So far two people have skipped to the end of Letters Home. My nephew is forgiven, he’s a twelve-year-old with a book in his hand. My sister I’ve been giving a hard time. She told me how much she loved the last letter and how impactful it was. I said, Yeah, imagine what it would have meant if you’d read it at the end, like you were supposed to. She said she’d forget about it and let it touch her again as the finish of the book. (You can’t tell but we were kidding with each other.)
When I finished the first draft of my first novel, Flowers on Concrete, and mailed a copy to my father, some thirteen years ago, he read the first chapter and then skipped and read the end. I said, “Why’d you do that?”
His answer: “I wanted to see where you were going with it.”
Well, it’s good he wanted to know. I had a writing teacher who told us that once a book is published it isn’t yours anymore. I think as a writer you’re better off embracing that and even coming to love it. I’ve talked to writers whose aim is to create fiction that doesn’t allow for the opportunity for misinterpretation. First of all, good luck. Second, the less you allow for reader interpretation the less you allow for reader engagement. In a real sense, books aren’t read as much as they’re written in a reader’s imagination.
Letters Home is yours now. I think it reads nicely from the beginning and with the end last, but I’m not going to suggest anyone read it that way who has an itch not to. I didn’t read it that way. I picked the letters out at random and read them. If I had it to do over again, I might have ordered them, first. Having done it the way I did, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Going through at random, I must have found eight letters that I thought would make a good beginning, but I only found one that I knew would be the end.
Follow your interest is advice I like to give. If you have a copy and feel like skimming for certain points of interest or certain relevant dates, feel free. That might pique your interest enough to make you want to sit down and read the book straight through or that might satisfy you. That’s fine. One of these days I’m going to go through the book and pick out the key letters that tell his more war related story in its most condensed form. I’ll list those letters’ and journal entries’ dates and if anyone has been sitting on their copy, and wants to, they can read the short version. (There is also a significantly longer version I’m emailing to family who want more. A few of these letters I’ll even post in future blogs, because some of them are fantastic standalone letters, they just didn’t fit the story.) You might also enjoy picking the book up and opening it to a page at random and reading whatever letter you find. Your copy of Letters Home might also sit on a shelf or on a bedside table and not get opened for several months or even years. That’s fine too. Some of my favorite books are books I owned for years before reading.
Writing is delayed communication. We enjoy writing imagining one day our words will be read. And we are patient as hell because we have to be. I didn’t write this book, but I worked on it imagining one day it would be read and sharing my experience with those future readers on a delay. I can keep waiting for people who have copies to feel like the time is right to open this collection of letters from seventy years ago and discover my grandfather’s story. What I told my nieces and my nephew goes for everyone, whenever you feel like reading this will be best.