David Bruce: The Funniest People in Books, Volume 3 — Letters, Media


• Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., author of Slaughterhouse-Five, received a letter from an Indiana high-school student who boiled down the message of Mr. Vonnegut’s books to this maxim: “Love may fail, but courtesy will prevail.” Mr. Vonnegut was pleased with the maxim and wrote in the preface of his novel Jailbird, “I am now in the abashed condition … of realizing that I needn’t have bothered to write several books. A seven-word telegram would have done the job. Seriously.”

• Perhaps the most shocking letter that Judy Blume, an often-censored and often-challenged author of books for young people, ever received came from a nine-year-old who criticized her for writing about Jewish angels in Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself. The letter was addressed to Jewdy Blume.

• The first fan letter that J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, received came from Francesca Gray. The letter began, “Dear Sir ….” Since then, Francesca and Ms. Rowling have met, and Francesca has realized her mistake.


• The ancient city of Alexandria had an excellent and important library composed of papyrus scrolls. Whenever ships entered the harbor, they were searched for books that could be copied and added to the library. King Ptolemy I even gave the city of Athens 15 talents in gold — a HUGE sum of money — as a deposit so he could borrow the city’s collection of plays. The deal was that the gold would be returned after the Alexandrian librarians had copied the manuscripts and safely returned them. However, King Ptolemy I decided to keep the original manuscripts and gave the city of Athens the copies, thus forfeiting the 15 talents in gold.

• Malcolm Glenn Wyer was a librarian who was interested in expanding his library’s holdings in the field of aeronautics. Therefore, in 1940, he asked Maggs Brothers, a London book-dealing firm, to ship a collection of aeronautical books to the Denver [Colorado] Public Library, where they could be inspected, and if found suitable, purchased. Maggs Brothers agreed and sent the requested books. Later, Mr. Wyer received a letter from Maggs Brothers, saying that the day after the books had been sent, the warehouse where they had been stored was destroyed by Nazi bombs.

• As a child, Newbery Medal-winning children’s book author Lois Lowry often visited the library twice in one day, returning the books she had checked out, then read earlier that day. When the librarian told her that she shouldn’t borrow, then return books the same day, young Lois started taking out thicker books.


• In the late 1980s, two Village Voice writers had a disagreement. Nat Hentoff had written something about abortion that upset Allen Barra, and Mr. Barra criticized Mr. Hentoff in a letter to the editor that used the word “fascist” frequently. Mr. Barra was so angry at Mr. Hentoff that he didn’t even ask the jazz enthusiast if he had heard any good jazz albums recently. Not long after, Mr. Barra received a reply from Mr. Hentoff in his Village Voice mail slot. Mr. Hentoff had placed there a very good jazz album by Pee Wee Russell. In addition, he left a note: “Hey, give me a break. You may need it yourself someday. P.S. Listen to this. It might clear your head out.” Mr. Barra, with tongue in cheek (and in check), wrote a couple of decades later about Mr. Hentoff, only without the use of the asterisk, “What an *sshole. Instead of jumping into the argument with pettiness and personal acrimony, he sought to create a dialogue with reason, tolerance, and jazz. What can you do with a guy like that?” Mr. Hentoff, of course, is not afraid to express his opinions, even when many or most people disagree with them. And he does not feel obligated to toe a knee-jerk liberal line. In fact, he once told a Village Voice editor, “When I want your opinion, I’ll ask Tom Hayden for it.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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