publish crap to make money to live and let live. All write but if you write enough and as well as you can there will be the same amount of masterpiece material (as we say at Yale). You can't think well enough to sit down and write a deliberate masterpiece and if you could get rid of Seldes and those guys that nearly ruined you and turn them out as well as you can and let the spectators yell when it is good and hoot when it is not you would be all right.

Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it—don't cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist—but don't think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you.

About this time I wouldn't blame you if you gave me a burst. Jesus it's marvellous to tell other people how to write, live, die etc.

I'd like to see you and talk about things with you sober. You were so damned stinking in N.Y. we didn't get anywhere. You see, Bo, you're not a tragic character. Neither am I. All we are is writers and what we should do is write. Of all people on earth you needed discipline in your work and instead you marry someone who is jealous of your work, wants to compete with you and ruins you. It's not as simple as that and I thought Zelda was crazy the first time I met her and you complicated it even more by being in love with her and, of course you're a rummy. But you're no more of a rummy than Joyce is and most good writers are. But Scott, good writers always come back. Always. You are twice as good now as you were at the time you think you were so marvellous. You know I never thought so much of Gatsby at the time. You can write twice as well now as you ever could. All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.

Go on and write.

Anyway I'm damned fond of you and I'd like to have a chance to talk sometimes. We had good times talking. Remember that guy we went out to see dying in Neuilly? He was down here this winter. Damned nice guy Canby Chambers. Saw a lot of Dos. He's in good shape now and he was plenty sick this time last year. How is Scotty and Zelda? Pauline sends her love. We're all fine. She's going up to Piggott for a couple of weeks with Patrick. Then bring Bumby back. We have a fine boat. Am going good on a very long story. Hard one to write.

Always your friend

Ernest

[Written on envelope: What about The Sun also and the movies? Any chance? I dint put in about the good parts. You know how good they are. You're write about the book of stories. I wanted to hold it for more. That last one I had in Cosmopolitan would have made it.]

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

American democracy will have disappeared



On May 2nd of 1940, a Reverend Leon M. Birkhead — National Director of "Friends of Democracy," an organisation committed to combatting "anti-Semitic propaganda" — wrote to the author John Steinbeck with the following enquiry:
I hope that you will not think I am impertinent, but our organization has had put up to it the problem of your nationality. You may consider that it is none of our business, nor the business of anyone else in the country. However, there is a very widespread propaganda, particularly among the extreme reactionary religionists of the country, that you are Jewish, and that Grapes of Wrath is Jewish propaganda. I wonder if you have any sort of a statement that you could send me which would clarify this issue.
Steinbeck replied as follows.

(Source: Steinbeck: A Life in Letters; Image: John Steinbeck, via.)

Los Gatos
May 7, 1940

Dear Mr. Birkhead:

I am answering your letter with a good deal of sadness. I am sad for a time when one must know a man's race before his work can be approved or disapproved. It does not seem important to me whether I am Jewish or not, and I know that a statement of mine is useless if an interested critic wishes to ride a preconceived thesis. I cannot see how The Grapes of Wrath can be Jewish propaganda but then I have heard it called communist propaganda also.

It happens that I am not Jewish and have no Jewish blood but it only happens that way. I find that I do not experience any pride that it is so.

If you wish—here is my racial map although you know what an intelligent anthropologist thinks of racial theories. As you will see, I am the typical American Airedale.

My grandfather on my father's side was German, the son of a farming family which lived and still lives on a fairly large farm near Düsseldorf. My grandfather came to America in the late fifties in time to be in the Civil War. There has been little communication with the German branch since then except for a visit to Germany about four years ago by a second cousin of mine. He reports that the family still lives on the same farm and that they appear to be good citizens, intensely blond and quite able to prove the nonsensical thing the Nazis insist on. Their name and ours by the way was Grosssteinbeck but the three s's in a row were an outrage to America so my grandfather dropped the first syllable in the interest of spelling.

My German grandfather married a New England woman whose family name was Dickson who came from Leominster, Massachusetts, where her family had lived since the middle seventeenth century.

On my mother's side my blood is all north Irish, my grandfather whose name was Hamilton having come from Mulkeraugh near Londonderry and his wife whose name was Feaghan from nearby.

Anyway there it is. Use it or don't use it, print it or not. Those who wish for one reason or another to believe me Jewish will go on believing it while men of good will and good intelligence won't care one way or another.

I can prove these things of course—but when I shall have to—the American democracy will have disappeared.

Yours is only one of many letters I have received on the same subject. It is the first I have answered and I think it is the last. I fully recognize your position and do not in the least blame you for it. I am only miserable for the time and its prejudice that prompts it.

Sincerely,

John Steinbeck

P. S. On both sides and for many generations we are blond and blue-eyed to a degree to arouse the admiration and perhaps envy of the dark-complexioned Hitler.

