David's Reviews > Yours Ever: People and Their Letters

Yours Ever by Thomas Mallon
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Jan 19, 10

bookshelves: read-in-2009, disappointing
Read in December, 2009

Thomas Mallon's previous book about people and their diaries ("A Book of One's Own") was extraordinary - it set the standard by which any other books on the topic should be judged. It didn't seem possible for his subsequent book on plagiarism ("Stolen Words") to reach the same level of excellence, but it did.

It's perhaps not altogether surprising that this latest book didn't match the brilliance of the earlier two (if nothing else, the statistical phenomenon of regression toward the mean would be expected to take effect at some point). It's not that this is a bad book - it's just not particularly interesting. Mallon appears to have dragged out the writing over a period of 15 years, which conveys the definite impression that he just lost interest. It's unclear why he would think the reader's reaction would be any different. In fact, the lukewarm nature of his introduction (to his own book ) suggests that he knows that the book fails to reach his earlier standards.

The book's content is roughly one third direct quotation from various letters, flanked by Mallon's introduction and commentary. The 300 or so pages of text are divided into nine thematic groupings: Absence, Friendship, Advice, Complaint, Love, Spirit, Confession, War, and Prison.

In general, the book would have benefitted had Mallon opted for more extensive quotation from fewer correspondents. Many of the people from whose letters he quotes are just not all that interesting, and his bridging text does not make it adequately clear why they have been chosen for inclusion. The inevitable result is that the reader is left wishing that the witless had been sacrificed to make room for more material from those with genuine wit and insight.

I find it hard to summon up more than two stars. An infinitely better book is the collection edited by Andrew Carroll, "Letters of a Nation", published in 1997. It's interesting to note that this is the year that Mallon had targeted for initial publication of this book. He just plain missed the boat.
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message 1: by Paul (new)

Paul I'm a fan of A Book of One's Own already..... hadn't heard of Stolen Words. Will slap that one on my list.


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