I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write (You) a Letter

Courtesy of donovanbeeson / Flickr / Creative Commons licensed
Courtesy of Petar Milošević / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons licensed Courtesy of the US Marine Corps / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

"Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls; for, thus friends absent speak." -- John Donne, in a verse letter to Sir Henry Wotton, written before April 1598.

I love the thrill of finding a hand-written note tucked into the interminable piles of junk mail that show up in my mailbox.

To prove it, I have 25 years of archived correspondence: postcards from around the globe, hand-made birthday cards filled with my sister's effusive love, even a tender billet-doux or two. These physical artifacts tie me emotionally and metaphysically to the people who have touched my life. April is National Card and Letter Writing Month, which gives us the perfect excuse to connect to those we care about through the written word. Writing a letter or card to someone expresses an amount of genuine effort that can't be communicated in even the most artfully-wrought text.

Letters tucked away and preserved can connect us to our historical, social, and political past. Literary scholars are eagerly awaiting the publication of selected Willa Cather letters, famously thought to have been destroyed by the author. Publication of these letters should paint a more complete picture of the author as "a complicated, funny, brilliant, flinty, sensitive, sometimes confounding human being."

Do you need some inspiration before you craft your own note? Will it be a thank you card, a treacly love letter, or perhaps a dreaded Dear John? To pay it forward, you could address a letter of appreciation to a soldier through the Operation Gratitude project.

Whatever form you letter takes, here's a list of collected letters, epistolary novels, and how-to books to inspire you.

Collected Letters

My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams

Other People's Love Letters: 150 Letters You Were Never Meant to See

My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters Through the Centuries

The Love Letters of Dylan Thomas

Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves

Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten, 1925-1964

The 50 Greatest Letters from America's Wars

Letters from a Nut

Epistolary Novels

Herzog

From A to X: A Story in Letters

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Why We Broke Up: Novel

Ella Minnow Pea: A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Fair and Tender Ladies

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence

84, Charing Cross Road

Books on Letter Writing

The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communications

Write the Right Words: Messages from the Heart for Every Occasion

Kiss-Off Letters to Men: Over 70 Zingers You Can Use to Send Him Packing, Mess with His Head, or Just Plain Dump Him

How to Write a Letter (For Grades 2-5)

Escribir cartas (En español)

Comments

Check out '365 Thank Yous' by John Kralik. I loved it and have recommended it to many people. It shows the power of what a 'thank you' can do.

Lori, I just put it on hold for myself. Sounds like a beautiful read. Thanks!

Ohhhhhh I just *loved* the Griffin and Sabine letters. It gave me the feeling that I was opening someone else's mail...a bit naughty and a little bit voyeuristic...loved the series. Are there other books like that?

The Griffin and Sabine series was fantastic! "Why We Broke Up: A Novel" might do the trick. Min Green and Ed Slaterton are breaking up, so Min is writing Ed a letter and giving him a box filled with two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, a box of matches, a protractor, books, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings, a comb from a motel room, and every other item collected over the course of a giddy, intimate, heartbreaking relationship. Item after item is illustrated and accounted for, and then the box, like a girlfriend, will be dumped.

After you read the book, you might want to check out the "Why We Broke Up Project" where author Daniel Handler and illustrator Maira Kalman are collecting shared stories of heartbreak, thus satisfying your voyeuristic side:

http://whywebrokeupproject.tumblr.com/

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