Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Yours, Raymond

As letter-writing continues its inexorable march to the grave (or maybe it's already dead, and I just missed the funeral), it's equal parts joy and sadness to read great examples of the form. I own a few compilations of letters from literary figures, and my favorite might be the Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler. (I wish bookstores had Correspondence sections, because good volumes can be hard to come across. If any of you have strong recommendations, please list them in the comments section. Thanks.)

Here is Chandler writing to his publisher about an author photo for his next book:
I am reaching the age where it takes an artistic touch to make anything of me. The fellows who have this want too much money, and I doubt the importance of the cause. While I am compelled by weight of opinion, some of it expert, some frankly prejudiced, to admit being one of the handsomest men of my generation, I also have to concede that this generation is now a little seedy, and I with it.
And this is the funny start to a letter to Charles Morton, an editor at The Atlantic Monthly. (The person Chandler identifies as "Inkstead" was actually John Engstead.)
A man named Inkstead took some pictures of me for Harper’s Bazaar a while ago (I never quite found out why) and one of me holding my secretary in my lap came out very well indeed. When I get the dozen I have ordered I’ll send you one. THe secretary, I should perhaps add, is a black Persian cat, 14 years old, and I call her that because she has been around me ever since I began to write, usually sitting on the paper I wanted to use or the copy I wanted to revise, sometimes leaning up against the typewriter and sometimes just quietly gazing out of the window from a corner of the desk, as much as to say, “The stuff you’re doing’s a waste of my time, bud.” Her name is Taki . . . and she has a memory like no elephant ever even tried to have. She is usually politely remote, but once in a while will get an argumentative spell and talk back for ten minutes at a time. I wish I knew what she is trying to say then, but I suspect it all adds up to a very sarcastic version of “You can do better.”

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2 Comments:

Blogger Yoknapatawpha Kid said...

Dear John,

this is a great entry on Chandler! We seem to focus so much on an author's books that their letters become the more undervalued aspect of their output; therefore, I always get a little tingle when I read such letters, due to the relative rarity in which I read such work.

My name is Peter Ricci, and I am a college student and writer who currently contributes to Too Shy to Stop, an upstart online magazine focused on culture and the arts.

I found you entry, as it would turn out, while doing research for my own essay on Chandler. I focus on some of the more remarkable characteristics of Chandler's work, especially his dialogue and use of symbolism.

If you have the time, check it out! I'd love for you to read it and comment.

http://tooshytostop.wordpress.com/2008/11/11/raymond-chandlers-chokehold-on-crime-fiction/

Sincerely,

Peter Ricci

9:32 PM  
Anonymous pf said...

In the category of remarkable correspondence: One of the first gifts my, um, husband gave me is Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. You probably already know it, but I thought I'd throw it in the fray.

8:54 PM  

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