23 December 2011

Imprint Friday: Letters to Jackie by Ellen Fitzpatrick

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Ecco books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

One generation may remember where they were when they heard about Pearl Harbor; another will forever remember 9/11. In between, the rest of us have vivid memories of November 22, 1963, and the long, sad days that followed. All Americans--young and old, conservative and liberal--were affected by President John F. Kennedy's assassination. In Letters to Jackie: Condolences from a Grieving Nation, Ellen Fitzpatrick shares hundreds of letters written by ordinary citizens to the young widow.

It is perhaps the most memorable event of the twentieth century: the assassination of president John F. Kennedy

Within seven weeks of president Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy received more than 800,000 condolence letters. Two years later, the volume of correspondence would exceed 1.5 million letters. For the next forty-six years, the letters would remain essentially untouched.

Now, in her selection of 250 of these astonishing letters, historian Ellen Fitzpatrick reveals a remarkable human record of that devastating moment, of Americans across generations, regions, races, political leanings, and religions, in mourning and crisis. Reflecting on their sense of loss, their fears, and their hopes, the authors of these letters wrote an elegy for the fallen president that captured the soul of the nation.
I can clearly remember where I was when I learned the president had been shot and killed. And I also remember spending the next several days glued to the television, hearing the reports, watching Johnson being sworn in, seeing Oswald being murdered, and following the ensuing events in Washington. In this day of 24/7 news and instant access to on-the-scene videos, it's difficult to explain to younger Americans the enormous impact that that level of live TV coverage had on us.

At Jackie's request, each one of the more than one million emotional and intimate sympathy notes she received were carefully preserved in the Kennedy Library for her children and for history. Working from this archive, Fitzpatrick chose letters to represent the full spectrum of the American population, illuminating a time in America's history when presidents lived behind a veil that separated their personal lives from their political careers and when U.S. citizens still believed they lived in the best and smartest nation in the world. Many of the people who reached out to Jackie felt compelled to introduce themselves and to tell their own story before offering their condolences. Some wrote about where they were on November 22, some talked politics or civil rights, and some offered advice on dealing with grief.

There is no way to review Letters to Jackie. For those of us who remember, the letters bring tears to our eyes and draw vivid images and memories from our minds. For younger readers, the letters act as a window to a long-gone America. Fitzpatrick's collection is a must-own volume.

Here are some examples. (All spellings and punctuation are per the original.)
  • From an eleven-year-old: "I was coming home from school and was feeling fine. My mother had tears in her eyes when I saw her. I asked her what was the matter because she had tears in her eyes. . . . My first though was that it wasn't true. . . . But I turned to her and her eyes had truth in them. I broke down and cryed." (p. 31)
  • From an airman third class: "I feel If I could be a portion of the man your husband was I would thank God. . . . You mean as much, as he did. Mrs. Kennedy now you stand strong an pure in the eyes of American and God. upon you you have a strength that many men would give everything they have to possest it. . . . I pray to God your strength will stand as a simbole to American women." (pp. 60-61)
  • From a forty-nine-year-old mother of ten children: "I feels so hurted I was left in 1940 with 4 small tots & a baby to Be borne 3 months later. But you havent only lost a Husband & Father But a Hero, a man, the only man was Bringing our Race of peoples to the light. We have have lost a Dear friend." (p. 102)
  • From a young man: "I'm nobody special, just a student who, I'm afraid hasn't seen a great deal of life. But I've been told that if someone is in love and has been in love, he will have enough memories to last the rest of his life. It might be true." (p. 260)
Letters to Jackie includes many photographs, including some of the letters and letter writers, as well as Fizpatrick's introductions and clarifying notes. Although some letters are from individuals whose names you recognize (President Garfield's great-grandson, Mrs. Medgar Evers), most are from ordinary citizens who felt "a desperate urge to exend [their] deepest sympathy" (p. 130) to the Kennedy family.

Beth Fish Reads is proud to showcase Ecco books as a featured imprint on this blog. For more information about Ecco, please read the introductory note from Vice President / Associate Publisher Rachel Bressler, posted here on July 15, 2011. Find your next great read by clicking on Ecco in the scroll-down topics/labels list in my sidebar and by visiting Ecco books on Facebook and following them on Twitter.

Letters to Jackie at Powell's
Letters to Jackie at Book Depository
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Published by HarperCollins / Ecco, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780061966835


Peggy@Peggy Ann's Post 12/23/11, 6:56 AM  

I remember that day too. I think I was 5. Everyone in the family was so sad. I had never seen anything like it. I'm sure this is a great read! Merry Christmas!

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) 12/23/11, 7:55 AM  

What a great idea for a book to curate the letters in this way. It's always interesting to consider history through the lives if regular people responding to an extraordinary event. I am looking forward to this one.

bermudaonion 12/23/11, 8:37 AM  

I had just turned 5 when Kennedy was shot, so I don't remember where I was when it happened but I do remember the aftermath. I also remember the grace and charm exhibited by Jackie. I'm sure this book is very moving.

Beth Hoffman 12/23/11, 9:29 AM  

Letters and notes fascinate me. This sounds like something I'd thoroughly enjoy!

Daryl 12/23/11, 9:55 AM  

I bet everyone of a certain age remembers every minute of those awful November days

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick 12/23/11, 10:05 AM  

I've always been fascinated by the horrifying moment in history and entranced by Jackie. This is a book I've been keeping an eye on the past few weeks and keep meaning to pick but haven't yet. Thanks for reminding me that I really shouldn't pass this one by.

caite 12/23/11, 10:52 AM  

I must say that while I am not a fan of the Kennedy's, I must agree that there is something about Jackie..
Of course, as one who shares that image of her as a beautiful young widow with those two darling looking children, how can we not be interested.

Zibilee 12/23/11, 10:54 AM  

I would love to read this one, and though I know the basics of the whole event, I don't know the particulars. I think this would be just the book to both educate me and emotionally attach me to the story. Great review today!

Kaye 12/23/11, 2:54 PM  

Hi, just popping in to say Merry Christmas!

I remember exactly where I was when I heard the president had been shot. We were all dumbfounded.

Julie P. 12/23/11, 4:37 PM  

I am so interested in this book!

Melissa 12/24/11, 2:53 AM  

This book sounds fantastic. I love stuff like this.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 12/24/11, 8:35 AM  

Are there some scans of the original letters (hand-written)? That would be as interesting to me as the text transcriptions (and something that would be missing if such an event were to occur today - email condolences!)

Unknown 12/24/11, 9:52 AM  

I will be picking this one up. Thank you so much for such a thoughtful review.

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