Monday, March 10, 2008

An Epistolary Confession

Dear Readers,

I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but I have a weakness for books of letters, especially those written by writers. It started with Steinbeck's A Life In Letters. I picked it up on a whim and have had a hard time putting it down since. It was a revelation. Even in such spontaneous scribblings, Steinbeck is a pleasure to read. The little details, the relationships, the observations - to this day, Steinbeck's book remains the gold standard as far as I'm concerned.

Which brings us to this past weekend and my spring cleaning / purge. The great thing about this is I dug up a number of books I nearly forgot about. Two of them were books of letters, one by a publisher and one by a writer.

The book by a writer is Evelyn Waugh's collection (The Letters of Evelyn Waugh). I've put it in the on deck circle, as it were.

The other book is Imagining Canadian Literature: The Selected Letters of Jack McLelland. I've spent the morning thumbing through it and I am amazed I did not give it more time the first time around. Richler. Cohen. Atwood. Layton. Purdy. This is CanLit in grand style. It's great to see these names become people. Of course, the fact that these are letters to and from a publisher means that it is not a complete love-in. That is one of the pleasures of the book, seeing the writers talk so candidly about their craft and the marketing of such. I'm thinking it may become one of my books for the Canadian Book Challenge (

In some ways, it saddens me. Reading these letters makes me realize just how poor a medium email is. And how lazy we've all become. Rather than deal in thoughts and emotions, we are quick to toss off cliches and smilies. Have we really become so important that we cannot take the time to say that we are laughing out loud?

What about those who are quick to jettison punctuation or capitals? It's fine when done right, but we are not all budding ee cummings. As such, what was once a bold and calculated statement becomes a testament to laziness and sloppiness. It tells the reader that the writer does not think enough of them to take the time to write a proper, thoughtful letter.

Ironically, this seems to happen most in the one place where it should happen least - the business email. How does one respond to a business letter that has a smiley in it? Or one that is so full of spelling/grammar errors as to be almost unreadable. The irony being that the worst offenders are often the highest up the corporate ladder.

I guess this has turned into a bit of a rant. I did not mean it to be. It's just that it bothers me. Where once we took the time to communicate, it seems now we just want to get the letter over as soon as possible so we can get back to the television or something.

There I go, tilting at windmills again. By now, you're probably getting bored of this. So I will wrap it up.

How are things with you, by the way? What's new? Read anything good lately?

So long for now,


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