For some reason Herman Melville intrigues me and I cannot seem to part with him. I was fascinated by the story of Moby-Dick since I was a kid, when I would look at the illustrations in my older brothers edition and I was thrilled when I saw the movie adaption in 1998. But ever since early this year, when I wrote a paper on the comparison of different translations of Moby-Dick and therefore was really diving into Melvilles writing, I cannot let go of him.
I wanted to know how Melville lived through the process of writing this incredibly leviathan of a book – and what better way to find out, than to read his correspondence. But I got way more out of his letters than that.
This was a journey through Melvilles life, beginning with the earliest (surviving) letter to his Grandmother at the age of 9 and ending with the last (again, surviving) letter in the year before he died. And in between those two you get to follow him through his whole life – you experience the beginning of his career, when he writes like a humble young man who is very happy, that his work gets published at all, then you reach a somewhat mean and cocky phase in his life, when he believed himself to be a world class author until you get to a point when he is settling down and becomes a content family man who likes good company and never refuses a drink or two. That nice, happy fellow is the Herman Melville we know and love today.
My personal favourites were his letters to Nathaniel Hawthorne – what a dream-team! Melville expresses such a deep understanding of Hawthorne and their friendship, I cannot explain it any differently than they being soul-mates. Those letters are much more intimate and tender than any of the letters I found, which he wrote to the members his family.
A few words to the „genre“ of letters. In general, I always feel a bit weird when I read someone else’s letters or diaries, because this is an extremely personal form of writing. Basically, these letters were never intended for anyone else to read than the addressee. There is a sort of intimacy in a letter, which I think we have lost completely in our writings nowadays.
But, me feeling weird about it aside, it was fantastic to experience a time, when there was no haste in communication. Melville knew, that it would take a letter to his publisher in London approximately one month to get there and because the same goes for the answer, you could probably expect an answer after two to three months.
By the way, this is a very nice edition, you immediately see, that the scholars put a lot of effort in it. And now, ending with Melvilles own words:
Much more might be said, but enough.
I don’t think I have ever read anything more beautiful and touching than Melvilles letter to Nathaniel Hawthorn in June 1851:
"If ever, my dear Hawthorne, in the eternal times that are to come, you and I shall sit down in Paradise, in some little shady corner by ourselves; and if we shall by any means be able to smuggle a basket of champagne there (I won’t believe in a Temperance Heaven), and if we shall then cross our celestial legs in the celestial grass that is forever tropical, and strike our glasses and our heads together, till both musically ring in concert, – then, O my dear fellow-mortal, how shall we pleasantly discourse of all the things manifold which now so distress us, – when all the earth shall be but a reminiscence, yea, its final dissolution an antiquity."
Sometimes I'm afraid that if I learn too much about C.S. Lewis, I won't like him so much anymore. That fear has yet to be realized. So far, the more I learn about him, the more I love him. He wasn't perfect, of course, and I wouldn't recommend these books to anyone who's not already a big fan, but I loved learning more of his personality through his own writing and seeing how he developed over the years. It's definitely important to keep in mind that he wasn't the famous author so many people admire when these letters were written. He wasn't even a Christian until the very end of this book.
I was also super excited to see my name (twice!) in one of his letters. And it's actually not unlikely that he wrote my name other times as well because of his interest in Greek mythology. I was able to go to the Wade Center in Wheaton, Illinois and see the actual letter in which he wrote my name. It was glorious. I had to work so hard to keep my fangirling inside my head that day... XD
My one complaint is this: Editor Walter Hooper says in the preface that he left out several letters (technically he says "a few", but he estimated it to be 5% and I'm pretty sure 5% of 977 pages of letters is more than "a few"), which bothers me. I want to read those letters too!!
I first heard of Anna Akana when her video How to put on your face went viral. Since then I occasionally check out her channel.
Having watched a few of her videos, it was very easy to read the book in her voice. She is very frank, and it was interesting to learn how she got into youtube and about her family history. I've never read another youtuber's book, but this felt very similar to reading a celebrity memoir.