Live life at the top of your voice

A few weeks ago, I got a book in the mail from Jack. It had been a while since I’d received a book that way—probably since I began my final semester of graduate school last January.

When I came home that Friday afternoon, I found the small, book-sized package propped against the door, and I tore into it even before I’d finished turning the key in the lock. It baited me instantly with its electric blue cover and its strange, yet simple title: Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives. I spent the weekend dipping into its brief but powerful vignettes, transported by each one into a wholly new world that was at once a loving, sorrowful, and playful reflection of our own.

My history with reading is long and varied. During childhood summers, I consumed The Chronicles of Narnia and the Anne of Green Gables series. In college, I became a power reader, whizzing through fiction, poetry, and theoretical tomes at breakneck speed, grasping at what I could and promising each volume I’d return to it again one day for a gentler encounter.

Of course, the internet shapes my reading landscape each day. I read blogs and articles for glimpses into the lives of others. I am obsessed with reading first chapters of new releases on my Kindle. But there’s a particular sort of breathtaking, all-consuming reading that happens only with a book in my hand and a forgotten cup of tea by my side. It’s the sort of reading that takes a whole afternoon and my complete suspension of disbelief. It’s the kind of reading I love and hope for each time I meet a new author on the page. — Lisa


Last week’s dispatch asked, What is your favorite thing that you've received in the mail?

Susan wrote:

Back in the early 70s, my grandpa sent me an envelope with a handful of apple seeds from his tree. The outside of the envelope held my grandpa's dirty fingerprints, which was and still is my favorite part.  I saved the seeds and the envelope until this year when I knew I would have a spot to really grow a tree of that size.

Adam wrote:

I remember getting a double bass method book by mail in high school. It was great because of the promise and potential, the specialness of getting things in the mail back in the 90s, and the awesomeness of a new, nicely printed artifact.

Mona wrote:

The most favorite thing I've ever received in the email were letters written on thin, crackling paper that came from my maternal grandfather living in Taiwan. Those stamps were pretty cool looking, too. His letters were written very formally and so I would reply back in the same format. It was a correspondence that allowed me to pretend to be a grown-up and it also started an obsession I have with paper and stationery.

Tim wrote:

It would have to be a letter from a friend that I wasn't expecting. Simple, but still my favorite.

Layne wrote:

My sister and I have always been close, but she is married now, and lives on the other side of the country, and we don't talk or see each other as often as we used to. One of my favorite things I have received in the mail was an unexpected postcard from her. On the front of the postcard, it had text saying "What or who makes you smile?" On the back side of the postcard, she had written, in all caps and inked in various colors of pencils, my name. What a lovely compliment, and a surprise. All for the price of a stamp and a few minutes of time.

Andre wrote:

Favorite thing I received in a mail might have been a Saturn V model rocket. This was back in the day when you ordered things by filling out an order form, put it in an envelope with a check, and then waited “4 to 6 weeks”. I remember walking up the steps to my house, opening the door, and seeing it on the kitchen counter. I was the king of the block walking down to the empty field near our house for the first (and last) launch.

Sam wrote:

Best thing I've ever received in the mail... I suppose would be letters from my wife when we were dating and engaged!

Drew wrote:

Favorite thing in the mail? Hand-written letters from my girlfriend, now my wife.

Matt wrote:

As for my favorite thing I've ever received in the mail, it's probably letters from my friend Coleman. A couple years ago he was living in Brazil and the only way to communicate was through delivery mail. We'd write back and forth, and the letters would take months to get from place to place. Eventually we had the system down to where we'd be getting around one letter a week or so. It was a fun, meaningful period of my life where time seemed to slow down. Never in my life had I been more excited that a conversation took multiple months to complete.

Marius wrote:

The favorite thing I have received in the mail was a personal letter from my wife when she was studying in another city for three months.

Ben wrote:

For Christmas a few years ago, my wife bought me a gift off of Etsy. In it, was an ugly, red, yellow and orange knitted beanie hat. It was hand made by a vendor to be modeled after the hat worn by the character Jayne Cobb from the show Firefly. In the show, Jayne receives the hat in the mail from his mother. After Jayne opens the box, he digs through hay that's been used as packing material and dons the ugly hat proudly.<br><br>As I unwrapped the festive Christmas wrapping, I saw that the box inside was stamped with Allied Postal Service and Blue Sun stamps, both references to in-universe entities from Firefly. Upon opening it, I had to fight my way through a layer of hay-like paper packing and the first thing I came to was a letter in cursive addressed to Jayne from his mother telling him about how his sister had gotten the Damp Lung and thanking him for sending money. The same letter from the show. Underneath that was the hat. The whole experience was magical. I was transported; I was Jayne Cobb, if just for a moment. I kept the hat, of course, but I also kept the box and packing and letter; a little piece of the Firefly universe sent from the internet via the USPS (or Allied Postal Service?).

Brian wrote:

It was the summer before my senior year of high school and my family and I were about to leave for a weekend trip. The girl I was chasing surprised me by putting a letter in our mailbox that I grabbed just before we left. It was nearly ten pages of thoughts and dilemmas and emotions, all of which contrasted perfectly with the Peanuts stationery. I read each page over and over again on our long drive, searching for clues. She was trying really hard to say that we should just be friends, but each time I read it, I became more convinced that her heart was saying one thing, her mind another, and that her heart would win out in the end. Every day, I'm thankful that I was right.

Uncommon reads

This Paris Review interview with Ray Bradbury is phenomenal. So good, in fact, that it was hard to limit it to three quotes.

That’s what we have to do for everyone, give the gift of life with our books.
I have three rules to live by. One, get your work done. If that doesn’t work, shut up and drink your gin. And when all else fails, run like hell!
You must live life at the top of your voice!

Seth Godin on Civilization:

We don't need more stuff. We need more civilization. More respect and more dignity. We give up a little and get a lot.

Your turn

What was your last breathtaking, all-consuming read?