Many people are familiar with NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which takes place in November. Several weeks ago, a friend challenged me to participate in LetterMo, or A Month of Letters. The rules are simple- for every day in February that the USPS delivers, send a piece of personal mail through the post. It can be a post card, a letter, an envelope full of newspaper clippings (my grandmother’s favorite genre), or a package if you are feeling particularly generous. The point is to communicate more mindfully. When you write a letter you take your time. You choose your words more carefully when you have to cross mistakes out rather than just hit the backspace key. And while the extent of graphology’s profiling powers may be contested, everyone knows your handwriting reflects more of your personality than a standardized font. Even if you do choose one of the kookier ones like Jokerman or Gigi.
LetterMo is more than half over, but I am taking its message to heart and trying to add personal letters back into my repertoire. If you would like to do the same, there are two new arrivals in the non-fiction section to assist and inspire.
In The Missing Ink: the lost art of handwriting, novelist Philip Hensher muses on the seemingly unstoppable march towards entirely digital communication. Never mind the larger question of how emails and texting change the way we exchange ideas. Hensher is interested solely in what gets lost when there are fewer and fewer people who know how to pick up a pen or pencil and write legibly. If you are someone whose handwriting is difficult to read, or if you dot your i’s with little circles, his opinions may scald a bit. But if you are someone who has a favorite pen (how could I choose just one!?), or who has an emotional reaction to the shape of a cursive capital G (gaaarrgh!) you will find a (gossipy, amusingly judgmental) kindred spirit in Hensher.
John O’Connell is as opinionated as Hensher and just as much a fan of the handwritten. For the Love of Letters: the joy of slow communication, makes his case that we should not think of e-mail, texting, and the rest as replacing letters. They do not perform quite the same function and they do not hold the same emotional value as paper letters, especially over time. He alternates personal essays with excerpts from letters by some of the great practitioners of the genre- Seneca, Swift, Waugh and others.
For additional inspiration, there is the Griffin and Sabine series by Nick Bantock, and other epistolary fiction. You can find collections of letters, love letters and epistolary poetry throughout the library, as well.