Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Art of the Letter

I love email. I love how I am able to keep up with friends easily and at my convenience (emails can be read and answered at 6:00am or midnight, during naptime or snacktime). However, I miss the frequency and thrill of letters--real letters on pretty stationary that comes in the mail. Samara O'Shea has stumbled upon a career of helping people write letters, or in the case of her website, writing letters for people on contract.

In For the Love of Letters, O'Shea gives advice and instruction. This book has chapters on love letters, (blushing) adult love letters, good-bye letters, thank you letters, apologies, notes of sympathy, and even letters to the editor and recommendation letters. Each chapter introduces the situation in which one might send a certain letter and contains several examples of this type of letter that she has personally sent or received or one penned by a famous person such as John Keats, Edgar Allen Poe, or Marie Antoinette.

There is practical advice contained in each chapter for the following categories (all of these examples are from the Thank You Letter, in chapter 4):

Starting off:
Be specific, mention what you like, or a helpful tip for when you don't like it (focus your excitement on the giver instead, "It was so nice to see you and hear about your trip to Greece. Your tan looks fabulous."

Signing off: With deep gratitude and all my best wishes, lovingly, gratefully, thankfully, all my best

Grammar: How important is it for each type of letter? (A misspelled word or two will be forgiven if you are sharing your passion for someone). Try to get the basics right in a thank you note.

How to Send: Always write by hand, and then mail or personally deliver.

How to Receive: Enjoy. There's no need to issue a thank you for the thank you., but there's nothing stopping you either.

I enjoyed reading this book with its fun and conversational tone, but also for the simple way the advice is presented. For one thing, she doesn't malign email as evil and socially inappropriate. In fact, there are some instances in which she recommends the email as the delivery method of choice. The helpful tips are a wonderful way to refine your letter writing, give your letters more personality, or help you communicate more effectively (and isn't that exactly the point of writing?).

Read this book to find out not only how to write letters, but to remind yourself why we write letters.
Letters equaled evidence. Evidence that they had existed. That they breathed. That they had good insights and bad days. That they loved. That they suffered. That they were selfish. And that, sometimes, they were satisfied.

--Introduction p. xi

This book was sent to me by the publisher Harper-Collins for review.

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Katrina said...

Thanks for this review. This book is on my "pile," but I haven't read it yet. I admit that I write very few letters, and depend primarily on email. But I love to receive I really should try to be better about writing and sending them!

Joyful Days said...

Sounds like a great book. I will have to look it up.

I really miss getting real mail. Love my e-mail and all, but there really is something about a piece of paper.

Ann Kroeker said...

Ah, the lost art of letter writing. I read in Oprah's magazine that Kate Spade always hand writes her correspondence. She designed a series of cute notecards and stationery to support her conviction that this personal touch has been key to her success.

If only success were as easy as a cute, striped notecard!

Regardless, I think it's odd but important to note the shift in society. Letters--real letters that arrive in our mailbox--are now the exception. Any effort to communicate with friends, family or colleagues will stand out, as a result, and carry more meaning and weight.

Thanks for the idea/book recommendation. You've obviously got me thinking!

Amy said...

I love getting mail. I love buying stationary (or making my own). How do I most often communicate with my friends and family? By phone or e-mail.

I need to get back into letter writing. Cards aren't just for birthdays (and those I tend to forget to send anyway)!

Thanks for the reminder and the great tips.

Amy said...

That is so funny, Jennifer. I wrote about this today too! Someone emailed me to let me know that you had posted about it today. Great minds think alike :)

Dianne said...

I am more of a note-sender than a letter writer. I wrote tons of letters during my college days but not much since. Good review and reminder.

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