Friday, 20 April 2012

God damn it, I split it so it will stay split



In January of 1947, renowned novelist Raymond Chandler wrote a letter to the editor of The Atlantic Monthly, Edward Weeks, primarily with regard to the title of a piece he had written for the magazine which was ultimately published the next year, titled, "Oscar Night in Hollywood." It is the latter half of this letter, however—a wonderfully lyrical message to be passed on by Weeks to the publication's proofreader—which has since become the one of Chandler’s most famous quotes. Indeed, Edward Weeks did pass on the message, to a copy editor named Margaret Mutch. She then wrote a letter to Chandler, to which Chandler responded with the delightful poem also shown here.

(This letter, along with 124 other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, Letters of Note. For more info, visit the Books of Note website.)

6005 Camino de la Costa
La, Jolla, California
Jan. 18th, 1947

Dear Mr. Weeks:

I'm afraid you've thrown me for a loss. I thought "Juju Worship in Hollywood" was a perfectly good title. I don't see why it has to be linked up with crime and mystery. But you're the Boss. When I wrote about writers this did not occur to you. I've thought of various titles such as Bank Night in Hollywood, Sutter's Last Stand, The Golden Peepshow, All it Needs is Elephants, The Hot Shop Handicap, Where Vaudeville Went it Died, and rot like that. But nothing that smacks you in the kisser. By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have. I think your proofreader is kindly attempting to steady me on my feet, but much as I appreciate the solicitude, I am really able to steer a fairly clear course, provided I get both sidewalks and the street between.

If I think of anything, I'll wire you.

Kindest Regards,

(Signed)

----------------------------------------

Lines to a Lady With an Unsplit Infinitive

Miss Margaret Mutch she raised her crutch
With a wild Bostonian cry.

"Though you went to Yale, your grammar is frail,"
She snarled as she jabbed his eye.

"Though you went to Princeton I never winced on
Such a horrible relative clause!

Though you went to Harvard no decent larva'd
Accept your syntactical flaws.

Taught not to drool at a Public School
(With a capital P and S)

You are drooling still with your shall and will
You're a very disgusting mess!"

She jabbed his eye with a savage cry.
She laughed at his anguished shrieks.

O'er the Common he fled with a hole in his head.
To heal it took Weeks and Weeks.

"O dear Miss Mutch, don't raise your crutch
To splinter my new glass eye!

There ain't no school that can teach a fool
The whom of the me and the I.

There ain't no grammar that equals a hammer
To nail down a cut-rate wit.

And the verb 'to be' as employed by me
Is often and lightly split.

A lot of my style (so-called) is vile
For I learned to write in a bar.

The marriage of thought to words was wrought
With many a strong sidecar.

A lot of my stuff is extremely rough,
For I had no maiden aunts.

O dear Miss Mutch, leave go your clutch
On Noah Webster's pants!

The grammarian will, when the poet lies still,
Instruct him in how to sing.

The rules are clean: they are right, I ween,
But where do they make the thing?

In the waxy gloam of a Funeral Home
Where the gray morticians bow?

Is it written best on a palimpsest,
Or carved on a whaleboat's prow?

Is it neatly joined with needlepoint
To the chair that was Grandma's pride?

Or smeared in blood on the shattered wood
Where the angry rebel died?

O dear Miss Mutch, put down your crutch,
and leave us to crack a bottle.

A guy like I weren't meant to die
On the grave of Aristotle.

O leave us dance on the dead romance
Of the small but clear footnote.

The infinitive with my fresh-honed shiv
I will split from heel to throat.

Roll on, roll on, thou semicolon,
ye commas crisp and brown.

The apostrophe will stretch like toffee
When we nail the full stop down.

Oh, hand in hand with the ampersand
We'll tread a measure brisk.

We'll stroll all night by the delicate light
Of a well placed asterisk.

As gay as a lark in the fragrant dark
We'll hoist and down the tipple.

With laughter light we'll greet the plight
Of a hanging participle!"

She stared him down with an icy frown.
His accidence she shivered.

His face was white with sudden fright,
And his syntax lily-livered.

"O dear Miss Mutch, leave down your crutch!"
He cried in thoughtless terror.

Short shrift she gave. Above his grave:
HERE LIES A PRINTER'S ERROR.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

It is only adults who ever feel threatened



When released in the early-1970s, Maurice Sendak's children's book, In the Night Kitchen, caused quite a stir for one particular reason: its protagonist — a young boy named Mickey — was drawn nude in some illustrations. Fearful of their children seeing an innocent picture of a fictional boy's genitals, some parents and librarians took the liberty of drawing nappies/diapers on Mickey (see above); others thought it easier to just burn the entire book.

Below is a letter to a school librarian who chose the hotter option, written by Sendak's trusted editor, the great Ursula Nordstrom. Following that is a press statement she released some months later.

(Source: The highly recommended, Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom.)

January 5, 1972

Dear [Redacted]:

Your letter about Sendak's In the Night Kitchen was delayed in reaching my desk as you sent it to our Scranton, Pennsylvania, division. I am sorry not to have written you more promptly.

