We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion, and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverable for ourselves and for others. ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I love reading love letters. Ones I have written, ones that have been sent to me.
Yep, especially other people’s. One of the most fascinating aspects of my work as an archivist is getting to pore over other people’s letters to each other. I like browsing their scrapbooks and photographs, too, but for me, there is nothing quite as moving than delving into a file full of old correspondence, and especially letters of love. Nothing can bring a personality to light more than something so private, so personal, as what one writes to one’s love.
(Come on, ‘fess up…. haven’t you always wondered? Or is it just me?)
One of my favorite series of books is centered on just that idea — the Griffin and Sabine books by Nick Bantock, published beginning in 1991. Set around the correspondence between the two main characters, the books –six in all, set in two trilogies– tell a love story through their postcards, letters, and art. Part of the fun of the story is that the reader gets to open the envelopes and unfold the letters, as if they were coming directly to you. You become an activate participant in the literal unfolding of the story. If you haven’t read them, I recommend them highly, at least if you are a sappy romantic like me! I had the chance to meet the author at, of course, my favorite bookstore, so I’m proud to have a signed set to return to when the mood strikes.
If you’re so inclined, I recently ran across another book along the same lines, only using real love letters, with the author’s permission of course. Bill Shapiro put together a remarkably engaging book and website called Other People’s Love Letters, which contain images of love letters, whether card, crayon, email, or on the back of a scrap of paper. Love of all sorts –new, hopeful, soul mates, long-term, and endings– springs from the various formats. (And if you’re voyeuristic tendencies run to less happier things, Shapiro has another book called Other People’s Rejection Letters available, too!)
I have a whole scrapbook of love notes and cards between me and my beloved, much to his chagrin. (I blame the day-job, but I try not to haul them out too often.) In lieu of posting one of our love letters, however, I have another one to share. This note I found is from my mother to my father, and, knowing her, I’m sure it was tucked into one of his lunches or set on the counter for him to find at the end of long day of farming. As much as her sentiments demonstrate the love between them, the love I was fortunate to learn from about what went into a strong and committed relationship, I simply adore the paper on which it was written. That paper speaks to me about the realities of their love and how love should be shared, every day, no matter what or even how, with the ones you love. Even if it’s on bug-paper:
So on this February Monday, it’s confession time — any love letters squirreled away? Would you have shared them if Bill Shapiro had asked?