Oh, books. No matter how much time I spend reading online or how often my dad extolls the virtues of his Kindle, I don't think I'll ever fall out of love with real books. Especially not when they're as beautiful as this one.
When the publisher contacted me a few weeks ago to ask if I'd like to review Snail Mail by Michelle Mackintosh, I did have a small moment of doubt. The sad truth is, I'm not great at sending letters. If and when I do, they're more like printed emails - typed, because my 70wpm can keep up with the babbling and blethering in my brain far more efficiently than handwriting can, and rarely on anything other than plain white paper. But, once the book arrived, all my initial concerns quickly vanished. While the author explores the beauty of handwritten letters, and even includes tips on practising and learning to love your own hand, she also includes sections on typewritten and printed letters, plus - the very best part - ways to make them look more beautiful, even if you start out with a sheet of plain white copier paper.
As well as plenty of ideas for presentation, the book also includes advice on how to write different types of letters, from the joyful, such as love letters and celebrations, to much trickier notes of sympathy or consolation. I especially loved the idea of adding a few thoughtful details to the latter, things like pressed flowers, or seeds to signify hope. At a time when words are too hard or somehow feel inadequate, putting your love and care into a piece of mail seems like a simple but meaningful way of offering real comfort to the recipient.
That it covers both serious and more frivolous options - envelopes with faces! Text-speak/snail-mail translations! - equally effectively is testament to how well the book is put together, and to the strength of the idea behind it. Handwritten letters from well-known figures including Oscar Wilde and Robert Browning are fascinating to read, as are the stories of penfriends and their correspondence, but I also loved finding some of my favourite song lyrics quoted as inspiration for a love-letter. Silly, but a happy detail.
There are plenty of examples of beautifully-decorated envelopes and packages spread throughout the book, as well as lots of fancy stationery to . . . well obviously, look at in a professional and detached manner, without any deep wishful sighing involved. The visuals are every bit as good as the content, and clearly (wonderfully) influenced by Michelle's love of Japanese culture. It's rare to find a book where the balance works so well, but I know I'm going to use it for reference just as much as I browse through it for visual inspiration.
Remember back at the start when I mentioned not being much of a letter-writer? What the book has also helped me realise is that there's more to snail mail than sending lengthy pieces of handwritten correspondence. While letters of that kind are wonderful, anything you send through the mail to a friend or family member is, or at least can be, special. I rarely post a birthday card without drawing something on the envelope, or mail a parcel where the address label isn't fixed in place with patterned tape, and I'm freshly inspired to take the idea just a little bit further from now on.
NB. I was sent a review copy of Snail Mail by the publisher, but all words and opinions are my own.