I am indeed distressed to hear that in the year 1972 you burned a copy of a book. We are truly distressed that you think it is not a book for elementary school children. I assume it is the little boy's nudity which bothers you. But truly, it does not disturb children! Mr. Sendak is a creative artist, a true genius, and he is able to speak to children directly. For children—at least up to the age of 12 or 13—are usually tremendously creative themselves. Should not those of us who stand between the creative artist and the child be very careful not to sift our reactions to such books through our own adult prejudices and neuroses? To me as editor and publisher of books for children, that is one of my greatest and most difficult duties. Believe me, we do not take our responsibilities lightly! I think young children will always react with delight to such a book as In the Night Kitchen, and that they will react creatively and wholesomely. It is only adults who ever feel threatened by Sendak's work.

I will send you a few positive comments on this book within the next few days, and I hope you will read them and that you will give the children in your school a chance to enjoy Mr. Sendak's book.

Yours sincerely,

(Signed)

PRESS STATEMENT:

[IMMEDIATE RELEASE; from Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.]

June 9, 1972

On behalf of Maurice Sendak, Ursula Nordstrom, Publisher of Harper Junior Books, recently sent the statement quoted below to some 380 librarians, professors, publishers, authors and artists throughout the country. The response was extraordinary: 425 signatures. Many were accompanied by personal notes underlining the signer's indignation at this reported exercise of censorship by a librarian through alteration of the illustrations of In the Night Kitchen. It is hoped that this protest will alert all those concerned with children's books to the invidiousness of such censorship.

"The following news item, sent to School Library Journal by a Louisiana librarian and published in a recent issue of that magazine without any editorial comment, is representative of several such reports about Maurice Sendak's In the Night Kitchen, a book for children, that have come out of public and school libraries throughout the country:

Maurice Sendak might faint but a staff member of Caldwell Parish Library, knowing that the patrons of the community might object to the illustrations in In the Night Kitchen, solved the problem by diapering the little boy with white tempera paint. Other libraries might want to do the same.

At first the thought of librarians painting diapers or pants on the naked hero of Sendak's book might seem amusing, merely a harmless eccentricity on the part of a prim few. On reconsideration, however, this behavior should be recognized for what it is: an act of censorship by mutilation rather than by obvious suppression.

A private individual who owns a book is free, of course, to do with it as he pleases; he may destroy his property, or cherish it, even paint clothes on any naked figures that appear in it. But it is an altogether different matter when a librarian disfigures a book purchased with public funds—thereby editing the work of the author—and then presents this distortion to the library's patrons.

The mutilation of Sendak's In the Night Kitchen by certain librarians must not be allowed to have an intimidating effect on creators and publishers of books for children. We, as writers, illustrators, publishers, critics, and librarians, deeply concerned with preserving First Amendment freedoms for everyone involved in the process of communicating ideas, vigorously protest this exercise of censorship."

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Illiterately yours



The following intro and genuine exchange of letters forms the dedication to Will Rogers' 1924 book, The Illiterate Digest. Image of Will Rogers via iCollector.

"Most Books have to have an Excuse by some one for the Author, but this is the only Book ever written that has to have an Alibi for the Title, too. About 4 years ago, out in California, I was writing sayings for the Screen and I called it the Illiterate Digest. Well one day up bobs the following letter from this N. Y. Lawyer. It and the answer are absolutely just as they were exchanged at that time.

WILLIAM BEVERLY WINSLOW
LAWYER
55 Liberty Street,
New York, N. Y.

Nov. 5th, 1920.

Will Rogers, Esq.,
c/o Goldwyn Studios,
Culver City, Calif.

Dear Sir:—

My client, the Funk & Wagnalls Company, publishers of the "Literary Digest" have requested me to write to you in regard to your use of the phrase, "The Illiterate Digest," as a title to a moving picture subject gotten up by you, the consequence of which may have escaped your consideration.

For more than two years past it (my client) has placed upon the moving picture screen a short reel subject carrying the title "Topics of the Day," selected from the Press of the World by "The Literary Digest. "This subject has achieved a wide popularity both because of the character and renown of "The Literary Digest" and through the expenditure of much time, effort and money by its owners in presenting the subject to the public. "The Literary Digest" is a publication nearly thirty years old, and from a small beginning has become probably the most influential weekly publication in the world. Its name and the phrase "Topics of the Day" are fully covered by usage as trademarks as well as by registration as such in the United States Patent Office.

During several months past your "title," "The Illiterate Digest" has been repeatedly called to our attention and we are told that the prestige of "The Literary Digest" is being lowered by the subject matter of your film as well as by the title of your film because the public naturally confuse the two subjects. We are also told that exhibitors are being misled by the similarity of titles and that some of them install your subject in the expectation that they are securing "The Literary Digest Topics of the Day."

It seems to me self-evident that your title would scarcely have been thought of or adopted had it not been for our magazine and for our film. If this were not the case the title which you use would be without significance to the general public.

I have advised the publishers that they may proceed against you through the Federal Trade Commission in Washington calling upon you to there defend yourself against the charge of "unfair competition," because of your simulation of their title, or that they can proceed against you, the producers of your film, its distributors and exhibitors in court for an injunction restraining you from use of the title, "The Illiterate Digest."

Before, however, instituting any proceedings in either direction they have suggested that I write directly to you to see if your sense of fairness will not cause you to voluntarily withdraw the use of the objectionable title.

