We don’t write letters much anymore. Packages come in the mail. Correspondences do not. This was reinforced this year when my 4-year-old, who had already sent a written a letter to Santa, was confused when he received one in return. What? Why? The futility of explaining to a 4-year-old why someone would communicate with another via paper, stamps, and envelopes when you could just call, text, or FaceTime(!) became immediately evident. My knee-jerk reaction was to explain long-distance calling rates. Hmm. Guess those don’t really exist anymore either. I think I’ll just explain that Santa has bad cellphone service and is still on dial-up.
When we do get a letter in the mail there is something more at work than just nostalgia for a simpler time. It reminds you why letter writing held value in the first place. They were crafted. They were moments in time, written by someone’s hand. The response couldn’t be an immediate reaction but a thoughtful wording, with ample time for revision. There’s a reason I keep all my old cards and letters from my grandmother, and I’m a little sad to think that no one will be able to keep letters from anyone anymore. But I am glad that there are some authors out there writing novels in letters (epistolary novels), allowing you live amongst that lost art once more.
Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher – A frustrated professor, Jason Fitger, losing-at-life at the moment, writes a series of letters of recommendations for students and colleagues and to senior administration at the college. The letters grow increasingly autobiographical as Fitger writes. It’s a witty novel and a satirical look at academia.
Meet Me at the Museum – by Anne Youngson – An older woman, Tina, nearing the retirement years of her life, receives news that an old friend has died. For their whole lives the two friends had planned to visit a Museum in Denmark, and when her friend dies, ending that dream, she begins some correspondence with the museum’s curator, Anders. This sets in motion changes in the lives for both Tina and Anders that they cannot foresee. Their charming letters are intimate and introspective. This novel makes you want to buy some stamps, pick up a pen and write to someone you love.
Dear Elizabeth by Sarah Ruhl – Well… not a novel, but a play, comprised of letters written between the poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. These letters are honest and unsentimental and reflect a deep friendship of two complex and extraordinary artists. I saw this play performed at Northern Stage a few years ago, and it was wonderful. I’ve since re-read(re-saw?) (re-saw-read?) the play and it is a pleasure as well.