December 2013

Letter writing, an endangered species

By Simon Garfield
Review by
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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

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To the Letter

To the Letter

By Simon Garfield
ISBN 9781592408351

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