Unless I hear favorably from you on or before the first of December, I shall conclude that you are not willing to accede to this suggestion and will take such steps as I may deem advisable.

Yours truly,

(Signed)

William Beverly Winslow.

WBW/als

REPLY:

Los Angeles, Cal.,
Nov. 15, 1920.

MR WM BEVERLY WINSLOW,

Dear Sir,

Your letter in regard to my competition with the Literary Digest received and I never felt as swelled up in my life, And am glad you wrote directly to me instead of communicating with my Lawyers, As I have not yet reached that stage of prominence where I was commiting unlawful acts and requireing a Lawyer, Now if the Literary Digest feels that the competition is to keen for them—to show you my good sportsmanship I will withdraw, In fact I had already quit as the gentlemen who put it out were behind in their payments and my humor kinder waned, in fact after a few weeks of no payments I couldent think of a single joke. And now I want to inform you truly that this is the first that I knew my Title of the Illiterate Digest was an infringement on yours as they mean the direct opposite, If a magazine was published called Yes and another Bird put one out called No I suppose he would be infringeing. But you are a Lawyer and its your business to change the meaning of words, so I lose before I start,

Now I have not written for these people in months and they havent put any gags out unless it is some of the old ones still playing. If they are using gags that I wrote on topical things 6 months ago then I must admit that they would be in competition with the ones the Literary Digest Screen uses now. I will gladly furnish you with their address, in case you want to enter suit, And as I have no Lawyer you can take my case too and whatever we get out of them we will split at the usual Lawyer rates of 80-20, the client of course getting the 20,

Now you inform your Editors at once that their most dangerous rival has withdrawn, and that they can go ahead and resume publication, But you inform Your clients that if they ever take up Rope Throwing or chewing gum that I will consider it a direct infringement of my rights and will protect it with one of the best Kosher Lawyers in Oklahoma,

Your letter to me telling me I was in competition with the Digest would be just like Harding writing to Cox and telling him he took some of his votes,

So long Beverly if you ever come to California, come out to Beverly where I live and see me

Illiterately yours

WILL ROGERS

When I sent him my answer I read it to some of the Movie Company I was working with at the time and they kept asking me afterwards if I had received an answer. I did not, and I just thought, oh well, there I go and waste a letter on some High Brow Lawyer with no sense of humor. I was sore at myself for writing it. About 6 months later I came back to join the Follies and who should come to call on me but the nicest old Gentleman I had ever met, especially in the law profession. He was the one I had written the letter to, and he had had Photographic Copies made of my letter and had given them around to all his Lawyer friends. So it is to him and his sense of humor, that I dedicate this Volume of deep thought. I might also state that the Literary Digest was broad-minded enough to realize that there was room for both, and I want to thank them for allowing me to announce my Illiteracy publicly."

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Things will just get better and better



In June of 2010, the lead singer of Eels, Mark 'E' Everett, wrote a lovely letter of advice to his 16-year-old self. The missive features in the wonderful book, Dear Me, and can be read below.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Dear Me: More Letters to My 16-Year-Old Self; Image of "E" via Gonzai.)



Transcript
Chateau E
June 12, 2010

Dear sweet, naive, 16 year old me,

You poor sap. I know you won't believe any of this, but you should. How can I get it through your thick, acne-pocked skull? All the stupid things you are so worried about really aren't very important at all. In fact, they are the opposite of important. What if I told you that all the "winners" around you right now were actually the losers? Well, I just did tell you that, but you still don't believe me because I'm an adult and 16 year olds can never trust adults.

What if I tried to explain it this way: That feeling you've never been able to put a name on -- it feels something like, let's say, a bone-crushing insecurity and cluelessness about your place in the world -- just forget about it! That's right. You can forget about it and go about your days -- confident with the knowledge that it's all going to work out just fine. Because as you get older, you will figure stuff out. A lot of stuff. And that bone-crushing feeling will slowly dissipate. I'm sorry. I can't remember if you knew what the word "dissipate" meant when you were 16. You will feel it less and less as time goes on. That's what I meant to say.

And all those "winners" who appear at the top of their games and lives are indeed, just that: at their peaks! It's all downhill for those idiots from here. Ha! Come on, let's have a laugh. At their expense! It's okay. You've earned it!

While YOU get to do the opposite: Things will just get better and better for you. And here's the best part: It turns out that girls like geeky smart guys much more than dumb sports guys. For many reasons. You'll see. So relax, man. Just relax. And I can even pass along this shocking piece of information: You will enjoy your life in your 40s! You heard me. It's gonna be great!

Now, I'm not saying it's not going to come with some serious bumps in the road along the way, but don't worry. Those bumps are the very thing that will make you a better person along the way and make you appreciate yourself and the world around you more and more. So you can stop worrying about the mean kids around you and stop putting any energy into being mean yourself. Ignore all that crap and enjoy the nice things in your life. Now how 'bout a smile? No? Well, you ARE 16. I get it. But I can tell you're smiling just a little on the inside.

