I run a stationery company, so it should come as no surprise that I love handwritten letters. I loved writing to friends in my childhood and teens – even the dreaded post-birthday thank you notes.
But somewhere along the line, between the advent of email, a bigger workload (first at school, then uni, then work and now a business) and a swag of other grown-up activities, I admit my letter-writing habit has slipped off the radar.
I’ve been conscious of wanting to change that, so when I spotted Kind Regards: The Lost Art of Letter-Writing in one of my fave local gift shops, I was instantly intrigued. Could reading this book inspire me to pick up the pen again?
I certainly hoped so.
Part One: From paper to post
The first of three sections outlines the history of letter writing, from the fourth century BC through to pigeon post and couriers to the invention of the postal system and postage stamps. It gives some good advice about preserving letters (I never knew it was a bad idea to store them alongside newspaper clippings) and even a recipe for making scented ink if you are so inclined.
It was a comprehensive and interesting introduction, if a little fact-heavy.
Part Two: Letterquette
The second section was more practical and explains different types of letters and the formats and conventions of each. Particularly useful is the sample letters for tricky correspondence such as those for condolence, sacking or resignation.
The author provides wisdom such as ‘Write to express not to impress’ and ‘Never write a letter when angry’. She also makes a case for why the thank you letter is so important, which left me nodding in agreement.
She explains that letters may have gone out of fashion but they have not lost their impact. I would argue that they have more impact since they are so rare.
Part Three: What we can learn from letters
While not as useful as the etiquette advice, I found the final chapter to be the most interesting and poignant.
It included fascinating letters from Samuel Pepys describing the Great Plague and an open letter to a Nazi. There were telling excerpts from Marie Curie recommending a promising young scientist called Einstein and a letter to Emperor Trajan warning of a wretched little cult called Christianity.
Kind Regards was well laid out and contained many interesting facts, but at times it felt like just that: facts. It read more like one long Wikipedia entry rather than a lighthearted book by a single author.
The dust jacket tells us that Liz Williams is a lifelong keen letter-writer, yet sadly none of this passion – or even personality – came through, which is a real shame. The ‘soul’ of the book came from the many fascinating excerpts of letters and from direct quotes.
The etiquette chapter would be particularly practical and useful for anyone who’s ever struggled to set out a letter or express themselves in writing.
It was an interesting – if a bit dry – read. But ultimately it didn’t particularly inspire me to rush and take out my letter-writing set.
Buy this book if you:
- Love writing and receiving letters.
- Love the romanticised notion of letter-writing.
- Are confused by different letter types and how to set out and write each of them correctly.
- Love quotes by famous people.
- Enjoy interesting historical facts.
- Want to grasp what we have lost in this digital age.
This book may not be for you if you:
- Are looking for a humorous read.
- Want in-depth advice on how to find your own writing style.
Have you read Kind Regards? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!