Following on from yesterday’s post about my own personal letters, we’ll move onto published letters. I think the topic has come up here before, and Karen has definitely discussed it, but I had a slightly different angle on the matter today.
I tend to read letters when I’m, um, otherwise occupied – useful to have something to peruse in snatches, where the thread won’t be lost if five minute bursts are the only opportunity nature affords – and have recently finished Dear Friend & Gardener by Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd. This is two years of exchanged letters, covering a few topics but almost always gardens and gardening. The scenario is a little unlike most collections of letters, in that these friends appear to have been approached by a publisher before the two years exchange began: this is from the last letter –
I suppose this’ll be my last letter of the year, which means of the series, but it does not mean that we shall stop writing to or telephoning each other. Just that was shall no longer be going public. I don’t think that has inhibited us much. The main difference, from a totally private letter, is the extra explanatory matter that is necessary, as, in this letter, ‘the autumn-flowering Crocus speciosus’. Obviously ‘autumn-flowering’ would be omitted in a wholly private letter, as we both know this perfectly well. Apart from that, perhaps the odd indiscertion had to be forgone, but nothing much.
Quite. I know absolutely nothing about gardening. As I read the letters, I got the feeling I was one of the people Beth and Christopher would most pity – someone who likes seeing gardens, but is content to remain in total ignorance as to how and why it looks like it does. These letters are littered with Latin plant names, and at one point Beth professes quite sweet astonishment that the public might not know them all. For subject matter, I couldn’t grasp this book – I read on because of the friendship and the passion these two writers exchanged. Dear Friend & Gardener is a small window on a practice I know nothing about, but also a thriving love of gardening that is both alien and captivating to me.
Have you ever read a book about something about which you knew nothing, only to be enthralled by the writer’s passion? A biography, perhaps, or letters or just regular non-fiction. I’ve never picked up non-fiction before unless I was confident I’d be interested in the topic, but in this genre – like any other – good writing can be read for itself, and spark an unknown interest.
The next collection of letters I’ve started is Letters to a Friend: The Spiritual Autobiography of a Distinguished Writer by Rose Macaulay. The ‘Friend’ in question is a Catholic priest in America, whose guidance and wisdom helped Macaulay rediscover her faith. Only Macaulay’s side of the correspondance is published, but so far it is proving witty, touching and interesting. And has a beautiful cover…