Sincerely,

(Signed, 'E')

A Fully Grown Man Called E

eels

Monday, 16 April 2012

The end of the world of books



In 1975, Norman Maclean's book, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, was rejected by publishers Alfred A. Knopf after initially being green-lit — thankfully it was eventually released by University of Chicago Press, to much acclaim. Six years after the rejection, in 1981, an editor at Knopf named Charles Elliott wrote to Maclean and expressed an early interest in his next book.

The following letter was written by Maclean, to Elliott, soon after. Maclean later called it, "one of the best things I ever wrote [...] I really told those bastards off. What a pleasure! What a pleasure! Right into my hands! Probably the only dream I ever had in life that came completely true."

(Source: Francis Burr, via Al Pinetree; Image: Norman Maclean in 1970 by Leslie Strauss Travis, via.)

Dear Mr. Elliott:

I have discovered that I have been writing you under false pretenses, although stealing from myself more than from you. I have stolen from myself the opportunity of seeing the dream of every rejected author come true.

The dream of every rejected author must be to see, like sugar plums dancing in his head, please-can't-we-see-your-next-manuscript letters standing in piles on his desk, all coming from publishing companies that rejected his previous manuscript, especially from the more pompous of the fatted cows grazing contentedly in the publishing field. I am sure that, under the influence of those dreams, some of the finest fuck-you prose in the English language has been composed but, alas, never published. And to think that the rare moment in history came to me when I could in actuality have written the prose masterpiece for all rejected authors – and I didn't even see that history had swung wide its doors to me.

You must have known that Alfred A. Knopf turned down my first collection of stories after playing games with it, or at least the game of cat's-paw, now rolling it over and saying they were going to publish it and then rolling it on its back when the president of the company announced it wouldn't sell. So I can't understand how you could ask if I'd submit my second manuscript to Alfred A. Knopf, unless you don't know my race of people. And I can't understand how it didn't register on me – 'Alfred A. Knopf' is clear enough on your stationery.

But, although I let the big moment elude me, it has given rise to little pleasures. For instance, whenever I receive a statement of the sales of 'A River Runs Through It' from the University of Chicago Press, I see that someone has written across the bottom of it, 'Hurrah for Alfred A. Knopf.' However, having let the great moment slip by unrecognized and unadorned, I can now only weakly say this: if the situation ever arose when Alfred A. Knopf was the only publishing house remaining in the world and I was the sole remaining author, that would mark the end of the world of books.

Very sincerely,

Norman Maclean

Friday, 13 April 2012

He has nothing left but his poker



In September of 1896, the head of the Atlantic City Railroad in New Jersey received the following letter of complaint from an unhappy local named A. T. Harris. Little else is known.

(Source: The Oxford Book of Letters; Image via Wikimedia.)

To the Superintendent, Atlantic City Railroad, Sept. 1896

Dear sir,

On the 15th yore trane that was going to Atlanta ran over mi bull at 30 mile post.

He was in my Pastur
You orter see him

Yore ruddy trane took a peece of hyde outer his belly between his nable and his poker at least fute square and took his bag most off and he lost is seeds. I don’t believe hi is going to be any more use as a bull.

I wish you would tell the President he is ded, for he is as good as ded ever since he was hit by yore trane.

Yours respectfully

A.T. Harris

P.S.—Be sure and report him as ded as he has nothing left but his poker. He was a red bull but he stand around in these days looking dam blue.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Keep Bill Wyman away from Keith



From their 1976 tour of Europe comes a note detailing the accommodation requirements of The Rolling Stones, plus instructions on how best to situate each member — a task no doubt complicated by the various pseudonyms used by the band. Let's just hope that Roland, the poor chap who inherited the job at hand for the tour's final show in Vienna, remembered to keep Bill Wyman and Keith Richards apart.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Treasures of the Rolling Stones; Image of the Stones in 1976 via.)



Transcript
Dear Roland

Sorry I could not meet you. I had to leave at 10:00AM for Washington. However you will not have any trouble if you follow these notes.

1. I suggest you go to Vienna on the morning of June 22nd — to arrive in Vienna around 12:00 noon.

2. Go to the hotel first & tell them you would like to see the rooms the have blocked for you. I am enclosing copies of our correspondence.
  1. Try to place everyone on one floor.
  2. Must have at least one security man on each floor housing a musician.
  3. Callaghan should be next to Percy Thrower.
  4. Bender & Poweski near Arthur Ashe.
  5. Try to get large beds for everyone.
  6. Keep Bill Wyman away from Keith because of noise.
  7. Everyone gets rooms for single occupancy however the hotel should give us large rooms.
  8. Rooms specific other than singles are as follows:

    1. Patrick Moore (Ron Wood) must have large bed.
    2. Ollie Brown must have large bed.
    3. Arthur Ashe (Mick J.) must have deluxe suite with attached luggage room.
    4. James Burke (Billy Preston) gets a suite.
    5. Peter West (Charlie Watts) must have large bed.
    6. Security men must be near musicians.
    7. Peter Rudge must have large bed.
    8. Alan Dunn must have connecting door with Jennie-Collen-Smith.
    9. Percy Thrower (Keith Richard) gets a suite.
    10. Debbie Freis & Bill Zysblatt must have connecting rooms.
    11. Robin Day gets a suite.
    12. John Victor should be close to Percy Thrower.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

He is called Mick Jagger



In April of 1962, 18-year-old Keith Richards wrote the following enthusiastic letter to his aunt, "Patty," and described, amongst other things, an encounter some months previous that would ultimately change his life — the moment he met Mick Jagger for the first time since being childhood friends.

