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To the Letter

A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing

Simon Garfield - Author

Hardcover | $27.50 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9781592408351 | 464 pages | 14 Nov 2013 | Gotham Books | 8.26 x 5.51in | 18 - AND UP
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The New York Times bestselling author of Just My Type and On the Map offers an ode to letter writing and its possible salvation in the digital age.

Few things are as excitingand potentially life-changingas discovering an old letter. And while etiquette books still extol the practice, letter writing seems to be disappearing amid a flurry of e-mails, texting, and tweeting. The recent decline in letter writing marks a cultural shift so vast that in the future historians may divide time not between BC and AD but between the eras when people wrote letters and when they did not. So New York Times bestselling author Simon Garfield asks: Can anything be done to revive a practice that has dictated and tracked the progress of civilization for more than five hundred years?

In To the Letter, Garfield traces the fascinating history of letter writing from the love letter and the business letter to the chain letter and the letter of recommendation. He provides a tender critique of early letter-writing manuals and analyzes celebrated correspondence from Erasmus to Princess Diana. He also considers the role that letters have played as a literary device from Shakespeare to the epistolary novel, all the rage in the eighteenth century and alive and well today with bestsellers like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. At a time when the decline of letter writing appears to be irreversible, Garfield is the perfect candidate to inspire bibliophiles to put pen to paper and create a form of expression, emotion, and tactile delight we may clasp to our heart.


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From Chapter 15: Inbox

In June 2004, 190 people replied to a survey conducted by the Sussex-based Mass Observation Project on the subject of letters and emails. It seemed like a good time to take stock: email and personal computers were now a regular part of our lives. The respondents reported writing fewer letters, and regarded email as useful but limited: they would not trust their intimate thoughts to email, and they often printed them out, uncertain whether they would still be on their computers in the morning.

There was still a fondness for tradition: of the 190 people who replied to the survey, 82 per cent sent in their written answers by post.*

But the behavioural details of the survey provide a valuable anecdotal glimpse into the attitudes of general users at a time when email was becoming part of the fabric of our lives. Nine years since the survey, the replies seem both quaint and touching, but they reveal more than mere nostalgia; the impact of receiving hand-delivered mail clearly extends beyond words on a page.

‘I can remember receiving my first mail as a young girl and the thrill it gave me,’ wrote a 68-year-old woman from Surrey. ‘Sometimes I would send off for something, like a sample of face cream or a film star’s picture.’ Her first pen pal was an American girl from Pikeville, Kentucky, who sent her Juicy Fruit chewing gum and a subscription to a girl-scouting magazine. Later she wrote to a Swedish boy in Landskrona and a Turkish naval cadet.

An 83-year-old woman from Belfast remembered wistful letters during the war. ‘One used to put SWALK on the back of the envelope [sealed with a loving kiss] but my mother and father did not quite approve.’*

A woman from Blackpool received four round-robins every Christmas, ‘mostly about people we don’t know or care about . . . No-one who sends them seems to have children or grand-children who are not brilliant. The minutiae they go into (We rise at 8am with the alarm and I bring tea in bed to F) is amazing. It’s especially difficult when someone you don’t remember or may not even have known is reported dead.’

A 45-year-old man from Gloucester wrote that ‘real letters are quite rare and are usually much appreciated. They do make you feel that someone cares about you.

I especially appreciate the rare letter I receive with beautiful handwriting on it. I do have one friend with lovely writing. It seems a shame to open the envelope, and she doesn’t write at all often.

Not so long ago her much-loved husband died very suddenly aged 60, and she

sold their house and moved. When she was clearing the cellar, the last cupboard

in the farthest corner buried behind all sorts of stuff was found to contain both side of an extremely lurid, passionate (and current) correspondence between her deceased husband and a Russian woman whom he was having a very steamy affair with and of which she was entirely ignorant. He had repeatedly promised to leave his empty marriage of 33 years for her (my friend loved her husband dearly and had thought the marriage, sex and all, to be going really well). The contents of all her husband’s meticulously copied love letters were appallingly wounding to her as indeed was the revealed fact of his unfaithfulness, just when she could no longer tackle him about it. Just when she thought things couldn’t get any worse.’

Reprinted by arrangement with GOTHAM BOOKS, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © SIMON GARFIELD, 2013.


* In 2013, email responses had increased to 45 per cent.

* The origin of SWALK is uncertain, but the common wisdom attributes it to

American soldiers in the Second World War. There are others, with varying geography

and spelling:

NORWICH – Nickers Off Ready When I Come Home

ITALY: I Trust And Love You

FRANCE: Friendship Remains And Never Can End

BURMA: Be Undressed Ready My Angel

MALAYA – My Ardent Lips Await Your Arrival

CHINA – Come Home I’m Naked Already

VENICE – Very Excited Now I Caress Everywhere

EGYPT – Eager to Grab Your Pretty Tits



Praise for Simon Garfield's To the Letter:

"Stuffed with marvelous anecdotes, fascinating historical tidbits and excerpts...[Garfield’s] epistolary ardor proves infectious."
The New York Times Book Review 

"Garfield's masterstroke is to intersperse his historical sections with a series of letters written by an ordinary British couple... With Chris and Bessie it is the sheer, unclouded openness that captivates... his book is a shining success."
Sunday Times

"A wonderfully elegant history."
Observer

"Fascinating … provides a moving and illuminating insight into a world that will soon be far from our own."
Herald

“Garfield is a best-selling writer of irresistible enthusiasm….[His] robust and propulsive engagement with letters as an essential embodiment of the human spirit and a driving cultural force makes for exciting reading and thoughtful speculation about the future of scholarship and communication.”
Booklist

