The TLS, The Last Trojan Hero, & Adventures in Stationery

tls the_times_literary_supplement_16_january_2015_1I have just renewed my subscription to the TLS,.

It is a guilty pleasure: I end up buying many scholarly books on classics reviewed in this publication.

Right now I am finishing up Philip Hardie’s  The Last Trojan Hero:  A Cultural History of Virgil’s Aeneid, an entertaining overview of Virgil’s influence on literary works ranging from Ovid’s Metamorphoses to  Michel Butor’s nouveau roman, La Modification (which my husband has promised to translate–we’ll see!).

But even the TLS has its lighter side.  I enjoyed Catharine Morris’s recent review of James Ward’s Adventures in Stationery: A Journey through Your Pencil Case.   Are you as enchanted by stationery as I am?  I  have added this book  to my TBR list.  (By the way, Ward has a blog called I Like Boring Things.)

image-adventures-in-stationery-a-journey-through-your-pencil-case-james-ward-mainMorris’s review is filled with charming quotes.  Ward writes, “It’s only a slight exaggeration to say the history of stationery is the history of human civilization.”

And I also like this.

The physical means something,” writes Ward. “People like it.” You can’t beat a handwritten letter, it’s true; and, as Ward points out, the materials we use have symbolic power: “Visiting a stationery store, you are surrounded by potential; it’s a way of becoming a new person, a better person.”

Few write letters, but I do correspond with a few old-fashioned friends.  Before the stationery store in town closed, I stocked up on stationery, fountain pens,  and Apica notebooks.  I also adore going to office supply stores on New Year’s Day.    My favorite episode of The Gilmore Girls is “Help Wanted,” when Lorelai and her father, Richard, stock up on post-its at an office supply store.  And of course The Office is set in a corporate paper supply business.

Did you know there is a blog called Letters of Note?

If you want to read some Roman classics, try Cicero’s Letters, Pliny’s letters, and Seneca’s letters.

I am fond of  Fanny Burney’s Evelina, the letters in Ausen’s novels (I especially like Lydia’s in Pride and Prejudice), Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross, Cathleen Schine’s The Love Letter, and there’s a lot of e-mail in Gary Shteyngart’s comic masterpiece, Super Sad True Love Story.

And then there is all that correspondence by favorite authors, Keats, Emily Dickenson, Thomas Hardy, Katherine Mansfield, etc.

What are your favorite books on/with letters?

19 thoughts on “The TLS, The Last Trojan Hero, & Adventures in Stationery

  1. I am crazy about notesbooks large and small. I have more than I will ever use in my lifetime. The same goes for pens. Fountain pens and very thin felt tips in all colors, Le Pen. Such a weakness. But harmless.


    • Ooh! I like the sound of Le Pen. And I agree about notebooks. There used to be a store called The Daily Planner in NY (or was it the Daily Planet?). Anyway, it had a great supply of beautiful notebooks.


  2. I have a *terrible* stationery habit. I have a large box full of unused notebooks just waiting for the right occasion to be used. It’s making that first mark in them that’s the hardest…. 🙂


  3. I still go slightly wobbly at the knees at the thought of that first pristine page of a new school notebook. How would I ever dare exile it?
    ’84 Charing Cross Road’ is my ultimate comfort read whenever I am ill and I love Virginia Woolf’s letters, especially when read in conjunction with her journals. She pulls her punches in the letters. In the journals she says what she’s really feeling!


    • Helene Hanff is great! I do have a collection of VW’s letters here somewhere… I have so many notebooks, and I end up using them for the silliest things. Occasionally I take notes, but more often I just make grocery lists.


  4. Well, dear Kat, you have touched a nerve here. Notebooks and pens and papers, oh my. I have many fountain pens (they are a weakness) including a glass dip pen that is from Italy and some very primitive ones that my grandfather used. Now, in my dotage, I am trying to fill the pages of the notebooks that I have collected and remind myself to pass by displays of them in bookstores and office supply stores. We have a shop here called The Paper Source and shopping there is an addiction so I have to watch myself or I will end up with a plethora of paper!

    I have to agree with Alex and vote for 84, Charing Cross Road. I can’t even think of another one.

    I do send handwritten notes quite often and always feel a bit virtuous when I do. My mother taught me well!


    • I do not lack for notebooks. I like leather notebooks from high-end paper stores and also cheap cardboard from the box stores. Heavens, a glass dip pen! Yes, our mothers did teach us to write notes. I have so little opportunity these days: everyone is on the phone instead.


  5. I love the TLS too and it is responsible for some of my book-buying. Favorite letter books include Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s — I enjoyed them so. Letter books are often travel memoirs. I can’t think of a critical book to recommend on letters as such though I love epistolary fiction. I tried the blog you I like boring things and would never have recognized it as a blog. You have to click on huge pictures and then text comes up. I like text to be there first or at least some hint of it. I used to love hand-written letters and notes but no one does them any more that I know of — except maybe in a card with a gift? I have lost my ability to write clearly myself as I can no longer do stenography rapidly to take down what others say — indeed my forms don’t look right. There seems a disconnect between hand-eye coordination and my thoughts when I try to write by hand. So any letter I might write by snail mail will be typed on a computer ….


  6. I like Charlotte Bronte’s letters, her voice is very similar to Jane Eyre, although Charlotte herself lacks the robust health of her heroine and often complains of headaches and depressed spirits.


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