Postal Reading Challenge: Dear Tiny Heart

In January or thereabouts, I signed on to a Postal Reading Challenge created by Melwyk at  The Indextrious Reader. I was coming of What There Is To Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell, a book I adored, and I was (still am) purposefully and naively ignoring the demands of graduate school and the way it makes it impossible for me to read for pleasure, let alone to writing about doing so, so I’ve been a bit slow on the uptake getting the Postal Reading challenge underway. However, at the end of spring quarter my advisor loaned me a copy of Dear Tiny Heart: The Letters of Jane Heap and Florence Reynolds and this mixture of pleasure and obligation (not a book for a class, but still a book given to me by a professor) was just enough to get me to read and write about a collection of letters for the first time this year.

As the full title indicates, Dear Tiny Heart collects the correspondence of modernist artist and writer Jane Heap and Florence Reynolds, one of Heap’s early lovers and her lifelong friend and supporter. To my eye, this is a slim, fragile book; the extant correspondence, as edited for this collection, is largely one-sided, comprised mostly of of Heap’s letters to Reynolds. This is completely understandable from a publishing or scholarly perspective, since Jane Heap is the major draw here. An understudied figure within the lively and much-examined world of transatlantic modernism, Heap co-edited the literary magazine, the Little Review, with her lover Margaret Anderson and her correspondence reveals her central position within the New York and Parisian artistic and literary circles better known for figures like Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Ernest Hemingway, Man Ray, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. But I missed the other side of the correspondence—original and engaging as Heap is (and she is!), I wanted to hear more from Reynolds, the steady, constant presence to whom Heap wrote regularly for nearly forty years. In the end though, the steady and constant correspondence of ordinary people is not the sort that is often published, unless the letters are distinguished either by extraordinary literary merit or the unusualness of the situation in which they were written.

Heap offers both: she is extraordinary and unusual. Dear Tiny Heart reveals the personal reflections of a woman who quietly and matter-of-factly (although sometimes exasperatedly) lived the life of a sexual radical. Heap (often best known in today for her androgynous self-presentation—you would probably recognize a picture of her sooner than the title of anything she published) offers intense, humorous and quick-moving renditions of her infatuations, relationships, jealousies and ruptures with other women and she writes often of her anything-but-ordinary family life. Despite her persistent need for money and her rapidly shifting, bohemian lifestyle, Heap adopted her ex-lover Anderson’s two nephews, supporting them financially and never failing in her loyalty as parent (even if she incisively notes their adolescent foibles and failings in her letters to Reynolds). Almost 90 years before ABC’s Modern Family, Heap writes, amusedly and quite accurately, “we’re moderns, those boys and I.”
There isn’t a wide audience for letters, certainly not for letters by a relatively unknown female modernist and her entirely unknown friend. This is the sort of book that takes advantage of its partial alliance to multiple existent demands in order justify its own creation. I don’t mean this in any way as a slight; the editors created a collection that could find several audiences, clearly and intentionally appealing to those who want to know more about the messy and passionate lives of high modernists in the 1920s, to scholars of 20th-Century lesbian identity, or to those interested in an artist’s reflections on her own growth and maturity. It’s interesting to consider the importance of these priorities in the editorial shaping of this and other collections of correspondence.
Dear Tiny Heart’s final section shifts the balance of addresser and addressee from Heap to Reynolds, containing letters written during World War II. These letters felt particularly moving and pertinent to me right now, as Reynolds grapples with her position of comfort and safety in a world where the threat and reality of violence elsewhere is brought home to her constantly with every radio broadcast and newspaper headline. Heap, writing from London, describes the craters from land mines streets away from her home and attests her commitment to staying where she is, despite Reynold’s concerns. Both writers are clearly conscious of government surveillance and censorship, writing circuitously at points to disguise certain details of their relationship, but offering personal reflections on the grim and overwhelming international political situation all the while. That’s what I love about reading letters: the way written conversations from the past resonate with my life (and my written conversations) in the present. In the end, Dear Tiny Heart left me wishing I could read Heap and Reynold’s fuller correspondence—hardly a bad feeling to have on the final page of anything worth reading.