Three months after the letter was written, "The Rollin' Stones" played their first gig at the Marquee Club in London. The rest is history.

(Source: Keith Richards' autobiography, Life; Image: Keith Richards & Mick Jagger in 1963, via.)

6 Spielman Rd
Dartford
Kent

Dear Pat,

So sorry not to have written before (I plead insane) in bluebottle voice. Exit right amid deafening applause.

I do hope you're very well.

We have survived yet another glorious English Winter. I wonder which day Summer falls on this year?

Oh but my dear I have been soooo busy since Christmas beside working at school. You know I was keen on Chuck Berry and I thought I was the only fan for miles but one mornin' on Dartford Stn. (that's so I don't have to write a long word like station) I was holding one of Chuck's records when a guy I knew at primary school 7-11 yrs y'know came up to me. He's got every record Chuck Berry ever made and all his mates have too, they are all rhythm and blues fans, real R&B I mean (not this Dinah Shore, Brook Benton crap) Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Chuck, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker all the Chicago bluesmen real lowdown stuff, marvelous. Bo Diddley he's another great.

Anyways the guy on the station, he is called Mick Jagger and all the chicks and the boys meet every Saturday morning in the 'Carousel' some juke-joint well one morning in Jan I was walking past and decided to look him up. Everybody's all over me I get invited to about 10 parties. Beside that Mick is the greatest R&B singer this side of the Atlantic and I don't mean maybe. I play guitar (electric) Chuck style we got us a bass player and drummer and rhythm-guitar and we practice 2 or 3 nights a week. SWINGIN'.

Of course they're all rolling in money and in massive detached houses, crazy, one's even got a butler. I went round there with Mick (in the car of course Mick's not mine of course) OH BOY ENGLISH IS IMPOSSIBLE.

"Can I get you anything, sir?"
"Vodka and lime, please"
"Certainly, sir"

I really felt like a lord, nearly asked for my coronet when I left.

Everything here is just fine.

I just can't lay off Chuck Berry though, I recently got an LP of his straight from Chess Records Chicago cost me less than an English record.

Of course we've still got the old Lags here y'know Cliff Richard, Adam Faith and 2 new shockers Shane Fenton and Jora Leyton SUCH CRAP YOU HAVE NEVER HEARD. Except for that greaseball Sinatra ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Still I don't get bored anymore. This Saturday I am going to an all night party.

"I looked at my watch
It was four-o-five
Man I didn't know
If I was dead or alive"
Quote Chuck Berry
Reeling and a Rocking

12 galls of Beer Barrel of Cyder, 3 bottle Whiskey Wine. Her ma and pa gone away for the weekend I'll twist myself till I drop (I'm glad to say).

The Saturday after Mick and I are taking 2 girls over to our favourite Rhythm & Blues club over in Ealing, Middlesex.

They got a guy on electric harmonica Cyril Davies fabulous always half drunk unshaven plays like a mad man, marvelous.

Well then I can't think of anything else to bore you with, so I'll sign off goodnight viewers

BIG GRIN

Luff
Keith xxxxx
Who else would write such bloody crap

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

You must deliver marketable goods



Late-1914, an aspiring young writer named Max Fedder sent a copy of his manuscript, "A Journal of One Who Is to Die," to Jack London, the author responsible for such works as The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and, most relevantly, Martin Eden — the bleak story of a young man battling to become a writer.

The brutally honest response he received can be seen below.

(Source: No Mentor but Myself: Jack London on Writing and Writers; Image: Jack London, via Answers.)

Oakland, Calif.

Oct. 26, 1914

Dear Max Fedder:

In reply to yours of recent date undated, and returning herewith your Manuscript. First of all, let me tell you that as a psychologist and as one who has been through the mill, I enjoyed your story for its psy­chology and point of view. Honestly and frankly, I did not enjoy it for its literary charm or value. In the first place, it has little literary value and practically no literary charm. Merely because you have got some­thing to say that may be of interest to others does not free you from making all due effort to express that something in the best possible medium and form. Medium and form you have utterly neglected.

Anent the foregoing paragraph, what is to be expected of any lad of twenty, without practice, in knowledge of medium and form? Heavens on earth, boy, it would take you five years to serve your apprenticeship and become a skilled blacksmith. Will you dare to say that you have spent, not five years, but as much as five months of unimpeachable, unremitting toil in trying to learn the artisan's tools of a professional writer who can sell his stuff to the magazines and receive hard cash for same? Of course you cannot; you have not done it: And yet, you should be able to reason on the face of it that the only explanation for the fact that successful writers receive such large fortunes is because very few who desire to write become successful writers. If it takes five years work to become a skilled blacksmith, how many years of work intensi­fied into nineteen hours a day, so that one year counts for five-how many years of such work, studying medium and form, art and artisan­ship, do you think a man, with native talent and something to say, required in order to reach a place in the world of letters where he received a thousand dollars cash iron money per week?

