Some might call my obsession with handwritten letters unhealthy. I prefer words like dedicated, single-minded, impassioned or crazy-focused.
All right, so maybe it's a tad unhealthy.
I've loved writing and receiving letters since I was a tadpole. If I met an attractive young lady at a dance or out-of-town school sporting event, we didn't exchange cellphone numbers or Facebook accounts. We used napkins or torn sheets of spiral notebook paper and scribbled down actual physical mailing addresses.
Later, with giddy excitement racing like lightning through my teenage veins, I'd camp by the mailbox and wait for a letter from that cute girl two towns away. Sometimes she wrote, sometimes she didn't and I pretended she accidentally tossed the napkin in the trash.
All right, so maybe that second scenario happened much more often than the first. Still, I just knew that young woman desperately wished upon a star we would meet again someday.
While serving a Mormon mission in Brazil, I received many letters and cards from home and stored each in sheet protectors in chunky binders that grew fatter by the week. When I returned, the binders took up exactly half of one of my two suitcases. I know precisely where those binders are today.
A week or two before I married a girl who thankfully didn't toss away my napkin, she and I received a letter from a longtime friend of my family. It contained practical, loving advice on being happily married. I cherished it then and I cherish it today. It shouldn't surprise you that I have it in a safe place at home.
All this affection for the long-lost art of the handwritten letter led to my first breakout novel, "The Wednesday Letters," written in 2007. The book, with an unexpected but major assist from Glenn Beck, became my first New York Times best-seller.
Last week I released a follow-up called "The Wedding Letters." The novel takes the same quirky cast of characters and introduces a new wedding tradition. Friends, family, former roommates and colleagues are invited to write letters of advice and congratulations to the bride and groom. A family friend, the popular character A&P, takes charge of collecting the letters and assembling them into a book.
The letters are fun and creative, long and short, poignant and silly, revealing and redemptive. When the big day arrives, the book is presented as a wedding gift to the newlyweds. Who wouldn't want to receive such a wonderful gift? Crock pots and toasters are lovely, but a book of wedding letters will last a lifetime.
Imagine you were getting married next week. What would you want to hear from the people you love? Imagine you could go back in time. What do you wish someone had told you? What lessons would have been helpful? What nuggets of counsel might have been useful as your marriage grew and matured?
Do you know someone getting married soon? A son? Daughter? Grandchild? Neighbor? What would you tell them? What lessons have you learned? What meaningful anecdotes would you share? What would you say that would have value today, tomorrow and 20 years from now?
If you know someone taking the long walk to the altar, offer to run a wedding letters project. Since a bride's parents — particularly the mother — often take the lead on wedding planning, check with them and coordinate your efforts.
Give yourselves ample time to contact those you wish to contribute. Use email, social media and traditional stamp-and-envelope mail to spread the word. Choose a single point-of-return, perhaps a P.O. box, for the writers to send their notes.
The storage and presentation of the letters can be simple. A three-ring binder with sheet protectors works nicely. If you're a Martha Stewart or Nate Berkus devotee, consider having them mounted on scrapbook paper or bound in a leather journal-style book.
When all the letters have arrived, when all the words of wisdom have been compiled, when the wedding, the reception and the honeymoon have ended, imagine your bride and groom snuggling on the couch and reading these paper gems. Then, imagine that moment over and over and over because with a gift like this, it's going to be appreciated and devoured many times.
No matter how you choose to proceed, remember the most important rule. There is no right way or wrong way to create a book of wedding letters for someone you love. There is only your way.
Because the novel behind it might belong to me, but the tradition belongs to you.
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