Wet and Aggressive Corella challenges Magpie

Wet and Aggressive Corella challenges Magpie

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Letters of Note

Yet  another post about my greedy reading.  Please feel free to skulk away if you are over this obsession of mine.  This book was one which was given to me earlier this year.


It was a gift from the skinny one - who knows my reading tastes well - though he doesn't share them.  At all.

It is a collection of over a hundred letters, ancient and modern, covering a huge range of topics and emotions.  Some, like Virginia Woolf's suicide note, I had read but most were new to me.   Another gem.

Mind you, I wouldn't classify all of them as 'letters'.  Written correspondence perhaps.  A minor quibble.

I hooted with mirth at the letter from Clyde Barrow (of Bonnie and Clyde fame) to Henry Ford saying among other things '...the Ford has got ever other car skinned and even if my business hasen't been strickly legal it don't hurt enything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8'.

I was fascinated to see the expression OMG used in a letter to Winston Churchill - in 1917.

I winced at a letter from a Japanese 'kamikaze' pilot to his children.

There is a letter from John Lennon's killer, Mark Chapman, to a memorabilia expert wondering about the value of the Double Fantasy album he had autographed by Lennon earlier in the afternoon - before he shot and killed him.

In 1784 Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter, enclosing money and suggesting that in time, rather than repaying the loan to Franklin himself, 'when you meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him...'  Paying it forward has been around for longer than I knew.

Did you know that one of the first telegrams sent after the Titanic hit the iceberg said ' Underwriters have message from New York that Virginian is standing by Titanic and that there is no danger of loss of life'...?

But one piece in the book has haunted me.  I know that obituaries of prominent people and celebrities are prepared in advance.  Often years in advance.  I am even moderately comfortable with the concept.

I wasn't at all comfortable with a speech prepared for Richard Nixon 'IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER'.

The speech assumes that the landing was succesful, but that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had become stranded on the moon - never to return.  A contingency plan of sorts I suppose.

The part of the speech which distresses me is a little addendum to it.  I have reproduced it below.

'PRIOR TO THE PRESIDENT'S STATEMENT:

    The President should telephone each of the widows-to-be.

AFTER THE PRESIDENT'S STATEMENT, AT THE POINT WHEN NASA ENDS COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE MEN;
    A clergyman should adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to 'the deepest of the deep', concluding with the Lord's Prayer.'

Tacky, tacky, tacky.  Not the speech so much (though it is high on hyperbole), but that it was considered necessary to remind the President that he would need to contact the 'widows-to-be' before he talked to the nation and the world.  And the use of that phrase to describe the astronaut's wives also makes me feel unwell.  I am not comfortable with the idea that they would essentially be left to die alone either, with communication cut while they were still alive.  Perhaps I am naive.  Certainly not comfortable with this speech.

Mind you, this was the only correspondence in the book which did make me feel unwell.  Some of the letters were beautiful, some hilarious, and others sad.  Many were very very moving.  The sub-title to the work is 'Correspondence deserving of a Wider Audience' - and I would wholeheartedly agree.




105 comments:

  1. LOVE that Benjamin Franklin wrote for the man to "pay if forward". Really speaks to the kind of man he was doesn't it? And wow, I had no idea that the acronym OMG had been around that long LOL!

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    1. Optimist Existentialist: Amazing isn't it? Such 'recent' concepts. Which aren't.

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    2. Makes me wonder when the first time 'LOL' was used as well :)

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  2. And yet it sounds so typical of the Nixon administration. :P
    It sounds like a fascinating book! Lots of stuff to ponder, a peak into other people's minds. I can't believe OMG was used in 1917. Even our slang is a retread...
    Wow. Am I the first to comment? :)

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    1. Nope. Optimistic hit enter before I did.

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    2. You were very almost the first. Optimistic Existentialist has a quicker trigger finger.
      It was a fascinating book. Sad, beautiful, hilarious. A bit like life really - with some of the ugliness too.

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  3. As they say, 'there's nothing new under the sun', re: paying it forward and OMG.
    I was particularly moved by Stephen Fry's letter; what intelligence, kindness, and strength of character that man has......and please, don't stop writing about books!

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    1. Jacquelineand...: It was an incredible collection wasn't it? And yes, Stephen Fry is one of my heroes. A thinking, caring man.

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  4. I agree! Don't stop writing about books. I've read several of your recommendations with great relish. I think I'll skip this one, but maybe not: I could see if the library has it and peruse these letters. Thanks! :-)

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    1. DJan: Which books have I promted you to read with relish (which is a lovely term)?