I think you get the drift of the point I am trying to make. If a fellow harnesses himself to a star of $1000 week, he has to work proportion­ately harder than if he harnesses himself to a little glowworm of $20.00 a week. The only reason there are more successful blacksmiths in the world than successful writers, is that it is much easier, and requires far less hard work to become a successful blacksmith than does it to become a successful writer.

It cannot be possible that you, at twenty, should have done the work at writing that would merit you success at writing. You have not begun your apprenticeship yet. The proof of it is the fact that you dared to write this manuscript, "A Journal of One Who Is to Die." Had you made any sort of study of what is published in the magazines you would have found that your short story was of the sort that never was published in the magazines. If you are going to write for success and money, you must deliver to the market marketable goods. Your short story is not marketable goods, and had you taken half a dozen evenings off and gone into a free reading room and read all the stories published in the current magazines, you would have learned in advance that your short story was not marketable goods.

Dear lad, I'm talking to you straight from the shoulder. Remember one very important thing: Your ennui of twenty, is your ennui of twen­ty. You will have various other and complicated ennuis before you die. I tell you this, who have been through the ennui of sixteen as well as the ennui of twenty; and the boredom, and the blaseness, and utter wretchedness of the ennui of twenty-five, and of thirty. And I yet live, am growing fat, am very happy, and laugh a large portion of my wak­ing hours. You see, the disease has progressed so much further with me than with you that I, as a battle-scarred survivor of the disease, look upon your symptoms as merely the preliminary adolescent symptoms. Again, let me tell you that I know them, that I had them, and just as I had much worse afterward of the same sort, so much worse is in store for you. In the meantime, if you want to succeed at a well-paid game, prepare yourself to do the work.

There's only one way to make a beginning, and that is to begin; and begin with hard work, and patience, prepared for all the disappoint­ments that were Martin Eden's before he succeeded—which were mine before I succeeded—because I merely appended to my fictional character, Martin Eden, my own experiences in the writing game.

Any time you are out here in California, I should be glad to have you come to visit me on the ranch. I can meet you to the last limit of brass tacks, and hammer some facts of life into you that possibly so far have escaped your own experience.

Sincerely yours,

Jack London

Friday, 6 April 2012

Be Prepared



In March of 1861, renowned novelist Anthony Trollope sent the following letter to a Miss Dorothea Sankey. To this day, it's unknown whether he was joking.

It's worth noting that Trollope remained married to the wife in question, Rose Heseltine. In fact, she also outlived him.

(Source: The Letters of Anthony Trollope; Image: Anthony Trollope, via The Guardian.)

Waltham House
Waltham Cross

March 24. 1861

My dearest Miss Dorothea Sankey

My affectionate & most excellent wife is as you are aware still living—and I am proud to say her health is good. Nevertheless it is always well to take time by the forelock and be prepared for all events. Should anything happen to her, will you supply her place,—as soon as the proper period for decent mourning is over.

Till then I am your devoted Servant

Anthony Trollope

Thursday, 5 April 2012

I do not like scolding people



Author Katherine Mansfield and editor John Murry met in 1911 and had a turbulent relationship by anyone’s standards: by the time they wed in 1918, they had split several times and seen other people; indeed, the pattern continued through their marriage. Three years after marrying, Mansfield wrote a stern letter to fellow author Princess Elizabeth Bibesco, a woman who for some time had been having an affair with Murry. Mansfield could deal with the infidelity; what she couldn't stand, however, were the love letters.

(This letter, and many other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, More Letters of Note. For more info, visit Books of Note; Image: Katherine Mansfield, via.)

24 March, 1921

Dear Princess Bibesco,

I am afraid you must stop writing these little love letters to my husband while he and I live together. It is one of the things which is not done in our world.

You are very young. Won't you ask your husband to explain to you the impossibility of such a situation.

Please do not make me have to write to you again. I do not like scolding people and I simply hate having to teach them manners.

Yours sincerely,
Katherine Mansfield

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Tale of Peter Rabbit



In September of 1893, at 26 years of age, Beatrix Potter sent the following illustrated letter to Noel, the five-year-old son of her friend and former governess, Annie Moore. The letter contained a tale of four rabbits, and in fact featured the first ever appearance of Peter Rabbit; however it wasn't until 1901, eight years later, that Potter decided to revisit her letter to Noel and develop the idea.

The resulting story, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was published in 1902 by Frederick Warne & Co, and has since become one of the most popular children's books of all time.

Transcript follows.

(This letter, and many other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, More Letters of Note. For more info, visit Books of Note.)



Transcript
Eastwood
Dunkeld
Sep 4th 93

My dear Noel,

I don't know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits whose names were – Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter.

They lived with their mother in a sand bank under the root of a big fir tree.

"Now my dears," said old Mrs Bunny "you may go into the field or down the lane, but don't go into Mr McGregor's garden."

Flopsy, Mopsy & Cottontail, who were good little rabbits went down the lane to gather blackberries, but Peter, who was very naughty ran straight away to Mr McGregor's garden and squeezed underneath the gate.

