An Invitation to Danger and Daring: The Act and Art of Letter Writing and the Month of Letters

            It is a Dangerous and Daring Act to write a letter. I know this because I have been reading The Dangerous Book for Boys and its afterthought, The Daring Book for Girls,* and both treat means of properly engaging in this risky pastime. The boys’ book cuts right to the chase regarding the perils of committing one’s thoughts to a writing surface, warning that “The problem with hiding a message in the lining of a coat or tattooed on a scalp is that anyone can read it. It makes a lot of sense to practice ‘cryptography’” (p. 64). The dangers of letter-writing are also emphasized in the section on “Secret Inks” (page 149 tells us that “Secret inks allow you to send confidential information by mail,” after we are informed that “Milk, lemon juice, egg white and, yes, urine will work as a secret ink”). There are also instructions for “Grinding an Italic Nib” and improving one’s “Grammar” (three sections!).

            For inexplicable reasons, it is left to girls to brave the perils of conventional letter-writing, of daring to expose themselves by writing what can be read by anyone,** and to them the secrets of letter-writing are directly imparted. The Daring Book spells out how to compose a thank-you letter and lays out the essential facets of personal letters. In other sections it provides a “History of Writing” and a sampling of “Abigail Adams’ Letters with John Adams,” and while it sadly lacks a discussion of ink of any kind, it does explain how to “Make Your Own Quill Pen” — an endeavour so fraught with peril that parental supervision is required.

            Now that you have been duly advised, I invite you to join me in participating in this year’s Month of Letters. The basic challenge is simple: send one piece of mail every day the post runs. What with Sundays and holidays, that comes to a mere twenty-three pieces of mail. Now is the time to send out all the thank-you notes you owe, the letter that will make your mother so happy, the protest to the newspaper, the postcards to your siblings from places you’ve never been. And if you have all those bases covered already, there are plenty of people in the MoL community who are looking for pen-pals. The challenge is on; screw your courage to the sticking point, buy some stamps, pick up a pen, be dangerous and daring — write a letter.

 

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* Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden, The Dangerous Book for Boys (New York: Collins, 2006); Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz, The Daring Book for Girls, (New York: Collins, 2007). The gender divisions are ridiculous. There is nothing in either book that shouldn’t interest all children.

 

** Ruth Calderon, in her book A Bride for One Night (The Jewish Publication Society; Philadelphia: 2014, p. 156, n. 10), notes that “Yochanan Muffs teaches that all conversations require the courage to reveal oneself to another. … ‘One who attempts to communicate with another endangers his own life, for to do this, he must reveal what is in his own heart. …There is always the possibility that the ear of the listener will be impervious. Any real communication, then, is a dangerous leap’ (The Personhood of God [Woodstock VT: Jewish Lights, 2005], 16).”