Letter Writing, Book Clubs, and Connection

Growing up I wrote letters back and forth with various family members, but as I grew older and more relatives got on email, I gradually cut back, until I was only writing consistently with my grandmother.  She wrote newsy letters about what was going on in her life, often finishing a thought by writing up and down the margins of her stationery.  From time to time we would recommend books to each other, and I sent her books to read that I thought she would especially like so that we could discuss them.  Our talks and letters about The Help and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society were particularly memorable, as I learned more about her experiences during World War II, and the relationships she had with her family’s maids.

This month at a book club tea we discussed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and we had an interesting discussion about letter writing–both how it’s sad that it seems to be dying out and that it seems we’ve lost a lot of the skill of letter writing.

The book, as you might know, is written entirely in the form of letters, which is a device that works beautifully for revealing the voices and characters of the people in the story.

It seems to me that writing actual hand-written letters is an entirely different genre than the ubiquitous e-mail.  We say things differently when we type, when we know the message could easily be forwarded, when it’s legally discoverable but unlikely that we’ll pass our gmail on to our grandchildren.  Hand-written letters offer an entirely different form of connection.

One of the girls at book club shared how she started a notebook of letters with her son.

She writes him a letter, then he writes one back, she responds, and so forth.  It struck me as such a wonderful idea to open that line of communication early, and to keep the letters in a notebook so they can refer back to it later.  I immediately started notebooks with Hannah and Jack and both of them are thrilled at the thought of having letters of their very own.  Writing letters with them is something I started doing after reading How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, but I’m glad to have the letters in a notebook now.

Another friend recently told me about how she has her children work on letters as part of their copywork.

I thought that was an excellent idea so I have also had the kids write letters in the past couple of weeks–they have written letters to my parents and to one of my aunts so far, and it does take several days for them to finish the letters and get the envelopes addressed, but I think it’s a good exercise.  They treasure cards and letters they receive, so I think it’s good to develop the habit of writing replies.  I hope this will be a good source of connection with their family members as well as a handwriting and composition exercise.

Shauna Niequist (author of Cold Tangerines) recently had a good article related to changing forms of connection in Relevant Magazine that had me thinking along these lines in relation to my focus on connection this year.

Although technology gives us lots of ways to connect, we really do have to be careful not to let those connections be superficial, fake, and disheartening.

While we don’t have to throw all technology out with the bathwater, certainly we need to think deeply about how to cultivate real community and how to truly encourage our friends.

I’m always open to suggestions, and would love to hear your ideas on letter writing, book discussions, and using media positively to build connections.

Do you write letters?

7 thoughts on “Letter Writing, Book Clubs, and Connection

  1. I do love real letters! I spent hours every week writing letters when I was young. I also wrote my Grandmother weekly, but I’m afraid it was more one-sided than your experience, but that is how some things go. I think my most treasured letters are the four letters I have from my grandfather (the only grandfather I met — maybe 2 times?). He wrote me letters with illustrations and they included stories about (or were actually written by?) his cat!! Sadly, the cat died and the letters stopped. I find it hard to throw out letters and I have boxes of them in storage. I look forward to the time when I can spend more time writing letters again.
    Heather L. recently posted..Words and Wool

  2. Nothing better than a really great correspondence between two individuals. I had a friend who wrote to me while he was in college and I in high school (and through my college years, as well). Although we no longer correspond, I will always hold his letters to be a dear treasure in my life (nothing romantic about it, just a great friend and the opening of minds in a really personal way).

    You might like the quick read of “The Missing Ink,” which discusses the woeful loss of letter writing these days and all things to do with handwriting.

  3. Letter writing is great! It’s wonderful to get something other than bills in the mail. It’s also nice to see handwriting etc. Recently there have been some things that I have wanted to address with the kids, but wasn’t sure how to and I decided on letters. I’m not sure how they’ll be received yet, but I do think it will generate excitement.

  4. I love these ideas! Thanks! I remember having tons of penpals in middle and high school. So many letters saved up in my old wardrobe at home! I should probably collect those at some point. I hope that my kids appreciate letter writing. I am afraid I do not do much letter writing anymore. I must say, on the other hand, I really do not love thank you notes. Perhaps it is because the art of writing is lost nowadays, but so often, you get these notes that say nothing and then I have to debate whether it is ok to just throw them away. I think because I do not really enjoy receiving thank you notes, I do not feel a big push to write them. Moreover, because both Spencer and I try to write meaningful thank you notes, it takes us so long that we get backlogged. Not real excuses for denying gift-givers, etc. the joy of receiving a thank you note if that is what they have come to expect. But I wish there was more emphasis on letter writing in our culture and less on writing a thank you note for the sake of sending one. Please save your thank you notes if all you are going to write is “Thank you for X, and it was nice seeing you.” I figure you are thankful, and I’d rather you not send one, thank you.

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