First he ate some lettuce, and some broad beans, then some radishes, and then, feeling rather sick, he went to look for some parsley; but round the end of a cucumber frame whom should he meet but Mr McGregor!

Mr McGregor was planting out young cabbages but he jumped up & ran after Peter waving a rake & calling out "Stop thief"!

Peter was most dreadfully frightened & rushed all over the garden, for he had forgotten the way back to the gate. He lost one of his shoes among the cabbages and the other shoe amongst the potatoes. After losing them he ran on four legs & went faster, so that I think he would have got away altogether, if he had not unfortunately run into a gooseberry net and got caught fast by the large buttons on his jacket. It was a blue jacket with brass buttons, quite new.

Mr McGregor came up with a basket which he intended to pop on the top of Peter, but Peter wriggled out just in time, leaving his jacket behind, and this time he found the gate, slipped underneath and ran home safely.

Mr McGregor hung up the little jacket & shoes for a scarecrow, to frighten the blackbirds.

Peter was ill during the evening, in consequence of overeating himself. His mother put him to bed and gave him a dose of camomile tea, but Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail had bread and milk and blackberries for supper.

I am coming back to London next Thursday, so I hope I shall see you soon, and the new baby.

I remain, dear Noel, yours affectionately

Beatrix Potter

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

C. S. Lewis on Writing



Considering he wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, one of the most popular collections of children's literature of all time, it's no real surprise that C. S. Lewis received thousands of letters from youngsters during his career. What's admirable is that he attempted to reply to each and every one of those pieces of fan mail, and not just with a generic, impersonal line or two.

The fantastic letter seen below is a perfect example. It was sent by Lewis to a young American fan named Joan Lancaster in June of 1956 — just a few months before the seventh and final book of the series, The Last Battle, was published — and is actually an invaluable, generous response filled with practical writing advice, all of which still rings true.

(Source: The wonderful, C. S. Lewis' Letters to Children; Image: C. S. Lewis at work, via .)

The Kilns,
Headington Quarry,
Oxford
26 June 1956

Dear Joan–

Thanks for your letter of the 3rd. You describe your Wonderful Night v. well. That is, you describe the place and the people and the night and the feeling of it all, very well — but not the thing itself — the setting but not the jewel. And no wonder! Wordsworth often does just the same. His Prelude (you're bound to read it about 10 years hence. Don't try it now, or you'll only spoil it for later reading) is full of moments in which everything except the thing itself is described. If you become a writer you'll be trying to describe the thing all your life: and lucky if, out of dozens of books, one or two sentences, just for a moment, come near to getting it across.

About amn't I, aren't I and am I not, of course there are no right or wrong answers about language in the sense in which there are right and wrong answers in Arithmetic. "Good English" is whatever educated people talk; so that what is good in one place or time would not be so in another. Amn't I was good 50 years ago in the North of Ireland where I was brought up, but bad in Southern England. Aren't I would have been hideously bad in Ireland but very good in England. And of course I just don't know which (if either) is good in modern Florida. Don't take any notice of teachers and textbooks in such matters. Nor of logic. It is good to say "more than one passenger was hurt," although more than one equals at least two and therefore logically the verb ought to be plural were not singular was!

What really matters is:–

1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn't mean anything else.

2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don't implement promises, but keep them.

3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean "More people died" don't say "Mortality rose."

4. In writing. Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was "terrible," describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was "delightful"; make us say "delightful" when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, "Please will you do my job for me."

5. Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say "infinitely" when you mean "very"; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

Thanks for the photos. You and Aslan both look v. well. I hope you'll like your new home.

With love
yours
C.S. Lewis

Monday, 2 April 2012

Love is love, and there will never be too much



Back in 2000, a teenage Fiona Apple fan named Bill Magee decided to approach the singer after a gig and hand her a letter. In it, the 16-year-old spoke of his school's gay-straight alliance — of which he was a member — and asked if she could possibly reply with a sentence or two in its support.

The next week, the following handwritten letter was delivered by FedEx to Bill's house.

Transcript follows. Enormous thanks to Bill.

(Source: Bill Magee; Image of Fiona Apple via.)



Transcript
Hello Bill,

I got your letter a few days ago, but this is the first chance I've had to sit down and write (it's my day off)

Of course, I'd love to help — sign me up. As far as a few sentences go, here's what I've got — I hope it's OK:

It's hard to conjure up some new profound way of commenting on this issue — I'm so tired of it being an issue at all, and I suppose I'm lucky, because I see the truth so clearly. All I know is I want my friends to be good people, and when my friends fall in love, I want them to fall in love with other good people. How can you go wrong with two people in love? If a Good boy loves a good girl, good. If a good boy loves another good boy, good. And if a good girl loves the goodness in good boys and good girls, then all you have is more goodness, and goodness has nothing to do with sexual orientation. A person who loves is a righteous person, and if someone has the ability and desire to show love to another — to someone willing to receive it, then for goodness' sake, let them do it. Hate has no place in the equation; there is no function for it to perform. Love is love, and there will never be too much.

Fiona Apple

P.S. Right on for doing this, Bill