Review by Anouschka van Leeuwen
In her previous book, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, Nina Sankovitch took the reader along on her year-long project of reading one book a day, explaining what emotions the books triggered and how they related to her own life. Signed, Sealed, Delivered has the same spirit: this book is again a personal tale. After the discovery of an old box of letters, Sankovitch is inspired to look for the significance of written correspondence. Her findings result in a book, that like its predecessor, mixes the genres of non-fiction and memoir. Unfortunately, I found both of these aspects a bit disappointing.
Concerning the author’s personal reflections, I found that the initial story of the discovery of the old letters was a nice introduction to the book’s subject. However, after a while the author’s sentiments became a bit irksome to me. For example, Sankovitch often expresses how she wishes that her children will write to her once they leave for college so that she will have a memento of their love for her. Although touching, after a few times these motherly sentiments started to become repetitive and did not have any added value to the main subject of the book.
At times, I found that this melodramatic tone made me wish that Sankovitch had tried to approach the subject from a more theoretical perspective, which brings me to my second concern. When I started the book, I had expected something along the lines of an essay explaining the appeal of letter writing. Instead, the majority of the book consists of examples of both famous and non-famous letter writers and receivers.
This is not to say that the book was not entertaining. On the contrary: the example stories are often compelling and sometimes even taught me a thing or two (like the history of Heloise and Abelard and how letter writing played a role in their lives). Still, I felt like the author missed out on the opportunity to delve deeper into the psychological aspects of written correspondence, especially in this digital age. Each chapter centers around a particular function that letters may fulfill, and in between the stories, Sankovitch sometimes drops a line that summarizes the effects that reading or writing a letter can have. I think I would have liked it better if these reflective parts had taken up more space in the book.
To summarize, I have mixed feelings about this book. Being an avid letter writer myself, I have enjoyed the numerous tales that illustrate the appeal of letters. On the other hand, readers who are expecting a philosophical or psychological account of letter writing should realize that Signed, Sealed, Delivered is not intended as such. Instead, it should be seen as a compilation of the most romantic or otherwise touching stories in the history of the handwritten letter.
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No ebook available for Signed, Sealed, Delivered, but there is one of her earlier book: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair.