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People and Their Letters

A-YoursEverRenowned novelist and literary historian Thomas Mallon intended Yours Ever to be a companion piece to his previous study of personal diaries, A Book of One’s Own (1984). His novels include Henry and Clara (1994), Dewey Defeats Truman (1996), Bandbox (2004), and Fellow Travelers ( 3.5 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2007).

The Topic: In this diverse collection of letters by authors ranging from St. Paul and Florence Nightingale to Lord Byron and President Nixon, Mallon draws attention to "the kind of considered exchange to which e-mail is now doing such chatty, hurry-up violence." Categorizing his selections into such chapters as "Love," "Complaint," and "War," he argues that the disappearing art of written correspondence is not only invaluable for its wonderful, measured language but also for its slice-of-life insights into foreign lands and bygone eras. "The small hardships of letter writing," Mallon claims, "having to think a moment longer before completing utterance; remaining in suspense while awaiting reply; having one’s urgent letters cross in the mail—are the things that enrich it, emotionally and rhetorically."
Pantheon. 352 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780679444268

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"In addition to his penchant for vibrant language, Mallon is interested in the arcs that emerge in long-term correspondences. As a result, Yours Ever is not just an appreciation of a moribund art, but a collection of often fascinating mini-biographies." Heller McAlpin

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"Mallon explicates and comments with wry humor, a daunting intellect and an impeccable prose style. A renowned historical novelist, he knows how to organize research into a pleasing form." Ariel Gonzalez

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"He will visit some favorites and neglect others, but even the reader who lies futilely in wait for Elizabeth Bowen cannot fault him: the result is by any measure a charming, discursive delight. Yours Ever is nuanced, informed, full-blooded, a vigorous literary salute." Stacy Schiff

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"It is to Mr. Mallon’s credit that he doesn’t try to [upstage the letters] and presents his book as no more than a ‘long cover letter’ to the ‘cornucopia’ of collected-letters editions listed at the back. For younger readers, for whom putting pen to paper is a quaint and vague notion, Yours Ever may also serve as a letter of introduction to the joys of letter writing." Charles Petersen

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Despite engaging in a pointless debate (Has e-mail trumped the handwritten note? Yes. Will penned missives survive our digital age? Who knows?), Yours Ever: People and Their Letters, by novelist and critic Thomas Mallon, enjoyably treats a chattier matter: why we write—recklessly, passionately, self-revealingly—to anyone at all. … Readers, whether history buffs or not, should find this book pleasingly ripe with insights into the bittersweet rewards of revealing oneself to the perfect listener: at once achingly absent, but also—for a time—so blissfully silent." Susan Comninos

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Despite sorting the letters into categories like ‘Love,’ ‘War,’ ‘Confession,’ ‘Spirit’ and ‘Prison,’ which gives a superficial impression of order and thoughtfulness, no particular writer or pair of writers gets longer than a six-page treatment, and there’s no explanation of why a particular set of letters landed in a particular chapter. … On the other hand, Mallon’s essay on Wilfred Owen is dazzlingly beautiful. And that, too, was a matter of pure editorial choice." Carolyn See

Critical Summary

When Mallon began this book in the early 1990s, he could not have foreseen the detrimental effect technology would have on his subject, and his inspired selections, perceptive explanations, and fascinating asides left critics feeling rather nostalgic for this moribund, if celebrated, art. Straightforward and sensible, Mallon resists the temptation to psychoanalyze these writers, preferring instead to let them speak eloquently for themselves—although critics agreed that his own prose is every bit as moving. The only complaints arose from Mallon’s lack of chronological or geographical organization, but no critic was too concerned about it. In Yours Ever, Mallon takes readers on "a virtual tour of the human condition" (New York Times Book Review), reminding us all of the power and importance of the humble letter.