The Flamethrowers. A short review in French.

I’m trying to improve my French — that is both my excuse and my apology in advance for my newest use of this blog that I update so rarely and unpredictably. Just to give myself an short, free-form way to work on my expository French, I decided to try and write mini-responses to all of the books I read this summer in French, translate them into English, and post both here. So far, I’ve probably read 8 or 9 books and I’ve managed to write about one. I doubt that I’ll catch up (I never do) but I may keep pace better in July and August than I did in June. Here’s the first one, a short review of Rachel Kushner’s newly published novel The Flamethrowers. Feel free to criticize/correct/be vocally scandalized by the quality of my French. I’d love the help (especially if you know how to correctly translate “salt flats”). Also, I know the English translations aren’t the prettiest either, but don’t let what I’ve written about this book deter you: Kushner’s novel is great and you should read it.

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner

En Français:

The Flamethrowers est un roman sur la vitesse. Un roman sur le contrôle et ses limites. Sur le temps, et la célérité avec laquelle les moments de nos vies nous passent. On rencontre la protagoniste, Reno, dans les années 1970, quand elle voyage à moto aux marais salants en Utah, pour faire les épreuves de vitesse célèbres. En ce moment, elle est seule—une femme et sa moto—et bien que le roman monte sa vie à New York, son copain, Sandro, ses amis, qui sont pour la plupart les artistes, et un panorama d’Italie dans les années de plomb, c’est quand même un histoire de la solitude. On n’apprend jamais le vrai nom de Reno, surnommé par ses amis à New York City pour sa ville de naissance dans le sud-ouest. Il y a beaucoup de choses qu’on n’apprend jamais dans ce livre ; c’est un roman dans lequel les questions—les questions d’art, d’amour, d’essence, de la vérité—restent ouvertes. On n’a que les histoires, les représentations, et les objets d’art (de temps en temps, les trois sont un), tous les chemins indirects pour comprendre le monde et nous-mêmes.

Suivez la prose électrique de Rachel Kushner, les phrases qui craquent et scintillent avec l’énergie de la jeunesse, du désir, et de la frustration et la fascination de regarder le monde, de regarder vous dans le monde, et de se demander si vos choix changent votre destin. Ce roman n’est pas facile, mais c’est magnifique et il mérite votre effort.

En Anglais:

The Flamethrowers is a novel about speed. A novel about control and its limits. About time, and the swiftness with which the moments of our lives pass us by. We meet the protagonist, Reno, in the 1970s, as she’s traveling by motorcycle to the salt flats in Utah, to ride in the famous speed trials held there. In that moment, she is alone—a woman and her motorcycle—and even though the novel shows her life in New York, her boyfriend, Sandro, her friends who are mostly, like Sandro, artists, and a panorama of Italy during the Years of Lead, this is nevertheless, a book about solitude. We never learn Reno’s real name, just the nickname given to her by her friends in New York, the name of her hometown in the southwest. There are many things we never learn in this book; it’s a novel in which the questions—questions of art, of love, of meaning, of truth—remain open. We have only stories, performances, and art objects (sometimes the three all in one), all indirect paths for understanding the world and ourselves.

Follow Rachel Kushner’s electric prose, her sentences which crackle and flicker with the energy of youth, with desire, and with the frustration and fascination of watching the world, of watching yourself in the world, and of wondering if your choices change your destiny. This novel is not easy, but it’s magnificent and worth the effort.

Found Poem: Advice on Buying Jeans

Advice on Buying Jeans

I am talking to a friend and she says to me:
Women’s sizes and cuts both are voodoo so I feel your pain.
I mean I don’t even know.
And then she said, as if picking up the offending garment:
So here is a size 28.
That should match to about a size 8 in H&M…
Which is approximately a 6 1/2 in Gap but…
Perhaps a 10 depending on Gap’s mood today.
It’s quite rainy, so perhaps a 9 1/2 in Angry TJ Maxx Language.
Also by size 28 we mean 19.75, good day.

