Lost loves explored in letters
Thomas Mallon’s new book, “Yours Ever: People and their Letters,” is a sophisticated telling of several short histories, punctuated by the correspondences of those who lived them out. Though frustrating at times in the briefness of these letters, Mallon’s book provides a look into the lives of many figures in history and literature.
With a title like “People and their Letters,” it is easy to imagine a book filled with letters and not much else. In reality, however, here is a disappointing lack of letters in full. While there would be no “Yours Ever” without Mallon’s commentary, one finds the absence of complete letters dissatisfying.
Those fascinated by Japanese culture and easily bored by history would have enjoyed seeing just one of Lafcadio Hearn’s letters from Japan. It would not only have recaptured the reader’s interest in Mallon’s book by providing a wealth of information on the culture, language, and people of Japan, but would have helped to break up the monotony of the structure in which Mallon presents his histories.
Though Mallon is most certainly an expert in his field and it would be easy to simply accept the authority of his opinion, he denies his readers the opportunity to form their own thoughts and opinions by denying them full letters. Mallon’s readers miss out on the chance to appreciate the little details unique the writers mentioned as well, and because of this, “Yours Ever” proves to be an ultimately frustrating read.
On the other hand the book piques interest in authors and figures in history that some readers may not be familiar with. To those unsure of what to read next, Mallon’s book could be a great help.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ayn Rand and Flannery O’Connor are only a few of the authors whose histories are told, and the parts of their letters that are provided lend a little insight into their personalities as well as into their lives. Other interesting figures that Mallon writes about vary from the somewhat obscure—Abelard and Heloise—to very well-known figures in U.S. history like Theodore Roosevelt and Richard Nixon.
The book also provides an interesting look at communication today and how email and other forms of digital communication have almost completely replaced the art of letter writing. Though the phenomenon is obvious, it is Mallon’s pointing it out (along with the snippets of well-written letters) that has the effect of inspiring one to write a letter of their own.
In the words of Abelard’s lover, Heloise, letters “have souls; they can speak; they have in them all that force which expresses the transports of the heart; they have all the fire of our passions.” Today, they remind us of a time in which communication was more personal than a text message.
If the fascinating stories of the lives of these people are not captivating enough, then Mallon’s readers will at least be gripped by the desire to place pen to paper and form some letters of their own.
Andrea Aguirre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.