Letters. Who doesn’t love letters.
I mean, I can’t say I get many. But this year, unlike most others years, I did actually receive a few very special letters. A best friend got married and wrote me a gorgeous thank you letter that made me cry. I received letters from people (friends, family and people who I’ve met a few times from Twitter) when my first book came out. I received a letter from an old friend who moved across the world. It’s made me think: maybe I need to write more letters. And practice my hand-writing, as it’s gone dramatically downhill.
Plus: there’s nothing inspiring or romantic about refreshing our phones for messages. Waiting by the post-box? There’s something so exciting about it, still.
I know it’s not the same but I’ve started having some very unexpected email pen pals, people who don’t live near me and who I don’t know terribly well, but this has allowed us to get into a flow of long emails, confessing, sharing and advising each other in a way that’s totally honest without even pushing to meet up. It’s like receiving a letter. These are the few emails that arrive in my inbox that make me go and make a cup of tea instead of getting stressed out. There’s no deadline, or action or task – it’s just a long piece of writing with a few questions that make me think. Newsletters have made a comeback too – perhaps for that reason – and I find so much pleasure in writing mine and receiving a handful of other people’s.
I attended Letter’s Live last week. I’ve gone before and can confirm that I cried both times. It’s a combination of things: the fact that the venue is so beautiful (The Freemason’s Hall); the music (I sobbed when cellist Natalie Clien played a piece of music from 1770); and the fact that you are transported back in time by re-reading people’s memories. Listening to letters from the past being read live gives you a real sense of mortality. Other’s existed before you. People will exist after you.
So the line-up? It was incredible.
Jude Law read Frank Sinatra to Mike Royko: “You’re nothing but a pimp”. Noma Dumezwemi read Helen Keller to Dr. John Finley: “The Empire State Building”. Edith Bowman read John Peel to Matthew Bannister: “Your research department”. Charlie Heaton read Tom Hanks to George Roy Hill: “Who is this kid?” Michael Palin read Mark Forstater to Michael White: “I would like to retain ‘fart’ in your general direction”. Mariella Frostrup read Sinead O’Connor to Miley Cyrus: “They don’t care about you”. Nicholas Parsons read Roald Dahl to Elizabeth: “Try & be a Dinketysnipsy Girl”.
The lovely people at Letters Live allowed me to post this beautiful letter on my blog called “Books Are People.”
(Here’s a bit of context first…..in early-1971, in an effort to attract as many youngsters to the premises as possible, Marguerite Hart — children’s librarian at the newly-opened public library in Troy, Michigan — wrote to a number of notable people with a request: to reply with a congratulatory letter, addressed to the children of Troy, in which the benefits of visiting such a library were explained.)
Here it is…..
April 14, 1971
Dear Children of Troy:
Your librarian has asked me to write, telling you what a library can mean to you.
A library is many things. It’s a place to go, to get in out of the rain. It’s a place to go if you want to sit and think. But particularly it is a place where books live, and where you can get in touch with other people, and other thoughts, through books. If you want to find out about something, the information is in the reference books—the dictionaries, the encyclopedias, the atlases. If you like to be told a story, the library is the place to go. Books hold most of the secrets of the world, most of the thoughts that men and women have had. And when you are reading a book, you and the author are alone together—just the two of you. A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people—people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.
E. B. White
Letters Live was inspired by Shaun Usher’s international best-selling Letters of Note series and Simon Garfield’s To The Letter. I love this event so much, not only are you feeling a range of emotions being taken through history via letters, but they are read by some of the most talented people in the UK. What’s more, each show supports a charity: Ministry of Stories, First Story and Help Refugees.
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