Wednesday, April 16, 2014

To The Letter : Book Review

At the beginning of this year I saw this blog post by The Indextrious Reader about a postal reading challenge. Perfect for me since I love books and mail!

I had the perfect book to start with too! For Christmas I had received To the Letter by Simon Garfield. It's a non-fiction book and a very pleasant and interesting read. It did take me a really long time to finish it though.

Some chapters were definitely more interesting than others. I really enjoyed learning about how one addressed people of higher social status than you (and equal, and lower). It has to do with where you write their name and your name on the sheet. It was a little difficult to understand at first and I think there should have been a photograph or model showing it. I already knew some of the history of the Penny Black, the first postage stamp, but To the Letter went into it in much greater detail than what I knew. I also really enjoyed how many ideas I got for more books to read! In almost every chapter he talks about collections of letters that sound really interesting.

My favorite thing about the book: seeing a photo of a letter by Magritte written in french with a little drawing of a hot air balloon and being able to read some of it!! 
"Je rentre d'un séjour d'une semaine à la mer ... (can't make it out) et je trouve ton appel en rentrant- C'est cruel comme coïncidence, mais ni toi ni moi n'en sommes responsables."
"I return from a weeklong trip to the sea... and on returning I find your call - It's a cruel coincidence, but neither you nor I are responsible."
Here's a photo of the letter. 

My least favorite thing about the book:  Between the chapters there's a series of letters from WWII  from a couple: Chris Barker and Bessie Moore. Because of the nature of the war, Chris had to destroy a lot of Bessie's letters because he couldn't take them with him. This results in a very one sided conversation for most of our reading. It's a love story... they fall in love with one another through the mail. I just didn't really like Chris very much at all. He seemed kind of domineering... but it's hard to tell with just one side of the story. 
But who knows? Maybe the letters will be your favorite part! In fact here's a review from the Guardian that calls their letters the "most compelling part of his book". This review strangely uses the verb "pinging" a lot.

All told, I really enjoyed this book!


  1. I"m looking forward to reading this one too! Glad to see that you thought it was worth the reading time and there were some good ideas for future reading in it.

    You can post your reviews in the monthly "roundups" found by clicking on the big postcard in the sidebar on my blog...which leads you to the 'gateway' links

  2. Thanks for attracting my attencion to the challenge and this book.

  3. I read a book by this same author about the color mauve (yes, it was weird but it was also very interesting) and have this one on my list for the postal challenge. Thanks for the review!

    1. I read "Mauve" as well and found it fascinating! I like his writing style.

    2. Hi Mary! I read a little bit of a book by the same author called Just My Type- about fonts. It was also pretty cool. I went to your blog and had a great time looking around! I picked up the first Flavia de Luce book because of you!