Yours Ever: People and their Letters / Thomas Mallon
New York: Vintage, c2009.
I have owned this book for a couple of years now, bought in part, I admit, because of the beautiful cover. Beautiful to me, as I have a few similar stacks of letters tucked away in boxes. I loved reading Mallon's first book on people and their diaries, and knew I'd love this one too. Finally I've made my way through it, bit by bit, savoring the short sections that jump from one letter writer to another, loosely organized by themes like "Absence" or "Love" or "Advice". He admits that some selections could fit in various spots but has chosen just one in each case.
This made for an enjoyable read. There are excerpts from politicians like Churchill or Lincoln, opposites when it came to verbosity. There are letters from parents to children, like F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter (his advice: “Just do everything we didn’t do and you will be perfectly safe.”)
There are letters to and from famous people, and serious letters between obscure people who led private lives, containing details that would never make them famous but are still moving to read now. Letters to and from lovers, business partners, relatives, and more.
Mallon includes some postal history in his telling, mostly to revel in how habits of correspondence reveal civilized society. It is fascinating but not extensive, trusting that interested readers will already know and feel much the same things. I found the structure very appealing, feeling like a scrapbook of stories, small sections that you could read then put down the book, picking it up again at the next available moment for a new tale. This suited my meandering reading style as I made my way through this book in between other reading, and between letters that I was inspired to write myself as I read some of these gems.
There is also a dangerously extensive bibliography at the end, destined to lead to some growth of my To Read list, I am sure. This was an entertaining read with enough of Mallon's own interspersed comments to keep things lively. It's best to read by starts and stops though, as too much at once causes the reading to lose its savour as the epistolary impulse becomes satiated. Inspiring, instructive, a bit nostalgic... all in all a satisfying collection.