Tag Archives: books

On letters

My current book is a real treat, containing as it does almost a whole (fictional) 19th century correspondence between two poets and dynamic thinkers—hidden, of course, under the dolls’ bed in a dusty abandoned room in a musty grand old house where one of the two lived out her days in seclusion and was laid in the ground.

The scholars who study the lives and works of these two poets, a worldly married man and a reclusive single women, at one point secure permission to read the letters in the bitterly cold library of the dilapidated house. I particularly enjoyed this passage, from the point of view of the scholar on the worldly married man:

Letters, Roland discovered, are a form of narrative that envisages no outcome, no closure. His was a time of the dominance of narrative theories. Letters tell no story, because they do not know, from line to line, where they are going. If Maud had been less coldly hostile he would have pointed this out to her—as a matter of general interest—but she did not look up to meet his eye.

Letters, finally, exclude not only the reader as co-writer, or predictor, or guesser, but they exclude the reader as reader; they are written, if they are true letters, for a reader.

Isn’t that an interesting perspective? The letters included in this story—and such beautiful letters they are!—certainly fit this idea of letter writing. They are expressive, they are intensely personal and thoughtful…they begin with vague purpose and let the pen shape ideas and feelings.

I would eventually like to write like this.

Often I make drafts of letters, especially my most important or longest ones. They are sometimes written on scrap paper, but most are typed in Gmail and then changed a bit more when I commit them to paper. My mindset when I type is as though I do indeed have a pen in hand, but I must admit that the ability to easily revise and reestablish tone does steal some of the spiritedness of my letters even as it polishes them. I always like the finished products of these drafts because they say what I mean in my truest voice, I believe in them, and they carry a disproportionate investment of my time and care with them to someone else. They really are a gift.

Many other times I write quickly and disjointedly, with much redundancy and at the expense of eloquence and sophistication. The letters I begin without pausing to sketch a mental outline are the ones I like least upon rereading. Sometimes they are produced through lack of time on a busy day, or lack of inspiration when the world seems colorless, or perhaps because I need to finish my letter for the day so I can close my eyes before the sky begins to lighten. Yes, the days that this project is a chore are sad days for my recipients—luckily they are fewer and farther between!

The letters I like best are the ones that are written by someone else. I have a sense of what I want to share with someone and an excitement to get to it. And, strangely, as I begin to write I slip into another voice—slightly old-fashioned, with a whimsical lilt. I feel my most creative when I’m this girl, and I have the most fun! I don’t have to search for phrases or polish ideas because they blossom in my mind and flow to my hand with nary a prompt.

Does anyone else find this happen when they write letters? Is there a difference between your letter writing voice and how you speak or write emails? What is it? Why do you think it happens?

Possession, by A.S. Byatt

104. David D. -Cork City, Ireland

105. Jenny S. -Blacksburg AND PostMuse (Orphaned Postcard Project) – Pittsburgh

106. Jessica K. -Park Ridge

107. Misty D. (The Pen Thief) -Ravenna

108. Sr. Christian M. -Chicago

109. Sharon D. -Bellevue

110. my soldier in Iraq

111. Alex C. -Chicago