To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing
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The New York Times bestselling author of Just My Type and On the Map offers an ode to letter writing and its possible salvation in the digital age.
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.”
lived (seemingly idyllic until letters reveal local anarchy, executions, civil wars, domestic shortages and bitter cold). For the Pastons, letters were the glue that held the family together. Their correspondence consisted of frequent (usually weekly, sometimes on consecutive days) communication through several generations and the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III. The many hundreds of letters that survive make up the most illuminating concentration of letters of fifteenth-century
will teach you more of it than I can. Do as you would be done by is the surest method that I know . . . Take the tone of the company that you are in, and do not pretend to give it; be serious, gay, or even trifling, as you find the present humour of the company; this is an attention due from every individual to the majority. Do not tell stories in company: there is nothing more tedious and disagreeable: if by chance you know a very short story, and exceedingly applicable to the present subject
to Sylvia Plath. ‘I had her papers in my flat,’ Pryor says. ‘Well, all the Ariel poems. I was cataloguing them – they sold to Smith College, from Ted [Hughes] via Sotheby’s. And I had her typewriter, a portable Corona. I had an American girlfriend at the time and she was deeply impressed that I typed letters to her on it. I imagine now that people are analysing Sylvia’s typewriter ribbon and going “Hmmm . . . Dear Sal? And who’s this Felix character?” ’ He also had letters from Hughes.
warm. I hope that we shall always love each other as we do now. Our thoughts are identical. Yes, we are in harmony! I am glad that I am your lover, and you are glad that you are mine. What a pity we cannot be together, so that I can do what you want me to do; perhaps I should say ‘try to do’. I am your servant and your master at once. I will command you and be commanded by you. Your breasts are mine. Whatever I have is yours. I want to have you. I want to awaken you as you have never been
key discoveries that had shaped the way we view the Romans’ early defence of northern Britain. But although his work had occasionally revealed a few coins and chips of pottery, there wasn’t much in the way of personal or domestic possessions that would enable us, some 2,000 years later, to bring the ancient world to life. His son’s excavation resumed in March 1973. There was more leather footwear, a gold earring, a bronze brooch, keys, hammers, rope, purses, tools for stripping hide, oyster