It seems only fitting that as I sit to write this August's Book About Letters review I have returned from the postbox. Today I had the occasion to write a birthday card, a sympathy note, and a letter to my grandparents -- three very distinct and different employments of the handwritten letter, each of which Lynne Kolz covers in her "Please Write: Finding Joy and Meaning in the Soulful Art of Handwritten Letters" (2023). Thank you to Lynne for gifting the book to me for this month's post.
Readers familiar with the format of the Books About Letters post will know that the first (and only question!) which qualifies a book for review is: Is this a book about letters? And folks, I am pleased to report that Kolze's "Please Write" is one of the most complete and well developed literal books about letters. Just when you think Kolze has covered every aspect of letters from love letters to legacy letters to post marks to gnome pen pals she's able to conjure in her lovely way a whole next chapter that will sweep you along in delight.
Perhaps the best feature of Kolze's book is that it inspires exactly what it praises: writing letters. Her fervor for the handwritten letter is best captured early in the pages with her line:
"We can choose to give those we love the irreplaceable gift that a letter is and, in the process, feel how wonderful it is to give our time and attention to someone else, to focus deeply on that person as we write, and to feel a deep gratitude for their impact on our lives." (14)
In Kolze's anecdotes revolving around family, friends, grocery store clerks and hairdressers you can feel her passion for the handwritten letter in every carefully chosen word of this book.
Kolze captures what it is to be a letter writer and a fan of receiving a note through the letter box. There's something for every one in this book and Kolze's writing style is crafted and makes for easy company to pass an afternoon. You can tell a practiced letter writer writer a mile away for their storytelling and pacing. From chapters on what to include in a letter -- from poetry to doodles -- to tender personal stories of love and grief dotting the pages there is something in Kolze's "Please Write" that evokes and remains in the readers mindset long after they've closed the pages.
Letters to Family & Friends:
I came to letter writing myself during the COVID-19 Pandemic but my earliest memories of letter writing were as a kid, when my grandmother would put a greeting card in front of me and make sure I wrote 'Thank You' notes for any gift that came into my possession in her orbit. Kolze painted almost the exact scene in her chapter on gratitude and it made me smile to remember.
In 2023 I began writing to my grandparents in America from my home in Dublin, Ireland. During the lockdowns we had taken to weekly video calls which brought us closer than ever but now that time has picked up the digital tether is not as strong, I feel, as a handwritten letter. For years they sent me birthday cards and 'just because' gifts in the post -- one year during lockdown they even sent thirty 'snowballs' (pompoms) in the mail so that my husband and I could have a white Christmas -- that now it is my turn to return the favor.
I began writing my nieces and nephew during lockdowns, sending an occasionally over the top be-stickered and themed letter with questions about school and the summer holidays. My niece has begun corresponding back with me and I treasure those letters which I will keep for her and return some day so she can see her careful, slanting penmanship and know what joy her letters bring me.
As I have had occasion to meet some of the 88 pen pals I corresponded with during the long lockdowns, I am partial to pen friends and the lure of the experience. Kolze covers the phenomena of pen paling back to the history of the hobby -- a feature in many chapters where she weaves the history of an aspect of letter writing or post cards or even the origin of paper and pen! -- and made me smile to think of the way letters have saved and shaped so much of my life for almost a decade.
'I must close...'
I think it's quite clear that "Please Write" is a must-have for the letter lovers bookshelf. This beautiful, heartfelt ode is Kolze's legacy letter to the simple joy of letter writing. I thank her for writing this book and for sharing a copy with me which I will treasure.
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