The Letter Project

October 25, 2009

Special Delivery (33)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 1:10 am
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Joshua Minton is a graduate of the BGSU writing program and publishes his work on www.joshuaminton.com.  He writes this letter to his young son who is, in Joshua’s words, the best thing he ever collaborated on.  –TW

Lucas,

It is one of my greatest hopes that you will grow to be a lover of books of all kinds, that you will read widely and deeply, bouncing from book to book, one always in your hand or your bag or your bedside table. I have found great solace in the books of my life, always a promise of something undiscovered, more and more, only to be let down enough that my search continues but not too much that my desire to know is extinguished. I wish this disease of the passion of books on you, my son, and I hope that you foster it and give it to your children so that they may pass it on to theirs, so that the Minton name will one day be synonymous with great reading.

Reading is one of the most unnatural things a person can do; it is much easier to say something out loud and unpoetically, without rhythm or meter, without alliteration, theme, the mystery of a narrator, or the levels and gaps between the author and a distant reader. It is easier to say things and let them evaporate like letters carved in sand with a stick, just before high tide washes the intention away. To read what others have been brave enough to write down, in furious defiance of time and history, is to jump into the deep river of the wisdom of our species.

Before you can become a great reader though, there are a few basic rules you should know and I doubt that your teachers will know these, so I want to be sure to write them down for you, like a treasure map.

The first rule is that the entire Universe is contained in the measure of one sentence. Some wise human being once said that the essence of the whole meal is contained in the first bite; likewise, all you need is one sentence to convey any deep truth.

The second rule is that commas reveal secrets, hinged stairways for clauses that can take a sentence to deeper meanings, like dungeons in an ancient castle. The best sentences uses commas to dig down into those dungeons and then climb back out so the reader may see the prize in the glorious sunlight, even if they remain unsure of its substance or luster.

And finally, while the entire Universe can be contained in one sentence, its story can only be told in the paragraph. Paragraphs are the solar systems of language, carrying their own gravitational planetary bodies and movements. If sentences are the heartbeat of great fiction, then paragraphs are the organs that nourish the body.

These rules and a basic measure of finding a good story (hint: the ones that make you weep and carry a piece of you away with them between their bindings are the good ones) are the only rules you will need to enjoy a lifetime of great reading.

Human beings can be awful animals, son. Wicked to each other, worse to themselves, they break and dissolve so easily, some of them will flitter in and out of your life as if a strong wind blows between your minutes. But humans also have a steely side, supernovae that paint the fragments of their lives electric, spill over into their neighbors’ yards, and turn up the music until it drowns out everything. The best books will move you like this, help you stand strong as a tomb, and become unknockable by the temporal winds of circumstance and condition.

My greatest hope is for you to paint your life with colors from the love and hatred of others, for they are ultimately the same emotion, sprung from focus, to turn your music up way past sensible, and to touch the heart of everyone you meet, to leave a legacy of smiles in the people of your own story. And if I could be so greedy, I would ask one more thing of your life; may it be marked with great books, large words defining larger moments, the music of putting it all together just to watch it fall apart, celebrating stick figures in the sand at high tide, a joyous participation in the sufferings of the world.

I love you my precious child.

Your Father,

Joshua Minton

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