Few things are as exciting--and potentially life-changing--as discovering an old letter. Read more...
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Few things are as exciting--and potentially life-changing--as discovering an old letter. And while etiquette books still extol the practice, letter writing seems to be disappearing amid a flurry of e-mails, texting, and tweeting. The recent decline in letter writing marks a cultural shift so vast that in the future historians may divide time not between BC and AD but between the eras when people wrote letters and when they did not. So "New York Times" bestselling author Simon Garfield asks: Can anything be done to revive a practice that has dictated and tracked the progress of civilization for more than five hundred years?
In "To the Letter," Garfield traces the fascinating history of letter writing from the love letter and the business letter to the chain letter and the letter of recommendation. He provides a tender critique of early letter-writing manuals and analyzes celebrated correspondence from Erasmus to Princess Diana. He also considers the role that letters have played as a literary device from Shakespeare to the epistolary novel, all the rage in the eighteenth century and alive and well today with bestsellers like "The Guernsey Literary and""Potato Peel Pie Society." At a time when the decline of letter writing appears to be irreversible, Garfield is the perfect candidate to inspire bibliophiles to put pen to paper and create "a form of expression, emotion, and tactile delight we may clasp to our heart."
- ISBN-13: 9781592408351
- ISBN-10: 1592408354
- Publisher: Gotham Books
- Publish Date: November 2013
- Page Count: 464
- Reading Level: Ages 18-UP
Letter writing, an endangered species
Dear Simon Garfield,
I’m writing to tell you how delighted I was to read your new book, To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing. Your book artfully captures my appreciation for old-fashioned letter writing and my concerns for the future of the posted dispatch in this age of emails, texts and Tweets.
I am not one to criticize how we communicate in the digital age. I can’t tell you the last time I took out pen and paper, addressed an envelope, licked a stamp and walked a letter to the mailbox. But that is the point of your book. You gracefully summarize the theme with these words: “It is a book about what we have lost by replacing letters with email—the post, the envelope, a pen, a slower, cerebral whirring, the use of the whole of our hands and not just the tips of our fingers.”
Indeed, To the Letter is part history lesson, part sociological study, part forecast of the future. You explore the beginnings of letter writing, including the epistolary works of Cicero, Seneca and Pliny the Younger. You muse over the letters of Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Lewis Carroll and Virginia Woolf. You even devote space to the sad tale of Charlie Brown and how he never received a valentine in the mail.
Among the things I enjoyed the most about To the Letter were the photographs of important, quirky or sentimental letters written over time by the famous and not so famous, including a poignant series of letters between a World War II soldier and his sweetheart back home.
To the Letter has taught me to appreciate the thoughtful traditions of letter writing, and given me pause as I dash off my next email. I know that other readers will enjoy the book as much as I did. Perhaps they will be inspired to write you as well.
Your humble reviewer,
John T. Slania