This book was fantastic. I originally thought I’d just dip into it in the same way I dip into Mary Oliver’s, Devotions (just opening the book to a page and reading here and there). But, this was not a dipping book, I soon found out. I was unable to undip, once I dipped I guess you could say. I stayed up night after night until my eyelids just couldn’t take anymore and my brain felt like jello.
I love studying and reading about history. What I like most about history, however, is not basic encyclopedic info but the personal side-stories of famous and even (perhaps more so) people who aren’t so famous. This book is filled with the side stories. Letter upon letter. A letter to Abraham Lincoln from a young girl beseeching him to grow “whiskers,” (which he did!), or an ancient love letter that sounds as if it could have been written yesterday. Each page something new and delicious.
This is such an infinitesimal sampling of the book, but some of my favorites.
Obviously, once finished reading the final letter, I thought a bit about the vintage or ancient (however you look at it) art form of letter writing. Such a personal, tender way of sharing a part of yourself with another. Maddie and my childhood best friend’s daughter are pen pals (they live in Kauai). It’s been so sweet to find Naya’s letters in the mailbox: her cute rainbow and heart drawings covering the back of the envelope. It’s touching, really. And so foreign these days. I never receive letters like that. Text upon text and e-mail, and thrifty facebook notes yes of course but a handwritten letter? Probably only from my mom, most likely on my birthday, and not mailed but handed to me with a gift (not that I’m downplaying her beautifully handwritten birthday cards <3).
I personally wrote a lot of letters when I was younger. To my cousin, my grandparents, I had a few pen pals, and friends who lived across the country. I even wrote letters to my parents when I was feeling frustrated with how things were going in our family. I wrote my dad a letter (I just recently found it while going through bags in the garage at my parents’ house) when I was a senior in high school explaining to him why I wanted to go to college in Colorado. These days I probably would have e-mailed this same letter to him partially because I sadly don’t have the patience for longhand (I type pretty fast and prefer typing when it comes down to it), and because…um, who writes longhand letters anymore (even Christmas cards are digitized these days)?
Handwriting!? What Happened to That??
In fact, my kids don’t have to hand write their essays! They either type them on the computer in Google docs and email them to their teacher OR they print them. I watched my fifth grader writing (not in cursive but actually printing letter for letter) for school and said: “Wait, do you know how to handwrite??” I know they learned it briefly in 3rd grade but since then no one has asked them to keep up with it, apparently. That’s just an aside that really BUGS me. The teachers and school administrators tell us that kids are not going to be required to handwrite at all in the coming years. Wow.
So, yes, people still write letters. Mostly they’re typed on a computer and e-mailed. Do I find anything wrong with that? Well, no, not necessarily. It seems to be the inevitable direction we moved and continue to move. That said, Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience spurred me to sit down with some of my letter writing accoutrements and actually handwrite a letter. Ahh…honestly, it was like taking a deep breath – really sort of meditative, cathartic even. I suggest giving it a try one of these days. 🙂