I finished reading Yours Ever: People and Their Letters by Thomas Mallon recently. I was somewhat disappointed by the book because I thought it would have more actual letters in it and more discussion about the art and history of writing letters but, as I think I have mentioned before, the book really amounts to an annotated bibliography of published letters. This doesn’t make it a bad book by any means, just different than I expected.
One thing I really appreciated about the book is that Mallon does not take the “email doomed the letter” approach that so many books on correspondence often do. He acknowledges the letter was on the decline long before computers came on the scene and places most of the cause on the telephone.
I enjoyed reading about different people and how they approach letter writing, what their motives were and what they hoped to give and get from the exchange. Writing a good and short letter used to be very important because the recipient was the one who had to pay the postage. I have always wondered about that and suspected it to be the case, but this is the first I’ve ever come across it plainly stated. This little bit of information makes those scenes in novels where the heroine or hero refuses a letter so much more meaningful.
The book has an extensive bibliography which I am now making my way through and copying out the books of letters I would like to read. Mallon didn’t always stick to the usual characters when he was selecting examples for inclusion in the book. He includes a number of people who were not writers or famous in any way but were everyday people who happened to live in interesting times and knew how to write a good letter. I am glad he did this because it is unlikely I would have ever come across them otherwise.
If you like writing letters, but especially if you like reading letters, and you want to a starting point for delving into the realm of published correspondence, this is definitely your book.