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Continued: For the love of letters

  • Article by: PAMELA HUEY , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 5, 2007 - 5:32 PM

"You can curl up in a chair, and there's a sort of peacefulness about it when you're not using technology except a pen," said Riedinger, who keeps packets of the letters she receives tied with fancy ribbons and stored in a basket.

The two caution that "Lex" is intended only for the exchange of correspondence, and it's not a place for singles to meet. But occasionally people do meet through the letters and very rarely, Lex pen pals fall in love and get married.

One thing is clear. Lexers are passionate about letters.

"Yes, a lot has been lost of our culture today," Ron Michaelson wrote to the Letter Exchange newsletter.

"The small family farm is gone, the intact family is nearly gone, and parents can't even discipline their own kids anymore. But we can, at least, write letters. ... We write letters not from necessity, but out of a love of writing with ink and paper."

Soldiers still like letters

Postal carrier John Prochazka of Brooklyn Park, who has been delivering mail in the Twin Cities since 1979, said he's seen the number of letters dwindle over the years. People still send postcards and greeting cards -- particularly at Christmas and Mother's Day -- but they're not writing letters like they used to.

"Bulk-rate mail is the bulk of our business," he said recently as he delivered mail on his Edina route.

However, one kind of letter prevails -- the letter from soldiers. Prochazka sees a lot of mail to and from Iraq.

"They [soldiers] get e-mails all the time, but nothing beats a personal letter," he said.

Author Beryl Singleton Bissell, who writes a monthly column for the Cook County News Herald on Minnesota's North Shore, is a big fan of letters -- with a caveat. She has merged the traditional style with the new technology, sending her letters via e-mail.

"I know that is not considered a letter," she said in a recent phone interview. "But they are letters; I write 'Dear so and so.'"

The e-mail debate

While snail mail clearly has passionate advocates (probably most of them over 35), e-mail has become an integral part of the lives of just about anyone with a computer.

(To the dismay of some Lexers, other Lexers want responses by e-mail.)

Gil Rodman, an associate professor of communications at the University of Minnesota, is an e-mail convert. Electronic mail and instant messaging has allowed more people to routinely communicate through the written word than ever before.

"Before I first went online in 1994, I used to be a big letter writer myself," he wrote (in an e-mail). "But I certainly never produced (and probably couldn't have, even if I wanted to) the same volume of correspondence by hand in those days that I produce in e-mail form on a daily basis today."

Rodman also points out that handwritten or typewritten letters on paper are fragile and can easily be destroyed in a fire or basement flood.

  • SOME PITHY THOUGHTS ON THE LETTER

    "A letter is a joy of Earth -- It is denied the Gods."

    Emily Dickinson

    • • •

    "Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company."

    Lord Byron

    • • •

    "A pleasant letter I hold to be the pleasantest thing that this world has to give."

    Anthony Trollope

    • • •

    "In a letter to a friend, the thought is often unimportant, and the feeling, if it be only a desire to entertain him, everything."

    Sir Walter Raleigh

    • • •

    "Letters are above all useful as a means of expressing the ideal self."

    Elizabeth Hardwick

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