Say Goodbye to One of My Favorite Literary Forms

When was the last time you actually took pen in hand and wrote a letter to someone? I don’t mean an e-mail or a “text.” I rather think that most of the electronic communications will all disappear into some digital hell, and no one will actually write letters. As the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami wrote, “How wonderful it is to be able to write someone a letter! To feel like conveying your thoughts to a person, to sit at your desk and pick up a pen, to put your thoughts into words like this is truly marvelous.”

As I continue to read the collected letters of Bruce Chatwin, I foresee that within a very short time (if not now), no one will write letters. The thought saddens me, as I think back on great letters of the past from such writers as Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Aldous Huxley, Chekhov, Joseph Conrad, Flaubert, Sir Walter Scott, and countless others. Already in Chatwin, many of the letters are scribbles on postcards, interspersed with a few lengthy think pieces.

Now there are so many more ways to communicate, including telephone, text messaging, e-mail, and more ad infinitum. I can’t for the life of me think of an e-mail I’ve written that was worth saving for any reason except for passing convenience.

People used to save letters because of their sentimental or literary value. Long-distance relationships were conducted in the mails, resulting in bundles of letters that were saved for decades, letters that warmed the soul as the cold of age started to set in. Do I save my text messages? Not for more than a week or two. As for e-mails, I do large-scale erasures every six months or so.

I think I will highlight in future posts some of my favorite letters from authors and poets.