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VINE VOICEon April 8, 2003
Average five stars and one star, and you get three stars. If you've heard of delectable cookbooks being referred to as "food porn," you'll understand why I might refer to the first four chapters of The Art of the Handwritten Note as "stationery porn." Shepherd describes beautifully why and how to handwrite a variety of notes and letters. I've written hundreds myself and can vouch for the soundness of her advice. And I love reading different authors on the beauties of pens and papers, as I am one of those addicts.
However, in Chapter Five, "Opportunities to Write the Note That Counts," she goes seriously astray in discussing the etiquette of letter writing. She presents her own preferences as etiquette rules, when they certainly aren't. For instance, one does not need to write thank-you letters when gifts are exchanged in person, though it is a nice touch. And one sample shows a thank-you letter for a baby shower gift signed by - ugh! - the baby. The text contradicts this sample letter, saying "You write these as the parent, acknowledging your gratitude for gifts given to your children, until the children learn to write for themselves," but the lack of captions for the sample letters makes one wonder if this was supposed to be an example of misguided cuteness. But then she says you can phone or email these thanks instead. No, no, no!
And a "printed card in the mail or an announcement in the newspaper" to respond to condolence notes? Hardly! She even allows "frank" responses to gifts one doesn't like, suggesting that you may ask the giver to exchange it for you - WHAT IS SHE THINKING??
"Dear Lytton, I already own the volume of Miss Eden's letters which you so kindly sent, but perhaps you could exchange it for a copy of `The Princesse de Cléves,' which I do not yet have. Yrs., Virginia" -- Oh yes, your family and friends are just going to love getting THOSE sort of letters.
However, at the end there are some (intentionally) funny lists of "do's" and "don't's" for such categories as breakup notes and notes requesting help. In the phrases to use and avoid in fan letters, for example, she sagely advises the letter writer to say, "I have every one of your books," but don't say, "I bought your book for a dollar from a store that sells rejects."
This could have stayed a five-star book if the author had researched the etiquette of correspondence. Nobody but Miss Manners gets to just "make stuff up," and even Miss Manners uses that right sparingly. What one feels is natural and right may not always coincide with what one should do correctly, and I do wish the author had taken the time to learn the difference.
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on February 20, 2002
When I first heard of the existence of this book, I immediately ordered it. It turned out to be both inspiring and instructional (practical).
First, it gives you many reasons why it is so important to make the effort to send handwritten notes and how valuable they are to the recipient. It inspires you to go sell all you have and get some nice stationery and start sending notes to everyone.
It also goes over the practical aspects of note writing from the different kinds of writing instruments and stationery available, to penmanship lessons (there are tips to show you how you can refine your handwriting, repair it, or rescue it if it is really bad!). It gives examples for constructing various types of notes (useful formulas, and what to avoid) so your notes will most effective and classy.
There are many photos and facsimiles of actual handwritten notes including some by past presidents.
It is the kind of book you will want to loan out to a friend after you are finished.
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on August 14, 2002
What a pleasant and useful little book this is! I heard the author on National Public Radio and she was extremely interesting to listen to, and she took calls from people all around the country who are still writing notes and letters to each other and keeping the spirit of humanity and kindness alive in the process. It was a heartening show that led me to ordering this book from Amazon.com.
The book starts off by listing basically every known excuse we have as a society about why we don't take pen in hand and write to each other, be it letters or thank you notes, and then gives us the excuses we need to break those bad habits of not communicating with our fellow colleagues with personal handwritten thoughts.
The book gives you all of the help you might need to get your note writing back in shape and off the ground. Tips on rescuing handwriting, advice on writing utensils and types of paper to use, ideas on managing your time in order to have time to write, and a whole section on appropriate language and basic etiquette for notes in basically every important social situation you might come across.
The Art of the Handwritten Note is an invaluable resource in our era of continuing technological isolation.
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on March 24, 2013
I expected samples of of bereavement notes, sympathy notes and other difficult notes to write. Much of the material covered in the book is plain common sense i already knew. It's not what was represented in the description of the item. I will definitely be returning this item.
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on March 27, 2003
I really enjoyed this book & it has been helpful in starting me to write NOTES. I guess I thought that you had to fill up a whole page with "something". It is a lot easier to write a short amount on some nice note paper. Not as frightening as a full size sheet of paper.
I had just finished the book, when I had to write a condolence note & a welcoming note to my daughter's mother-in-law before she came to the US for a visit. The book was a big help.
I gave to all my kids for Christmas.
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on February 21, 2006
A great book! Full of inspiring ideas and tips on reconnecting through handwriting. Lots of good habits to teach the next generation, too. If you've ever thought of wanting to express something special to someone else and didn't know how to start or what to say, read this book before you decide to do nothing.
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VINE VOICEon January 14, 2008
I hardly ever wrote notes or letters - especially the dreaded "thank you" note for a gift (a process that I still remember as a childhood punishment) - despite the good intentions of my mother.

Now, over 40 years later, I am beginning to become civilized at last. Thanks to the helpful advice in this book, coupled with very useful sample phrases and "do's and don'ts" lists, I can write a pretty good note as needed. My friends and family appreciate the change.

