Wednesday, February 26, 2014

To The Letter

Today’s nonfiction post is To The Letter by Simon Garfield.  It is 464 pages long including notes and index. It is published by Gotham Books.  The cover has the title on envelopes and the author name on a smart phone.  There is some language, talk of sexuality, and talk of violence but in none of that is very graphic. The intended reader is someone who likes nonfiction and history but Garfield is a very good writer so give him a try.  With some personal letters aside most the story is told from third person perspective. There Be Spoilers Ahead.

From the dust jacket- Letters have the power to grant us a larger life. They reveal motivation and deepen understanding. They are evidential. They change lives, and they rewire history. The world once used to run upon their transmission- the lubricant of human interaction and free fall of ideas., the silent conduit of the worthy and the incidental, the time we were coming for dinner, the account of our marvelous day, the weightiest joys and sorrows of love. It must have seemed impossible that their worth would ever be taken for granted or swept aside. A world without letters would surely be a world without oxygen.
To The Letter is a celebration of the intrinsic integrity of letters, which is lacking from other forms of written communication, and of the rewards of letter writing as a practice that has dictated and tracked the progress of civilization for more than five hundred years. From Roman wood chips discovered near Hadrian’s Wall to the wonders and terrors of e-mail, Simon Garfield explores how we have written to one another over the centuries and what our letters reveal about lives. He considers the role that letters have played as a literary device in Shakespeare and the epistolary novel, and he delves into the great corresponders of our time- Cicero and Petrarch, Jane Austen and Ted Hughes ( and John Keats, Virginia Woolf, Jack Kerouac, Anais Nin, and Charles Schulz).
Throughout he uncovers a host of engaging stories, including the very particular advice by best-selling letter-writing manuals, the tricky history of the opening greeting, the ideal ingredients for invisible ink, and the sad saga of the dead letter office. As the book unfolds, so does the story of moving wartime correspondence that shows how letters can change the course of life.
At a time when the decline of letter writing appears to be irreversible, To The Letter is a rallying cry to put pen paper and create “a form of expression, emotion, and tactile delight we may clasp to our heart.”

Review- This is Simon Garfield’s new book and it is fantastic. It is funny, it is tragic, and above all it is human. From the humble beginnings of letter writing (mostly about who bought what and when) to the current age of instant contact Garfield takes the reader on quite a journey. Interspersed between the chapters is a real life love story that happened between letters in World War II. I love every minute of this book. The writing was so good, the research solid, and the little details that Garfield gives the reader just make the story within the story most special. One interesting thing that I learned while reading this book is that if you miss getting letters in the mail you can sign-up for a Letters-by-mail service for Five Dollars a month. You will get a hand written letter by someone famous once a month. You can write them back if you want. Here is a link to the website if you are interested- . So if you are lonely or just want a personal-like letter then Simon Garfield has the answer for you. 

I give this book a Five out of Five stars. I get nothing for my review and I borrowed this book from my local library.