by Simon Garfield
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This has been my at-work-to-read-at-lunch book for a long time now and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It worked well in small chunks which I find novels rarely do. There were a lot of good insights into the value of letters and what makes a good letter. A few quotes illustrate this.
"Taken as a whole, what can we learn from these excitingly random collections of letters at auction houses and the slightly more ordered gatherings in anthologies? We learn that we are not alone, and that letters may leave us both larger and other than we were. These are odd nuggets of unexpected history--history in the present tense, history from its participants." (p. 200)
"... letter writing may be best described as the art of silent speech, the notion that the best letter to a friend was a 'talking letter', something that read as if you were telling it to them over tea." (p. 281)
"What I learned was that when you're making such a drastic selection, it helps to keep in mind that there's a story being implied by the letters if they're in chronological order, implied if not actually stated, and that actually keeps your mind on the straight and narrow." (p. 370, talking about culling the thousands of pages of Ted Hughes's letters for publication.)
Mixed into the book are a collection of letters from a British man serving in WWII to the woman who will become his wife. These letters make a touching story all their own and provide a good counterpoint to the scholarship of the book. What keeps this from being a 5-star book for me is that the book covers a wide variety of aspects of letter writing and some of the sections were less interesting to me than others. It is overall an excellent book and well worth reading.
This book counts toward the Postal Reading Challenge 2014.