02 August 2011

Postcard-writing and the New York Review of Books

My friend Arijit alerted me to a lovely post from the New York Review of Books blog, titled "The Lost Art of Postcard Writing." Key quote:
Unlike letter writing, there never has been, and there never could be, an anthology of the best of postcard writing, because when people collect postcards, it’s usually for reasons other than their literary qualities. If there was such a book, I’m sure it would contain hundreds of anonymous masterpieces of this minimalist art, since unlike letters, cards require a verbal concision that can rise to high level of eloquence: brief and heart-breaking glimpses into someone’s existence, in addition to countless amusing and well-told anecdotes.
There's something about the last paragraph, though, that I find a bit off-putting:  
So, dear reader, if you happen, on your daily rounds, to come across in a coffee shop or a restaurant some poor soul sitting alone over a postcard and visibly struggling with what to write, take pity on him or her. They are the last of a species, and are almost certainly middle aged or elderly, already nervous and worried about all the problems older people face in this country.
That generalization that people who write postcards are, in some nebulous-but-important sense Older--well, it's probably correct. Almost certainly. And yet there's also something so reductive about that artfully-drawn scene and its insistence on corralling the postcard-writers into some dusty museum display of a bygone era, as though to write a postcard is to put down one's shuffleboard stick and scribble some comments about how Truman sure was a good president, gee whiz, before pushing the walker down the hall to the activity room for the 2pm ragtime sing-along. 

Come on. Don't consign the very act of postcard-writing to the nursing home for lost-cause, nearly-dead communication, along with Morse code and the Pony Express. Don't take pity on postcard writers. To ask for pity, to claim that this is the domain of only the "problem"-ridden "older people"--this isn't going to do much to make anyone else want to write postcards, either. Lament the decline, sure, but spare me the eulogies. 

We may be a dwindling--note that I did not say "dying"--species at the moment, but if my own mailbox is any indication, us postcard-writers still have plenty of life, plenty of stories.  


  1. we at postcrossing have just celebrated 8 million received postcards in 6 years :)

    certainly not a dying hobby as far as we're concerned, not one confined to the old age. i'd say most of our members are in their twenties, and there are a lot of school children re-discovering the joy of receiving postcards.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Ana! I'll have to mention Postcrossing in future post. It's a cool idea, and I like how it adds a new twist to postcard-writing.

  3. We all love to get real mail and I am going to write postcards even from the grave. I must figure out how to do this.


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