"Garfield’s knowledge is wide and his enthusiasm endless."
The Times

"Wonderful... One of the things which makes this book so attractive is Garfield’s enjoyment of his subject. He writes with a winning informality and freshness... Apart from its author’s erudition and stylishness, the great strength of this book – the aspect of it which conveys most poignantly what we are losing as letter writing becomes a thing of the past – lies in Garfield’s use of a correspondence between two unknown people."
Literary Review

"This endlessly informative book from one of Britain's best non-fiction writers provides a heartfelt reminder of just how much we'd lose... the book serves up any number of vivid examples from people famous and unknown"
Reader’s Digest

"Read this brilliant account of a lost art… and weep... such fun... engaging"
Mail on Sunday
 
“He offers hope for the letter as a form of writing – though it is not his theme – because he makes clear that people’s instinct to share, discuss, and transmit their deepest, most strongly held feelings survives and adapts, even as technology changes.”
Financial Times
 
"An addictive account of a dying artform."
Red

Praise for Simon Garfield's On the Map:
 
"Innumerable modes of seeing the world unfold in this exuberant history of maps. [...] His droll humor and infectious curiosity will keep readers engrossed as he uncovers surprising ways in which maps chart our imaginations as much as they do the ground underfoot."
—Publishers Weekly

“A vivid foray into the romance of maps. [...] A fine, fun presentation of the brand of cartography that continues to whet our imaginations.”
Kirkus Reviews

"Delightful... If maps be the fuel of wanderlust, read on."
From the foreword by Dava Sobel, author of Longitudes

“There couldn’t be anyone better to write about our love for maps than Simon Garfield, who is a master at unearthing strange facts and mixing them with a lively personal narrative...fascinating.”
Giles Foden, Condé Nast Traveller (UK)

Praise for Simon Garfield's Just My Type:

“This is a smart, funny, accessible book that does for typography what Lynne Truss’s best-selling Eats, Shoots & Leaves did for punctuation: made it noticeable for people who had no idea they were interested in such things.”
—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"An engaging look at the world of fonts. […] Just My Type urges us to put on the brakes and take in the scenery as far as typography goes. Whether you're a graphic designer or a layperson with no background in this area, reading what Garfield has to say will change the way you perceive the written word forever."
—The Los Angeles Times  

“Reading Simon Garfield’s Just My Type can transform your daily life into an endless quest for knowledge of the typefaces in which signs, books, magazines, newspapers, etc. are set.”
—The Washington Post

“Highly entertaining … Garfield takes readers on a rollicking tour of the world of typography, from book jackets to road signs, TV shows to computers.”
—USA Today 

“A deliriously clever and entertaining book”
—The Boston Globe

“Informative, delightful — and essential reading for word geeks everywhere.”
—The Seattle Times 

“Lively […] intriguing […] a cheeky book about the human side and our reaction to fonts.”
—Seattle Post Intelligencer 

“This is a book for typography lovers who just can't get enough of their favorite fonts. In this well-researched book, Garfield takes a look back at the history of typefaces and how they've influenced consumers throughout the years. Using specific examples, Garfield shows just how powerful different fonts can be.”
—Philadelphia Intelligencer 

“For typomaniacs […] who can't rest until they've identified a font, Garfield's engaging history of letter design will be eye candy.”
—NPR.org 

"Irresistable."
The Huffington Post 

“Garfield’s romping history (with multitype text) is zestfully informative.”
—Booklist 

“Garfield dances across 560 years of typographic history, sprinkled with fascinating anecdotes and vignettes, to infect you with his own inability to walk past a sign without identifying the typeface and some curious factoid about it. Funny and fascinating, irreverent and playful yet endlessly illuminating, the book is an absolute treat for the type-nerd, design history geek, and general lover of intelligent writing with humor.”
—The Atlantic 

“A thoroughly entertaining, well-informed tour of typefaces”
—Kirkus Reviews

A “lively romp through the history of fonts. Garfield’s evocative prose entices us to see letters instead of just reading them.”
—Publishers Weekly 

“Whether you’re a hardcore typophile or a type-tyro, there’s something here for you: be it the eye-opening revelations of Eric Gill’s utter and complete perversity, or the creation of the typeface that helped Mr. Obama gain entrance to the White House.”
—Chip Kidd 

"Just My Type is an entertaining romp through the world of type design. Mr. Garfield explains the angst and the joy of typography; this is a great book for design geeks to press into the hands of the uninitiated in hopes of conversions, like missionaries with a religious tract."
—Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife 

“With wit, grace and intelligence, Simon Garfield tells the fascinating stories behind the letters that we encounter every day on our street corners, our bookstore shelves, and our computer screens. As someone who's worked with typography for over three decades, I kept finding lots of surprises.  So will anyone who cares about the culture of reading and writing and this most ubiquitous of design forms.”
—Michael Bierut, Partner, Pentagram Design, New York

"There is even a photograph of a quick brown fox literally jumping over a lazy dog. What a clever, clever book."
—Lynne Truss 

“Did I love this book? My daughter's middle name is Bodoni. Enough said.”
—Maira Kalman 

"Mapping out the historical intricacies of the ampersand and the short-lived interrobang, the serif and the sans serif, Simon Garfield reveals an invisible world behind the printed word. From Trajan's Column to the ubiquitous Helvetica to the latest typefaces, like Dirtyfax, the lives of the designers and the letters they've created have never been more clearly detailed with so much flair."
—Jessica Kerwin Jenkins, author of Encyclopedia of the Exquisite 
 

 




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