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  5. P.S. I just went to my local library website and put a hold on the book. I am number 7 in line. :-)

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    1. DJan: Oh good. Let me know what you think of it.

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  6. Now this is one book I would love to read. They have a segment in the radio here in Queensland where a guy reads old historical letters. And he has a theatrical background, so reads them in voice. I will find a link to the podcasts online and send it to you Sue.

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    1. Carol in Cairns: There are some incredible letters in it. Some which moved to me to tears. And I look forward to the link to those podcasts - thank you.

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  7. That sounds like a book I'd like to read.

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  8. Dear EC, your review had made this book so appealing that I'm going to read it. I'll go to the library website now to see if we have it and if not, then I'll go to a bookstore and buy it. Thanks so much for sharing it with us and please thank "skinny one" for finding it for you so that you could share it. Peace.

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    1. Dee: DJan found it in her library - so with luck it will be available in yours too. Let me know what you think of it.

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    2. Dear Sue, It is in the library and I got my name on the list. I look forward to reading it. Peace.

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    3. Dee: I hope you love it as I did.

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  9. That seems to be a book I could get myself into, thanks EC.

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    1. Bob Bushell: Oh good. And it has the advantage that it could be read a bit at a time. Except that my greedy self guzzled it - of course. I will go back to some of the letters though.

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  10. I love it when you write about books you read. This one sounds fascinating! I agree - the part about leaving astronauts on the moon is disquieting. I was never a fan of Richard Nixon - so this is no surprise.

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    1. Lynn: I suppose the prospect of leaving the astronauts on the moon (or in space generally) had to be considered but to need to remind the President when to call the families? Urk.

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  11. Good on you. I've picked up several of your recommendations for myself or my granddaughters, but......I need to pass on this one. Perhaps someone can excerpt the good ones.

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    1. Joanne Noragon: I hope some one does - though there are a LOT of them. Something to appeal to almost everyone I think.

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  12. This book sounds great and something I'd like.

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    1. Romance Book Haven: It was great. It is great. I hope you get the chance to explore it...

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  13. What a fascinating read. I would love it.

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    1. Wendy: I did. And some at least of our tastes are similar.

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  14. Very interesting stuff.

    could 1917 OMG mean On My Guard?

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    1. joeh: It was made clear in the context that 1917 OMG meant just what it does today. Which I found amazing.

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  15. EEk, I winced at the person writing to John Lennon's killer.

    This does sound like a very interesting read!

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    1. mail4rosey: It was worse than that - it was John Lennon's killer wondering what his autographed album was worth. And I suspect the value had gone up - because of what he did AND because of who he was. Eeeuw.

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    2. Yeah… that one particularly got my attention….(!) Sick. Very sick.

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    3. Paper Chipmunk (aka Ellen): There are indeed some very sick puppies out there. Sometimes I don't even feel very sick myself. Which is a worry.

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  16. It sounds like a great read. I think the letter from the kamikaze pilot must have been very sad.

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    1. Andrew: That letter was very, very sad. And reinforcement (which I didn't need) that yes, the Russians (and the Japanese) love their children too...

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  17. Well that would be most interesting, I would be interested to read this book as I think most people would.
    Merle........

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    1. Merlesworld: It was fascinating. And I think there would be a letter in there which would interest almost everyone. And rather a lot which intrigued my greedy self.

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  18. Looks fascinating--I just ordered it!!

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    1. fishducky: I hope you like it as much as I did.

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  19. Mm, tacky like a lot of his administration...

    Get thee hence.....I am trying to be good this month....!

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    1. Gillie: Tacky like far too many politicians and their sidekicks. And I am (a bit) sorry for putting temptation in your way. Too many people do it to me.

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  20. What an interesting read. All those letters and yes, some tacky, some kinda weird. OMG to OMG!

    Thank you, Sue :)

    Gary

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    1. klahanie: It is an amazing read. And definitely OMG to OMG (though I never use the phrase myself).

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  21. We sort of carry on a sort of open correspondence here in our blogs that lead to more personal notes that I value enormously! Thus we get to be both public and private appropriately, Dear



    ALOHA from Honolulu
    ComfortSpiral
    =^..^= <3

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  22. That sounds like a very interesting, intriguing book. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, EC.

    And The Skinny One shows good taste in recognising and catering to your good taste! ;)

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    1. Lee: I am always impressed. My reading taste is light years away from his - and he is still brave enough to track down books he thinks I will like. And is often right. Sometimes very right.

