I received a letter recently from a man in Texas who said he enjoyed reading For the Love of Letters very much and then he threw it away.
He wrote, “My fear is that if I place it proudly amongst my other books a child interested in starting a pen pal relationship will find it and be defiled. . .explaining the finer points of copulation is not something I will allow this book to require of me. So as this copy sadly goes into the trash bin would you consider editing the offending sections of your book?”
Mr. Lone Star State, I take no offense at your getting rid of the book if that’s what you feel the need to do, and I’m sorry that the material caught you off guard. The book’s original subtitle was “A 21st-Century Guide to the Art of Letter Writing from the Elegant to the Erotic.” I didn’t want the fact that there’s suggestive material inside to be a secret at all.
When it came time to publish, however, the marketing team wanted to remove the word “erotic” from the title so they could sell the book in gift stores like Papyrus and Kate’s Paperie. I said, “That’s all well and good but the material itself will still be there. What happens if someone buys this for grandma?”
The compromise was to the put the words “The Essentials of Letter Writing–from the Elegant to the Erotic” on the back cover. But who looks at the back cover? I knew the situation described by my friend above would be inevitable.
As far as removing the offending sections of my book–I have no intention of doing that. First of all, I can’t. Maybe Stephen King can call a publisher, tell them to remove a chapter and then reprint the book, but I cannot. Also, while I wish there were a warning on the book’s front cover, I intentionally included sexual material and I don’t take it back. My own writing aside, the James Joyce letters were an amazing find.
Part of my interest in letter writing is my interest in the history of human experience. To read a letter written hundreds or thousands of years ago and be able to identify with what’s being said is extraordinary. Since sex has been part of the human agenda as long as breathing has, it’s an important aspect of our being. I also believe letters can capture and enhance the present day human understanding—sexual adventures obviously included.
At the end of the letter, Mr. Texas went back to saying what he liked about the book. He wrote, “I especially appreciate your explanation of your name’s pronunciation,” and he added a Bible verse: Proverbs 22:1. I was afraid to look up the verse—fearing it would tell me I’m going to Hell. Quite the opposite as it turned out. It’s a lovely verse to conclude a lovely letter. This is solid evidence that people can be polite and civil even when they disagree.
“A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” ~ Proverbs 22:1