Monday, February 13, 2012

the written letter

I wouldn't say I long to sit down and write a letter. I wouldn't even say I want to revert back to using the written letter over email (but there is something about a letter, maybe I'm warming up to the idea).

I will say, I have a small fascination with reading other people's private notes.

I just finished a book called "Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda", which is a compilation of love letters between F.Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda Fitzgerald. Everything from their high times of success and parties in Paris, just after finishing 'The Great Gatsby' to the very low times when she was committed to a mental institution while he struggled with alcohol.

It was surreal to read the last anxious letter Scott wrote before he died of a heart attack, and then flip back to the beginning and find a flirting eighteen year old Zelda. This is their whole life, in this book. And because they never dreamed someone would take their intimate letters, study them, chronicle them, bind them and publish them - the letters are often the mundane parts of their lives. Which makes it all feel so very real and so honest. Not like the way we see everyday life scripted into thrilling for reality TV. And not like the way we think through and filter and 'present' our thoughts on facebook and in blogs.

I finished that book and didn't want to stop stalking people's correspondence - thank God for the internet - I found this little gem: Letters of Note.  Everyday this site posts a letter from someone famous - every. day. (hallelujah)  

I love this letter where hollywood producer David Selznick begs the Hays Office (who regulated what was passable to say in movies) to allow the word "Damn" in the classic line "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." - thank you letter writing, we almost didn't have Rhett Butler at his finest!

And this letter gave me chills. I have always considered Slaughterhouse-Five to be one of my favorite books, and while I knew it was based off of an experience Kurt Vonnegut had as a POW - I didn't know it. Reading his letter home was so haunting. Hearing how frank he was with horrifying details makes me thankful for people like him - who have the courage to share like that, because he went on to use that experience to write. and write. and write.

must go now - peering into to people's private affairs won't happen on it's own - there's much to read


  1. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?! I'm off to neglect my husband and dogs while I comb through the archives of this website -- I love it. People are so fascinating, especially in the written word. Thanks for sharing this :)

  2. I must concur about Slaughterhouse Five being a personal favorite. But after reading that letter from Kurt to his people... wow. I have even more respect for the man than ever before. How anyone could survive such an ordeal and go on to accomplish anything more than sitting in a dark corner of their basement drinking Jack Daniels and chain smoking is beyond me. Thanks for posting.

    1. Tim I know what you mean. I was so haunted by that letter. I just kept thinking of what it must have felt like to type that out once he reached safety - and how his family must have felt to finally hear he's alive but then read such a harrowing account. I will have a new lens through which to view his work from now on, that's for sure. (And I'm totally addicted to this website!)