I do love it when someone puts extra time and research into a book.
It’s the focus on a footnote, or reexamining a charming and irrelevant detail, that makes me happy. The detail is what allows you to immerse yourself in an experience. If you simply read about something, it will only be a good story. Detail is what makes it relatable. Detail is what makes it real.
But, admittedly, when I first opened up Yours Ever: People and Their Letters, I was overwhelmed. Since it is a book about letters, I was expecting reprints. As in the original, detailed, personal and uncut letters, direct from the source. Anyone who’s ever read Bartlett’s Quotations knows there’s a lot about a person’s personality that can be discovered in a quote. I had hoped to get some inside track to the minds of the people I was reading about.
But as soon as I cracked the book, I saw nothing but solid prose in a slightly intimidating font size. And having seen far too much literary criticism in my day, the solid block of text made me wince. I thought I would be faced with a dearth of opinion and not enough facts. In the hands of an uncertain or inexperienced writer, a book with this subject and in this format can get very dull very quickly.
But, thankfully, the research is there. Thankfully the experience is there. And because of it, I was hooked after the second page.
The letters in this book are packaged under a series of themes: absence, love, friendship, and a half-dozen others. Each singularly authored parcel of letters can be read independently. But the end of each person’s story dovetails marvelously in with the beginning of the next. The book has the tone of a good friend telling you that they’d been reading over these old letters, and had come to some charming epiphanies. The narration is insightful, sparse, and deeply entertaining – a flawless blend of debate and nostalgia. Just reading this book will make you long for a blanket, a comfy chair, and a cup of tea.
And I was certainly immersed. By page 40, I was thinking back to all the notes I used to pass in high school. By page 50, I started wondering about the small stack of letters from an old pen pal I have in a drawer. By page 56 I was half reading the book, half looking up pen pal services online.
[amazonify]0679444262[/amazonify]Not all of the letter writers within these pages are famous or well-known. I’d like to consider myself as someone who is fairly well-versed in the literary who’s who. But more often than not, I had such trouble placing every new name. After a while I started putting down the book to look up on Wikipedia who’s mail I had started reading. But the heavy hitters like Twain, Shakespeare, and Fitzgerald are all thrown into the mix. So even those who loathe doing research while reading will find the scribblings of a historical figure they’re interested in.
I’ve read books that have got me fired up to change the world, and books that have prepped me for a nap. But this was a book that made me realize just what a joy reading can be. Not just catching up on blogs and sending e-mail, but feeling the honest joy of handling a freshly delivered letter. Of having a physical connection to what you’re reading. It took me back to a summer day when I had nothing to do but open up a window, sprawl out on my bed, and read. It shows what an equal act of inspiration and a simple gesture of communication an ordinary letter can be.
There’s no other way for me to say it: you must read this book.
Leigh is a fearless writer who never met a genre, subject, or format she didn’t like. She has written professionally for the past six years and enjoys biking, exploring odd corners of Northeast Ohio, and discovering those good books she hasn’t read yet.
This book was provided free of any obligation by Pantheon Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.