After I completed my year of reading a book a day, many people asked me, “Is the ‘book’ dead?” I answered with confidence: “Absolutely not.” New books — good books — come out every week, from the large publishers and from small independent publishing houses. Millions of readers around the world buy the new releases as hard copies or download them onto reading devices. Libraries around the world continue to lend out books, book blogs abound on the internet, and book groups are exploding in numbers, with over 250,000 active book groups estimated in the United States alone.
I love to read books, and I also 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. But letters, while not “dead”, are most definitely an endangered species.
In my upcoming book, Signed, Sealed, Delivered, coming out in April 2014 from Simon and Schuster, I will explore 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. I have read through letters from the Ancient Eygptians to modern day correspondents, and 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.