So you can read my books

Thursday, June 15, 2017

LETTER WRITING_ An Extinct Species?

Inger's comment on yesterday's post got me to think of the sad demise of letter writing.

During the long insomniac evenings after his wife had gone to bed,

Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep) sat in his study of his home in Southern California and corresponded with people from all over the world. 

He was one of the finest letter writers American literature has produced in the last 200 years.

But letter writing has gone the way of in-depth communication and thought out prose.

Today's technologically-connected youth type quick messages on their cell phones, but may not have ever 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. Hi Roland - I used to write lots of letters and now do on occasions ... but the postal services don't help - I can't write to South Africa and if, as one friend does, lives in the dark ages of pre-internet then I can't write on impulse as it won't get there.

    I still write letters and notes ... and really should write more - but will I - probably at some stage ... and I'd love to have the eloquence of the 'authors in your show' - today I do need to write some letters!

    The one particular thing when my mother was ill - were the letters she received, but I'd needed to trigger the request - it certainly helped my mother and others who had some interaction with us - Cheers Hilary

    1. I am so glad you were able to trigger the letters that uplifted the spirits of your ill mother. There are none left to whom I can write anymore. :-(

  2. I've never been a big letter writer, but I've always sent hand written thank you cards.
    The next generation will have nothing to save.

    1. Yes, that is my fear: that the next generation will have nothing to save and if their computers crash or the cloud fizzles -- there goes their memories. :-(

  3. I've always struggled with writing really nice letters, which is weird since I'm a writer. But I also struggle with abbreviated text messages and such. I just can't.
    I'm in the middle then, I write electronically, but I usually have a lot to say. LOL

    I've nominated your blog for the 2017 Liebster award. Check it out here! If it's not your thing that's fine, don't feel obligated to participate. I'd still love to have your book recommendation though!

    Have a great day!

    1. Thanks for the nomination, Ann. My job as rare blood courier affords me so little free time these days, but I will try to honor your kindness. :-)

  4. Letter writing is a vanishing art indeed. Hell, so is conversation itself. Texting -- even texting lonnng messages -- often takes the place of a simple phone call, when the people are on the phone in the first place! (And that's not even taking into account when people in the same house or apartment text each other instead of talking.)

    1. My supervisor is so socially phobic that he uses texts and Vox only --- except with me since I refuse to have a phone smarter than me!

      Like you, I fear we are becoming an emotionally isolated culture, not knowing how to connect face to face. :-(

  5. "I refuse to have a phone smarter than me!" Ha. Love that.

    Socially phobic, yet they put this guy in charge of other people? *sigh* So many are unemployed, and they keep handing out jobs to people that don't deserve them!