I love to read letters. Not only letters written to me, but letters from long ago and far away. Similar to diaries and journals, letters are precious as quotidien recordings of every day happenings. In addition, the span of letters over the years of human existence are a window into how humans have explored, depicted, and dissected events and experiences over the centuries, and how they have sought to share ideas and observations in their letters as a way of connecting with one another.
Letters cover everything from love to war, finances to religion, child rearing to grave site planning. Letters offer wisdom and foolery, sincerity and pretense, affection and dislike. Letters offer connection between writer and reader. Letters are a unique window into the human experience.
In my book, Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I tell the story of how I discovered a trove of hundred year- old letters in my own backyard. Among the letters were missives written by a Princeton freshman to his mother in the early 1900s. My oldest son was heading off to college and I wondered: will he write to me? And why do I want him to?
I set off on a quest through the history of letter writing: I explore and define all the fascinating aspects of letters — everything from the cloak of privacy to the singularity (no letter is like any other), and including their use as medium for advice, love, and immortality. In reading through letters from the Ancient Eygptians to modern day correspondents, I find letters to be important in every age, not only for the words shared and effort taken, but as proof of existence, manifestation of affection (or esteem or love), and for the circle of experience created, between one person and another.
Do I hope for a resurgence of letter writing, and a staving off of the extinction of written correspondence? Maybe, just maybe — if I can make a solid enough case that letter writing is one of our most beautiful and powerful means of connection, remembrance, and resilience.