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  23. I agree, EC. That last bit is twisted and disturbing.

    And Ben Franklin?? Where can I meet a man with a fraction of his heartfelt compassion, wit and integrity? What a gem.

    This is all fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Rawknrobyn: How nice to know that I am not naive and disturbed on my lonesome. And yes, to Benjamin Franklin. And the need to clone him.

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  24. Correspondence can be so intimate, heartfelt, private, confidential.
    It's interesting to sometimes be able to glimpse a part of someone's thoughts at a certain time of their life.

    In the case of the moon landing, very unsettling to know what had been put in place, should things not work out.
    Makes one wonder.

    Sounds like a very interesting read.

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    1. Vicki: It is a privilege and a honour to be given these peaks into someone else's life. Often at times of crisis.
      And that contigency plan made me wonder what others have been (and are) in place.

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  25. I have been considering that book. Now, I think I will get it next paycheck. You know me: I am a great fan of letters from historical figures -- it makes us realize that real flesh and blood people charted the paths that have shaped our world. :-)

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    1. Roland D. Yeomans: There are letters in it which I am SURE will speak to you. Loudly.

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  26. Wow, I'm fascinated to hear about the origins of phrases and practices, especially those we consider modern, like the use of OMG and the idea of paying it forward....marvelous book, minus the discomfort you described. Thanks so much for sharing this!

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    1. Musings, Tea and Me: It is a joy - and I am happy to share it.

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  27. So good to see a review of this on your blog, EC, as I discovered the Letters of Note website several months ago (www.lettersofnote.com)

    I have been greatly enjoying dipping in to the website and reading the Letters they post; the most recent one, aptly, was from Maya Angelou to her younger self, written eight years ago. The previous post was from Rachel Carson, written some months before she died, to her great friend Dorothy Freeman.
    I recommend the website unreservedly; it is a joy to discover such treasure chests online.

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    1. Alexia, thank you so much for pointing out this website to us; I've had my nose glued to the computer screen for the last half hour - could hardly tear myself away to come back to write this :)

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    2. Alexia: That website is a gem isn't it? Hours, days of fun ahead. And thank you. I should have put the link into the post - though I didn't know of it until after I had read the book.

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  28. While I'm sure a few of those letters might interest me, it probably isn't a book I'd ever pick up. I think it's lovely that the skinny one knows your reading tastes so well.

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    1. River: He has had a lot of years to practise in - but gives exceptional gifts. Which is lovely. Perhaps a dip into the website might be more to your choice?

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  29. This sounds fascinating to me; I have always loved this kind of thing. Please keep reviewing books! And thank you to Alexia above, who provided a web address for us impatient people to sample more.

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    1. jenny_o: There are some amazing treasures to be found there. I am so glad that Alexia made up for my omission. I am hoping that there will be more books out of it. And have bookmarked the site too.

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  30. I can't keep up with your reading pace, sound like another very interesting topic to at least explore; I'll check out the website.

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    1. Linda Starr: Quite a lot of things get neglected so that I can keep up with my reading pace. And the website is a wonderful, wonderful find.

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  31. For some reason, this made me think of Charles Krauthammers book, Things That Matter. I may pick up both.

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    1. Author R. Mac Wheeler: I have heard of 'Things that Matter', but not read it. Another to add to the wish list.

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  32. I am going after it. Sounds like something my mind will enjoy. Did you recommend SKIOS to me? It was a hoot and I can't remember who told me about it.

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    1. Grannie Annie: My mind loved this book. It wasn't me who recommended SKIOS to you, but I have checked it out - and will explore. Thank you.

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  33. Oh gosh NIxen, with his jowls and jowl shaking. I remember the parodies made of him. Sounds like an interesting combination of inclusions in the book of letters.

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    1. Strayer: The range of topics, and tone in the letters of note was amazing. And yes, even on this side of the world we got parodies of Nixon. But fortunately not this speech.

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  34. That sounds like a book for me - makes me wonder if there'll ever be an email or text version covering today's 'stars' and news-generators one day in the future? It'd be a short read I'd imagine.....

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    1. Kath Lockett: It is a wonderful book - full of pain, love and laughter. A bit like life really.
      And the twitter book? Not for me.

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  35. as above sick to death of it with the resurrection of christ how many times can you cope with people dying.

    :0p

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    1. Anonymous: You have lost me a little. Resurrection of Christ isn't something I talk about. Or, usually, religion.