My life.
She says
Every store, literally everywhere I turn
It’s The Worst.

[A deep breath]

Odd numbered sizes don’t usually exist, except in juniors
and sometimes when H&M is feeling a bit bored.
Also depending on the alignment of the stars.

I tell her I usually fall between a 6 and 10.

I think you mean 0 to 18
She says
Because women’s sizes are straight-up nonsense.
You have to hunt at the right time of season.
She offers.
 Now it’s the ‘Summer Fashion All of The Money Time’
I’ve decided to kinda go with Gap sale when I have money
And/or need retail therapy.
Otherwise I can’t.

[A moment’s consideration]

I also have decided to lay off the denim.
At least for a bit.

[a shake of her head]

Jeans are always like-
Too small for your calves
Too big for your ankles
Just right for your thighs
Too small for your hips
Too big for your waist.

And also none of these and all of these at once.
Depending, of course, on star alignment and cloud density on
the 18th of June, 1975.

The Aviation

A month or two ago I invited a friend of mine, whom I’ll call The Liquor Store Angel, to write a cocktail column for The Art of Reading. Being a grad student with expertise ranging from Shakespeare to Teen Wolf, a bad case of insomnia and a passion for mixology, she obviously said, “yes.” Gracing the internets in yet another incarnation, Liquor Store Angel (LSA) will provide cocktail recipes that thematically accompany something or other I’m reading (or paging through) for pleasure at the moment. So, to begin, I’ve been thumbing through Beryl Markham’s West With the Night, and LSA is mixing up an Aviation. Enjoy. And drink up.

West With the Night by Beryl Markham. (1983)

West With the Night by Beryl Markham. (1983)

Being alone in an aeroplane for even so short a time as a night and a day, irrevocably alone, with nothing to observe but your instruments and your own hands in the semi-darkness, nothing to contemplate but the size of your small courage, nothing to wonder about but the beliefs, the faces, and the hopes rooted in your mind — such an experience can be as startling as the first awareness of a stranger walking by your side at night. You are the stranger.

~ Beryl Markham


If you’re one of those people who enjoy staring up into the sky and having a nice cocktail while doing so, the Aviation might just be your ideal drink. The interestingly-hued gin-based cocktail is attributed to Hugo Ensslin, though it’s somewhat unusual to find a bar serving his original recipe. The grey-blue sky color that gives the drink its name comes from the addition of crème de violette, a liqueur which elevates the original Aviation far above the later Harry Craddock adaptation.

For those of us who don’t have the inclination or resources to build up an extensive bar, however, I offer you the Aviation’s bastard cousin, a more low-brow concoction which my friend Adriane has dubbed the Economy Class. To make it, you’ll need the following:

2 ounces gin (New Amsterdam is a good, reasonable option, but if I have the money I’ll usually go for Bombay Sapphire)

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 teaspoons of liquid from a jar of maraschino cherries

Maraschino cherry and lemon twist, for garnish.

Combine the first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake (but not too much) to chill well, then strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with the cherry and lemon twist.

NB: A water bottle can serve for a shaker if you don’t have one, however, that is one investment I would definitely recommend making.

The end experience is a little artificial and kind of leaves you feeling like you’ve been cheated, but now you got all that lovely gin in your system. If your destination is Drunkville, a few of these will still get you there, albeit with considerably less style. And hey, it’s still a direct flight.

Of course, you can always choose to upgrade by getting your hands on a bottle of Luxardo, which is always a good decision, but that can lead you down the dangerous path of ever more complicated cocktails, and soon you’ll be seeking out that crème de violette and shaking your head over the price of Chartreuse so you can make Last Words. But that’s a drink for another day.

~ Liquor Store Angel