So you can read my books

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Today's technologically-connected youth type quick messages on their cell phones, but may not have taken a pen to paper.

They might never do so. Could handwritten letters cease to exist in the near future?

 It's faster to type abbreviated messages on the keypad of a cell phone without thinking about grammar, spelling, or penmanship.

Children born in the 1990s and 2000s haven't known any other way to communicate with their friends.

I remember Mother taking out a letter from an old friend, long dead, reading it, thinking of old times, shared laughter, and shared tears. 

When was the last time you saw anyone do that?  Have you done it lately?

There was a time (when traditional letter writing was the norm) when people took the time to think about the message they wanted to convey, and the impact it would have on the recipient.

Sending and receiving written letters was special for a lot of people because by making an effort to craft such a wonderful letter, one person was telling another that he or she cared.

 Soldiers in the U.S. Civil War wrote some of the most elegant and heartfelt letters one could ever hear.  So did the soldiers in World War II.  Those letters many times were the last touch wives and mothers received from loved ones.

And today's culture?  It's unfortunate that there may be nothing to look back on, and as a result the world will be poorer socially and culturally.

Ursula Nordstrom (1910-1988) headed Harper’s Department of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940 to 1973.

Nordstrom belongs to the last generation of devoted letter writers. She took immense pleasure in the act, often writing to authors when there was no obvious necessity of doing so.

 The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume 1, 1907-1922, one of the 11 best biographies and memoirs of 2011, exposes a young Hemingway different, richer, more tender than the machismo-encrusted persona we’ve come to know through his published works.

"[My father] was not a tragic figure. He had the misfortune to have mental troubles in old age. Up until that, he was a rather lighthearted and humorous person.” ~ Patrick Hemingway

Nobel laureate John Steinbeck (1902-1968) might be best-known as the author of East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, and Of Mice and Men, but he was also a prolific letter-writer.

Steinbeck: A Life in Letters constructs an alternative biography of the iconic author through some 850 of his most thoughtful, witty, honest, opinionated, vulnerable, and revealing letters to family, friends, his editor, and a circle of equally well-known and influential public figures.

Among his correspondence is this beautiful response to his eldest son Thom’s 1958 letter,

in which the teenage boy confesses to have fallen desperately in love with a girl named Susan while at boarding school.

Steinbeck’s words of wisdom — tender, optimistic, timeless, infinitely sagacious — should be etched onto the heart and mind of every living, breathing human being.

New York
November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First — if you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second — There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind.

The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable.

The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply — of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it — and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone — there is no possible harm in saying so — only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry.

Nothing good gets away.



  1. I am soooo with you on this. Technology is cool and has its place but the abreviated texting of today and lack of anything approaching grammar in most emails will never be anything to save or be proud of. You're right, letters written before the computer age are a joy to read. Clever and interesting and correct to a period. Smart. People used to be so smart.

    A child can and should still be taught to write a thank-you note when they receive a present in the mail. They should be made to learn cursive writing and shown the satisfaction of keeping a diary, or a travel log on family trips. The list, I guess, can go on and on. My newest pet peeve is Christmas cards that are family picture inprinted with names. No signature. No Merry Christmas. No nothing to personalize the message. They don't even hand write the address. Everything is done by the computer. They get tossed in the garbage with the rest of the junk mail.

  2. I admit I don't write letters anymore. I do always send hand written thank you cards. Those are rare to receive as well.

  3. Yes, it's a sad development. Makes work a lot harder for historians, too.

  4. I've written letters, and love receiving them, but it does appear to be a dying art. Real mail, we call it 'royal mail',(aka slugmail) in Canada, is slow, yet postage is expensive. These reasons also contribute to the demise of letter writing. BTW - I'd love writing at the desk Sam (or Mark) is using in that image.

    In the blog world,I like receiving the comments in a reply to a post because it shows that person took the time to dally a bit.

    We should be grateful for those authors who wrote letters and gave us an insight to their own world. Reading journals or letters by authors enriches what we read of their other works. Even Kafka had a heart and desires.

  5. Yvonne:
    I was concerned folks would consider me a dinosaur. Thanks for easing that fear for me.

    I can remember Mother and I splitting our Christmas list, writing detailed, personalized LETTERS in each card that spoke to the concerns, hopes, dreams, and problems of those we cared about.

    Despite the tugs of the world, I was expected by Mother to write a personal Thank You detailing the gift and mentioning some concern of the giver.

    We are becoming a fragmented, imppersonal society. :-(

    My world has become so intense and hurried that letters and Thank You notes usually fall victim to emails. Sigh.

    Yes, it does. I love to read volumes of the letters of C.S. Lewis, Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Thurber, and Samuel Clemens.

    Yes, "Snail Mail" is getting more and more expensive to afford.

    Does anyone keep diaries or journels anymore? I guess our blogs serve that purpose, don't they? But will not last the test of time I am afraid as did the self-examining essays of Montaigne or the diary of Samuel Pepys.

    I try to leave a comment on each blog I visit although the night is wearing on me. Thank you for all your comments. It helps me feel as if I am not playing to an empty house! :-)

  6. Arcade Fire has a song called "We Used to Wait" that comments on how times have changed. For me, there's a certain nostalgia about writing letters and the patience involved with waiting for a response in the mail. Now I get antsy if somebody doesn't reply to one of my emails in 24 hours.

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  8. Hi Roland .. you know I write letters both on the blog and out to family and friends ... certainly all the cards, letters and replies we received helped my mother through her long bed-ridden years; and seemed to cheer many others up too ..

    Our wonderful friend Lenny did an amazing thing for a lady at the Nursing Centre ... he wrote her a letter and sent her a few goodies ... I blogged about it today ... the art for some is not dying ...

    I think Lenny is an amazing example of thoughtfulness personified ..

    Hope you're having a good week - cheers Hilary

  9. I rarely write letters by hand, but a few weeks ago I wrote a 3 page letter to my niece who lives half way across the world. She would have received the letter faster had I sent it by email but for some reason I needed to write it by hand. Anyway she was thrilled to receive a (as she put it) "traditional letter." There is something special about receiving a letter written by hand.

  10. Nothing matches a letter written by hand. And all those wonderful words written in cyberspace -- what have you left for anyone to re-read and save? My husband's mother kept a five-year diary and re-reading her words were short sentences, yes but so meaningful, such as when she first felt life, (my husband).

  11. Such a lovely nostalgic post. I miss writing letters too!
    We should do some sort of blogger letter chain...

  12. I have a box of letters that moved to the other side of the world with me, my treasures. A reminder of the love and occasional drama's shared between people. I live abroad now and have been surprised to receive 'snail' mail from a couple of my '90's babies' friends - it seems the art is not lost on all of our youth -