How to Read Letters Home

One of the times I talked with my sister while working on Letters Home, she said she didn’t know if she would want to read it when I was done. She wanted to read the originals. I told her she should. No one will have quite the experience I had reading all those seventy-year-old letters. Same as I got only a glimpse of what that experience was like for my grandparents, what’s in the book will give readers only a glimpse of my experience.

This is good and bad. The good is partly logistical, if I tried to mail the giant box of 269 letters to everyone who wanted to read them, the postage would be insane. Plus, I’m already feeling nervous that my Aunt’s copy of the book hasn’t arrived, yet, and have to keep reminding myself that if anything happens to the package, I can just send another. Although if reading them all had been the optimal way to experience the story, I could have transcribed the letters in full. That probably would have been quicker than reading and rereading them and deciding on appropriate passages to lift. The very few people who waded into that book would probably have enjoyed the experience, as I greatly enjoyed mine, but most people would have found it monotonous. Keep in mind he wrote her every day, and in the book some letters are dated a week apart. That monotony was a part of the story, and I tried to keep enough of that in to give us a glimpse of that too. There is a passage where he mentions the difficulty they both have of finding words to fill their letters with, which is a beautiful illustration of what, I think, is one of the themes of the book, that words are stand-ins for something else. “Just write darling and I will know that at the time you are thinking of me,” he writes in a letter on April 4, 1945.

I got a bit ahead of myself, but my practical advice for reading Letters Home is just to keep in mind the circumstances that he’s on a ship in the Pacific Ocean. These letters weren’t a supplement to other forms of communication. This was all they had connecting them. They wrote each other every day, but the letters often arrived in bunches. The letters and, later, journal entries, are all dated. Those headings will naturally vanish as you’re reading. Certain ones might stick out, like August 6, 1945, but you’ll probably move from letter to letter wanting to know what comes next, which is how we’re used to reading. Which is fine, hopefully the book has that sense of forward motion, but there was a definite stagnant quality to his and her experience that I think the letters capture. My aim was to streamline the story without losing that quality. They’re stuck in this situation and trying to make the best of it.

You could read Letters Home in an evening or over the course of a month, but the more effort you put into traveling back to 1945 and allowing your imagination to put you in the circumstances this couple is in, separated for eight months, the more you’ll get out of reading his letters to her. As a fiction writer, I feel strange adding a primer to how a book should be read, but this isn’t fiction, it’s a collection of letters, abridged from selections of those letters to make them more readable, but a lot of that work fiction writing does is left for you. I would suggest putting on some classical music, or if you’re a fan of pop music from the early 1940’s now would be the perfect time to put that quirky taste preference to good use. Imagine a young man somewhere in the hull of a ship writing these letters or imagine a young newly married woman waiting day after day for the next one to arrive while her husband is off at war.

Whatever your experience, I’d love to hear about it. If you’re comfortable posting your thoughts publicly, either here or at facebook or in the form of an Amazon or Goodreads review, that would be a great help in getting word out about the book. If you’d prefer to message me privately, that’s fine too.

Letters Home is up at Amazon, you can check out the description and sample here: http://amzn.com/B00RPV4P3A

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