Noteworthy Letters

“Tennis, trigonometry, tornadoes: A Midwestern boyhood” is an essay by David Foster Wallace that is available in PDF form, from Harper’s Magazine. Autobiographical in nature, this essay melds the three title topics into a single story, the story of a Midwestern boyhood. Set in the environs of Champaign-Urbana, IL, it is a wonderful memoir about Mr. Wallace’s brief junior tennis career, his aptitude for mathematics and the omnipresent wind of northern Illinois. I downloaded and printed the essay. After I read it, I offered it to Anne to read. After she had started reading it, she realized that this Wallace was the same author of “Infinite Jest”, a very dense and at 900 pages, a very long novel that she had read earlier this year. I would never have the patience or the perseverance to tackle “Infinite Jest”, but I found “Tennis, trigonometry, tornadoes” to be quite the delectable little morsel. It was rich in flavor, with complex language and infused with right brain thinking.

On a less sophisticated note, but in its way just as literary as anything that Wallace has written, Anne handed me a note today, from one of her students. It goes something like this:

Ms. R,

I am hungry. How much time do we have left in class?


P.S. I am also tired, and I have a headache.


It should be said that this person is as into cats, as some people are into mice. Purr

A couple of weeks ago a website, called Letters of Note, had a moment in the sun. Various news outlets, including NPR, attributed it, in their articles about John Lennon’s to-do list. Written to his man-servant shortly before his murder, it lists the assigned chores for the day. The to-do list made the news, because it was due to be auctioned off. Perusing Letters of Note, I found this other letter to be much more noteworthy. A 6-year-old girl named Jessica Morley, takes an exception to and then proceeds to lay waste to (with pugnacious precociousness) a commentator from “The Economist”, for his article about children.


Take hope from the heart of man, and you make him a beast of prey

The second season of the FX TV series, Justified, is available for viewing now on Hulu and I am kicking myself, because I’ve already missed the first two episodes. Each episode is only available, for a limited time period. Justified is part police procedural and part modern-day western. After viewing the last currently available episode, a promotional announcement appeared stating that seven out of ten viewers that watched Justified also liked The Beast.

To vice, innocence must always seem only a superior kind of chicanery

The Beast is another paranoid cop show, this time produced by A&E and starring the late Patrick Swayze. The entire first and only season is available on Hulu. Swayze was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the onset of filming and died after production was completed. I watched the first episode and at its beginning, the preceding quote about making man a breast of prey was shown. It was attributed to a Marie Louise de la Ramée.

It is hard work to be good when you are very little and very hungry, and have many sticks to beat you, and no mothers lips to kiss you

Ramée, was a 19th century English novelist. She was a Guernsey, born to a French-speaking father and an English mother. She derived her pen name, Ouida, from her own childish pronunciation of her given name Louise. She wrote some forty books in her lifetime, including novels, children stories, and collections of essays and short stories. She died a pauper in 1908.

Familiarity is a magician that is cruel to beauty, but kind to ugliness

I have never read any of her books and until seeing her quote at the start of The Beast, had never even heard of her, but seeing that quote, I had to learn more about her. The website, Think Exists, had a collection of her quotes, and many of them appear italicized in this post. Reading these quotes of her, I fell in love with the poetry embodied within them and I had the subject for this post.

An easy-going husband is the one indispensable comfort of life

The preceding quote is one of my favorites, if only because it is also self-serving. I hope that all you married ladies also agree? The following quote is less a favorite of mine, than most of the rest, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I’m sure my biking buddies would agree.

If all feeling for grace and beauty were not extinguished in the mass of mankind at the actual moment, such a method of locomotion as cycling could never have found acceptance; no man or woman with the slightest aesthetic sense could assume the ludic*

* Ludic derives from Latin ludus, play, and is an adjective meaning playful. The term is used in philosophy to describe play as an act of self-definition; in literary studies, the term may apply to works written in the spirit of festival. -Wiki