Holiday Reading – January 2014

I’ve always loved writing letters.  When I was a teenager I had lots of pen-pals and during the school holidays I loved waiting for the postman to come to see if I had any letters.  Myself and one pen-pal, a girl called Amanda from Leicester, used to write novel sized letters to each other detailing the minutiae of our teenage lives.  Hers were always a lot more interesting and involved pregnancy scares and getting drunk.  Mine were more about unrequited love., Take That and Oldham Athletic.

I even set up a Take That Pen Pal Service through the medium of Teletext (anyone reading this under 25 google it) which combined my love of letter writing, Take That and general organisation as I matched up various Take That fans to become pen-pals and hopefully become lifelong friends.  The fact I’m not even embarrassed about this now is probably something to be really embarrassed about 🙂

And, although I now love email and can happily rattle off long emails to  my friends when I should be doing something more constructive I do miss putting pen to paper.  And there is nothing more enjoyable than writing a letter, than reading one.  Even if they’re not for you.  This probably explains why I love, and heartily recommend, the next two books.

The first was on my Christmas present list (any excuse to send a letter, even if it is to Santa) and is written by Nina Stibbe, who moved from Leicester in the 1980’s to London to become a nanny for a family with two boys and a neighbour who comes for tea every night in the form of Alan Bennett.

Love Nina book cover

Love, Nina – Despatches From Family Life by Nina Stibbe

The book is all letters which Nina wrote to her sister back in Leicester during this time and telling her tales about London life with her new family.  At first I found it frustrating that we only read Nina’s letters and never her sister’s replies despite her referencing incidents in her sister’s letters but it ended up becoming part of the charm as everything is told from Nina’s point of view.

Her relationship with her charges, Will and Sam, is revealed and the brutally honest exchanges she has with their mum about everything from cleaning to fashion.  Nina is so likeable as she isn’t perfect and doesn’t pretend to be.  Her romance with Nunney, who helps out at a neighbour’s house, is subtly told to the point that I couldn’t decide if I actually liked him as he always seemed slightly critical of Nina, especially when she decided to start a university course and study English.  I was never sure if it was going to end badly or not and I won’t spoil it here for you.

There are references throughout to ‘famous’ people who are neighbours and friends of the family, most notably Alan Bennett, who I’m a huge fan of and I’m happy to say lived up to my expectations through Nina’s letters.  Her descriptions of their mealtimes together, he comes for tea most nights, make you feel like you are there and her obsession with recipes and what works and doesn’t are funny.

It’s such a good book.  It got me through a stinking cold of a festive season and my hunch that I’d like Nina if I’d have met her during this time was only proven when I discovered her on Twitter (@ninastibbe) and tweeted to say what a good book it was and got a reply within minutes.

The next book is also based all on letters and again isn’t a work of fiction.  It started its life as a website four years ago which showcased letters, memos and telegrams of the famous, infamous and not so famous but as Shaun Usher, whose brainchild it is, says they were letters that were deserving of a wider audience.  I found out about the website through Twitter (@LettersOfNote) and then got very excited to discover they were compiling a book.  The cover of the book doesn’t do the contents justice which are amazing.  There are letters which will make you cry, laugh, get angry and almost all of them are illustrated with the original letter and then the typed manuscript in case you can’t read the writing etc along with a little ‘back story’ to the letter.

Letters of Note cover

Letters of Note compiled by Shaun Usher

Again, this was on my Christmas list and Mr ATWWAH came good.  He admitted it took him about two hours to wrap it as he started reading them and couldn’t put them down.  It really is the perfect present.  Technically it isn’t really holiday reading, as it would take up a fair bit of your luggage allowance, but I had to include it as it’s so good.

There is too much sadness at the moment in the news so I’m not going to show an excerpt from one of the letters which will make you cry.  Instead I have opted for this cute letter written to a hospitalised President Nixon by an eight year old boy encouraging him to eat his vegetables, as he did, on being admitted to hospital with pneumonia.

excerpt of letter

Excerpt of letter from Letters of Note to President Nixon from John W James III

  1. Morning,
    Yet another great blog Denise and I will certainly take a look at these books.
    You made me laugh as I still have a letter from you during holidays at uni and I know Oldham footballers and Take That feature quite heavily oh and that and the unrequited love of my baby brother ha ha!!
    Keep up the good work x

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