Bring back The Letter!

Last week the blog Letters of Note, posted a letter written by author John Steinbeck to his then teenage and love-struck son, Thomas, back in 1958. Although it has been in the public domain since the 1980s, this recent spotlight has shot the letter to sudden fame. It has since been reproduced in last weekend’s Sunday Times and The Huffington Post and been featured or mentioned on countless other websites (including now this blog).  Read the full letter here…

As the Sunday Times points out ‘it is beautiful, wise and humanistic – rare qualities in a world of dashed-off emails and text messages’. And indeed, I loved reading it, and immediately felt a wave of nostalgia, simultaneously grieving the loss of ‘the letter’. Email, Skype and Facebook have certainly made it easier to keep in touch with friends and family across the globe and we can now enjoy the gratification of instant communication, dialogue and group discussion.  Yet, we have lost the substance that letters used to offer.

Letters took more time and effort to write and you would sift through the minutiae of your recent life to impart things that were truly of note and thoughts that obviously weighed enough on your mind to be put down on paper.  Now we seem to think it is natural to tell everyone that we have run out of cereal or are getting wet standing in the rain waiting for our train (Current Status: Grumpy). I still remember the thrill of getting home to a coloured envelope, deciphering the handwriting on the front to guess who it was from, and the anticipation of reading the pages within – giving the letter the respect it deserved, like any treat, often waiting hours before opening it up until the right moment when I could give it my full and uninterrupted attention. Now, aside from the odd birthday or Christmas card, the only thing to come through my letter box are bills, takeaway menus and leaflets from local businesses.

And when was the last time you printed off an email to keep? Letters are like tangible moments in time, and so reflective of the person who wrote it – in a letter, you can truly hear someone’s unique ‘voice’ which doesn’t often come across in the fleeting messages across email or Facebook. I still have boxes of letters from my childhood, including a few I wrote to my grandmother which she had kept, and after she passed away, were returned to me. And every time I reread them I am reminded of my 8-year-old self who adopted a particular style when writing only to her, where I would pretend she was in the room with me and interrupt my letter with questions like “Would you like a biscuit, Nanny? Here you go”,  or “More tea? You sure?” It is priceless.

Whilst Thomas Steinbeck (now an acclaimed writer himself and author of the short story collection Down to A Soundless Sea which we published some time ago) mentions that at the time he ignored his father’s letter, he can look back at it now with different eyes. Had email existed back then, it would probably have been deleted and forgotten. I know his father’s words about ‘several kinds of love’ will stay with me and I hope that one day I might write as worthy a letter to my own child. It has, in fact, given me a certain incentive to start writing letters again.

Think about the letters you hold dear, ones that you cherish or made you laugh and if you want, share any snippets here, and perhaps we can give letters a comeback. Here’s to picking up a pen and paper!

Chiara Priorelli, Publicity & Online Marketing Manager

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