From To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Handwriting by Simon Garfield:
This is a book about a world without letters, or at least this possibility. It is a book about what we have lost by replacing letters with email–the post, an envelope, a pen, a slower cerebral whirring, the use of the whole of our hands and not just the tips of our fingers. It is a celebration of what has gone before, and the value we place on literacy, good thinking and thinking ahead. I wonder if it is not also a book about kindness.
On reading this paragraph in Garfield’s book on letters, I was reminded of the box of letters from my mother I have tucked away in my garage. My mother died several years ago but every time I read one of those letters, she is with me again. I can hear her voice in those words and I enjoy looking at her handwriting and at the writing paper she has chosen for me and the fact that, at one point in both of our lives, she too handled that letter. I can’t say that about emails and although I still have some emails from her, it is her letters I cherish.
Or sometimes I think about the little packet of letters from a boy I knew in high school. Our fledgling love affair did not come to fruition but those few letters remind me of what it was like to be in love when I was very young–the thrill, the hopes and dreams, the songs I sang in my heart, the sweet words he said to me. The letters are tied up with ribbons and hidden away in a drawer like so many love letters in the past. I can’t do that with an email.
Writing an email is quick and easy but I miss the beautiful paper and cards, filling my pen, writing slowly and evenly across the page, crossing out the wrong word and wondering how many errors would require a rewrite (usually only for invitations and business letters; personal letters rarely were re-written). I miss going to the post office and carefully choosing which stamps to use for my letters. I miss sealing the envelope and rushing madly to the post box before the mail was collected that day and then haunting the mail box daily for a reply as soon as I thought one could come. I miss rifling through the mail and tossing aside bills in search for a letter. I miss brightly colored postcards from far away places that came a week after a friend came home from vacation.
I love reading collections of people’s letters. Some of my favorite books have been memoirs, stuffed with copies of letters. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Jane Austen, Thomas Jefferson, and Galileo are just some of the people whose letters I have read and enjoyed. One of my very favorite books, 84 Charing Cross Road, is a book of letters. Somehow I don’t think we will see collections of famous people’s emails being published and what a loss that will be as letters reveal so much about a person.
I think we’ve lost something dear since we have replaced writing letters with emails and texts. I look forward to reading Mr. Garfield’s book about letter-writing. I suspect he will be a “kindred spirit.”