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    1. ladyfi: It was. Fascinating and often very moving.

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  37. "Widows-to-be" is truly vile, but I don't think we can blame Nixon totally for what his speech-writer said. And the religious bit with the faux burial service, utterly cringe-worthy.

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    1. lynners: I wasn't blaming Nixon (except for keeping that script writer), but I did find that speech on the vomitorious side.

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  38. My husband recently bought a book at an estate sale,"Familiar Quotations, collected by John Bartlett" notes from 1955, copy. 1882. Awesome thoughts.

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    1. Susan Kane: I think I would have hours of fun, education, and/or entertainment with the book your husband picked up.

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  39. Hmm...that's interesting seeing these letters in a context for which they were never intended. But the one you mentioned from Mark Chapman made me uncomfortable. The Nixon one just kind of figured.

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    1. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson: Out of context they are (or many of them), but the issues don't change. And yes, the Mark Chapman one suggests that he didn't/hasn't changed either.

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  40. I do hate things in such bad taste that they make you cringe but all in all the book sounds like a great read
    Sorry I haven't been around for a while . . . more to do than I can manage with house and garden, children and grandchildren and others.

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    1. Arija: You are more than welcome, whenever you come by. And yes, this is a great read. As is the web-site.

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  41. A lot of that sounds really creepy. OMG in 1917? Could that have stood for On Mighty Ground, or something equally British sounding?

    As for the Moon disaster prep...this was Nixon we were talking about!

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    1. Riot Kitty: Nope, it was spelt out. OMG was indeed Oh! My God! The more things change...

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  42. Thanks for another great book review! I'll be checking it out of my library. Good choosing on the part of the SP.

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    1. Carol: It was a good choice. And choosing books for me is not easy.

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  43. As they say, turnabout is fair play. I do my best to tempt you with books I've read, so it's only fair that you do the same. This book sounds terrific. Thanks for the heads-up.

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    1. Susan: It is terrific - and I hope you like it.

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  44. As long as they give you books like this one as presents, it doesn't matter whether they share your same taste in literature or not. :-) It sounds like a good read.

    Greetings from London.

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    1. A Cuban in London: Not all that I read (by a long shot) is literature - but he is pretty good there too. I am lucky. Very lucky.

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  45. I expect the astronauts new exactly what was planned in that perfectly feasible possibility. I do recall one commenting how easy it would be to commit suicide just by opening a valve to the vacuum. Brave men.

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    1. Andrew Maclaren-Scott: I am certain that the astronauts did know what was planned - and no doubt had plans of their own. I didn't object to the subject matter, but the wording. And the need to remind the President of the order of action.

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  46. 'widows-to-be' blimey. I'm with you. The whole book sounds really fascinating, thank you for the review, if my reading picks up I may well get there.

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    1. All Consuming: It's a truly ugly term isn't it? And at the end of the day, isn't every wife a 'widow-to-be'?

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  47. Reminds me of one of my all-time favorite letters of this sort. It's in an appendix to an account that George R. Stewart wrote about the Donner Party. (Necessary background: Famous wagon train to California in the 1840s that, due in part to crummy advice on which route to take, etc, didn't make it across the mountain in time before winter. Rations ran out. Things got rather grisly...) Twelve year old Virginia Reed, who'd survived the ill-fated wagon train and was now living in California, writes to a relative back home in the Midwest. She begins by telling her relative how beautiful California is. But oh! The tribulations to get here! So she earnestly advises, sort of as a general philosophy, to "never take no cutofs and hury along as fast as you can!"

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    1. Paper Chipmunk (aka Ellen): I do like that. My life has taken too many cutofs. And I do need to hury along. Thank you.

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  48. Ooooh now that sounds like an interesting read. I love a book of 'collections'. Reminds me of those letters that get to your heart - like this one where a woman in her late 80's found an old letter from her late husband who had passed away - a love note. It was almost as if it was from heaven, although written while they were dating. I love that kind of stuff.

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    1. Deb: It is a fascinating read. Tragedies, love letters, humour and wisdom. And many of them touched my heart.

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  49. Before it was a book this was a website and the owner used to post links to letters onTwitter. It was one if my favorite Twitter accounts. There is some great stuff - though I haven't read any of the ones you discuss here. Fascinating. Adding that book back on my list now, thank you.

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    1. Jackie K: It is still a website - and he adds to it regularly. Which I hope means that there will be more books to come.

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