Books and Letters

Posted on 1 July 2010 Thursday

I’m really struggling these days with thoughts of how much technology is too much? How much should we still be able to do without relying on technology? I suppose my thoughts about letters and postcards is part of this contemplation. I wonder how future generations will manage their correspondence? Right now, I think that if we can manage to teach our children to maintain any sort of written communication beyond texting with aunts, grandparents and friends then I think we’ve accomplished a lot. I wonder how much an email can replace the handwritten, the scented, carefully folded and to your door step letter?

Several books exemplify the importance of written correspondence. Prison of Love” (Cárcel de amor) (c.1485) by Diego de San Pedro is probably the first known book based on letter writing, that which has become known as epistolary novels. The most well know contemporary fiction which uses letters to move the story along is the Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. In it, Walker uses the letters between Celie and Nettie to add layers and depth to her fiction.
Zora Neale Hurston’s biography is told through her letters in Zora Neale Hurston: A life in letters.

Even more recent is Kalisha Buckhanon’s Upstate which is told entirely as letters written between two young lovers. We learn why Antonio has gone to prison for a murder he really didn’t commit and we see Natasha outgrow her love for him. Think about the skill it takes to limit yourself to composing an entire novel in such a format.
When Washington Was in Vogue is an epistolary novel by Edward Christopher Williams about the racial complexities of post WWII Harlem. Not a YA book, but a piece of literature important to the history of librarianship.

There’s that letter scene in Secret Keeper when the letter arrives from the States and the postcards the girls send home in Mare’s War by Tanita Davis.

In these books, letters are more than white noise: they’re devices that bring another layer of understanding or transcend physical or time borders, kinda like they do in real life.