My Rating: ★★★★☆
In his 17 September 1819 letter to George and Georgiana Keats, John Keats wrote:”All clean and comfortable, I sit down to write.” This simple short phrase, from one of the greatest and most prolific letter writers the world has seen, tells you how the English poet cherished the activity of writing letters to his friends and relatives, that putting pen to paper was for him a sacred activity, a worship. Now 200 years ahead of Keats’s time, we find so many educated people among us admitting that they have almost forgotten how to write in longhand. We press buttons to communicate; emails, tweets and short messages are our means of non-vocal communication. Karen Benke’s Write Back Soon! Adventures in Letter Writing is for those who still feels a pang of grief for this gradually increasing lack of penmanship among us. It is for those who enjoy writing by hand.
Write Back Soon! is a collection of letter-writing ideas with many chapters of the book containing a “post-card sized prompt” that would nudge you to start writing with a pen and paper again. The immediate effect of such an activity on our minds will be in slowing down the frenzied pace of life, for it would compel us to sit calmly in a quiet corner, to ruminate or meditate for a few minutes. It will also help us to feel the physiological changes that come with writing by hand — “engagement of motor skills and calming of nerves”. It will make us aware of the written word and collect tactile experiences and memories that will stay with us for as long as we live.
To provide those letter-writing ideas, Karen Benke gives the readers many snippets from her own life’s experiences that prompted her or her near ones to write letters. She also cites examples from the letters and works of established authors and poets, past and present, and invites some contemporary writers to make an appeal, scribbled in the form of short letters, to the readers of her book to start writing. This makes the book a bit too long and if you want to go through it in one sitting, it may appear to be somewhat dull and monotonous after some time. So, it is more of a book that you would want to keep on your shelf and go back to it from time to time, read a chapter or two for inspiration and enjoyment. It may not be the most enjoyable book if you attempt to read it from cover to cover.
The nicely illustrated Write Back Soon! is also quite a collection of tidbits of information related to letter-writing and mailing of letters. You will find in it a list of things that can be sent by mail in the USA, how and where paper was first discovered, information about Letter Writers Alliance, different types of pen, paper and writing materials (even a recipe for preparing homemade invisible ink!), unconventional writing instruments, how to make your own envelopes, a list of epistolary novels, why you find the French phrase PAR AVION inscribed on letters sent by air mail, and a long list of adjectives you may use in your letters!
What this reviewer missed in the book are stories and anecdotes related to the great letter writers of the past, especially those who have written in English, as well as citations and extracts from their letters. There has been no dearth of great letter writers in human history, many of them have been great writers and poets, and incorporating a few examples from their letters would have rendered a touch of sublimity to Karen Benke’s earnest and commendable attempt to bring back in her readers a genuine love of penmanship.
[Write Back Soon!: Adventures in Letter Writing; Karen Benke; Roost Books; Boston & London; 2015]