End Of A Genre In Literature

One of my favourite pastimes is to snuggle up to a book on a Sunday afternoon. After a late lunch, typical of Sundays, I lie down in a comfortable place and go through magazines, newspaper articles that my wife had found interesting and, of course, books. I have a vast range of topics – current affairs, historical, physics & mathematics, philosophy, religious books and novels / story books. Nowadays, I indulge in this pastime lesser than what I used to – reading up blogs instead.

But, it is not about reading habits I wanted to write, but about writing habits…

My Newsweek copies

Today, I was catching up with my eBook copy of Newsweek from last few weeks. Yes, outside of North America, Newsweek had decided that they would only circulate electronically.


As I had noted in an earlier blog, the tablet era has assured in a new digital engagement platform. This is definitely creating a lower cost in distribution and a personal reach of unprecedented scale across continents! The user experience is fabulous if you are not one who is fussy about wanting to smell, hold and turn paper. What’s more – that is a lot of trees saved for the planet too!

But I am digressing again. This post is not about Newsweek’s Digital initiative; it is about an article I read in the magazine…

Yours Ever, Plum

The article in question, bearing the above title, was a book review (at-least, it started as one and digressed more into the object of the book). The review was about a book called “P.G.Wodehouse: A Life In Letters”. Good pun, I should say!


As a person who has a fascination for PG’s works – having a huge collection of Omnibus editions & soft-cover editions, including his early works – I was curious to check out about this new book. The article, except for revealing a bit on the rich footnotes in the book, careened away into a biographical sketch. PG, as a subject, is without a doubt an interesting personality – when you consider his war-time travails, life in exile and the final knighthood from his mother-country which for most part of his later life refused to forgive him for “collaborating with the Nazis”

These letters, I am sure are going to have his humour apart from being a source of valuable information about his life and times.

A Lifetime Of Reading Other’s Letters

When I look back on my childhood, I recall reading letters from great people as part of school work. There were few from Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India to his daughter Indira Priyadarshini (who later on became a Prime Minister of India too). I think there were a few others too – notably those from Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda, the great monk. These were typically advisory in nature and reading these letters were considered character building!


I have also read a few letters that were bibliographical references for some historical research – The Autobiography of Field Marshal Lord Roberts (read it in the context of India’s First War Of Independence, 1857 and the Boer Wars – turn of 20th Century), letters of Governors & Viceroys in the book by the late Prime Minister of India PV Narasimha Rao on one of India’s long-running religious feud and a few on the happenings between India and Pakistan based on what happened in the Indian state of Kashmir between 1947 to 1948.

Of course, we also hear about auctions where whether scandalous or saintly, these old letters seem to fetch a fortune to the estate of a deceased great or famous or notorious.

But, alas! This letter-writing business has undergone a lot of change.

Communications Today

I am no Nehru or Gandhi but a parent nevertheless; and one that has grown up communicating through letters with my parents when I first left home and moved to another city. My sons would definitely “unfriend” me if I get too preachy – but I still run it as close as possible. One can’t say that my inputs are character building – tips and tricks, at best. Who knows, a future generation could benefit from this too!

But where would a historian find my communications to my son? A few mails, if they would know my mail accounts and are able to get their passwords – and they continue to exist beyond a certain years of being functional. A slew of text messages, messages on WhatsApp and a variety of chat engines – from Facebook to Yahoo!.

The biggest problems are finding my various accounts, being able to log in and/or accessing the archives!

The Newsweek article notes in a paragraph: …One mourns the almost certain extinction of the genre. Future collections of emails and text messages of the great and famous aren’t likely to be quite this satisfying.

How sad, but true!


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