And I am continually surprised at work at how much goodwill a hand written note generates! Whether it's to a coworker, one of my employees, or the head of another department, a hand written missive gets a lot more attention than just another e-mail.
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on October 18, 2015
I picked up this book on a recent trip to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. While there, I fully immersed myself in the social etiquette of the early 20th century. I found myself dreaming of a simpler place and time. Browsing through the bookstore, I was drawn to The Art of The Handwritten Note.

Writing notes as a child to my grandparents is what built the foundation for my writing life. I still love to write notes, but as a society we've opted to replace personal interactions with short snippets of conversation posted publicly on Facebook and Twitter for the whole world to read and scrutinize.

The Art of the Handwritten Note is not a stuffy narrative about manners. The author makes it clear that the handwritten note is still alive and well in our high tech 21st century. A note that arrives in our mailbox is first, a surprise, and then a personal interaction between two people. It's not publicly posted online for strangers to see. It's special. And as human beings we will always adore being made to feel special.

Ms. Shepherd writes of how to choose stationery, a pen, ink. She gives us do's and don't's for all kinds of correspondence. She asks us to practice what we want to say and not be intimidated by handwriting that may not be perfect. By sitting down and taking the time to write a personal note, we are creating a singular experience for the recipient as well as one for ourselves.

I know that posting a review online about a book on sending handwritten notes is quite contradictory. But maybe if we all spent some time letting our friends and family know what they mean to us, this world would be a happier and more peaceful place to be. We'd all be feeling special and our mailboxes would be filled with joy.
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on June 24, 2015
As an occasional, if spectacularly unsuccessful, practitioner of the civilized art of writing handwritten notes, this book is definitely a pragmatic one whose aim is to encourage the art of writing handwritten notes as a way of expressing one’s politeness and graciousness as a person in an age of instant but often impersonal communications. Although this short book (even with its pages devoted to intriguing quotes about writing handwritten letters [2]) only comes in at around 150 pages, it manages to say a lot in its few pages, and manages to fulfill an important task in encouraging a polite habit that goes all the way back to biblical times, where the apostles (especially Paul and John) penned memorable short letters that ended up becoming part of the Bible. It can be assumed that anyone reading this book has an interest in being polite and gracious in one’s communications, and that is never a bad thing, no matter how poorly such graciousness is received. Mostly the author tries to encourage people to write handwritten notes in the expectation that they will be read favorably by people who appreciate getting notes and personal mail in general (as I do), but the author reminds the reader at least a few times that where a written note is required to pay a debt of honor, regardless of how that letter is taken the debt is paid and the conscience of the sender is clear.

In reflecting on my own difficulties with regards to handwritten notes, I think the main difficulty is that the recipients of most of the more delicate notes of apology or explanation, and the people who read the notes afterward, were simply not literate and were ignorant of the honor and courtesy that is extended when someone writes a personal note in lieu of a personal confrontation about an uncertain manner. For example, the author advices a step that no one seems to take, and that is returning a letter if one believes that the author of the note had cause to regret writing it. There are at least a few notes and letters I have regretted writing after the fact, but no one receiving my letters has given me the honor of returning letters to me, or keeping the matters private and requesting an explanation of anything they found unclear. Writing notes is about being an honorable person, and sometimes, regretfully, one is not dealing with the most seasoned or knowledgeable recipients of handwritten notes. For this reason the book speaks pointedly about writing in a restrained fashion and not giving any ammunition for litigious people who may seize upon a letter as an admission of guilt or may seek to find in it evidence for a court case. Thankfully, that has not happened to me yet, but the author feels it necessary to bring up that point because sometimes that is the case.

In terms of its contents, the book itself is divided into six chapters of varying length. The first chapter gives the reasons to write and stop making excuses that it takes too much time. The second chapter sets the context of the letter in getting in touch with oneself and one’s intended audience. The third chapter looks at writing as a way of expressing oneself through the handwriting, the choice of pen, and the choice of stationary for writing. The fourth chapter gives a basic recipe for writing notes, including a lot of questions and answers from readers, and the fifth chapter follows up on this by pointing out the most likely occasions where one writes notes: thank you notes, apologies, invitations, requests, love/like/rejection notes, and congratulations. Knowing the type of note is being sent or received makes it easier to construct and to read the note properly. The book then closes with a commentary of what is beyond the note, including longer and shorter notes that either approach full letter length or make it clear that someone is thinking of the recipient, without much more detail than that. The book discusses the personal touches one adds to a card to make it more personal, and advises people as much as possible to return notes as an expression of politeness and courtesy, which is sadly all too rare in our contemporary society.

The virtues of this book are considerable. The book is short, witty, encouraging, full of good quotes and helpful tools and suggestions on how to become an expert note writer. As is often the case in this sort of literature, there is the assumption that someone writing a note is going to be able to invest seriously in some expensive pens and stationery, but the author’s suggestions make it clear that doing the best one can is better than not doing at all because one cannot do the best that is. This book is not only useful for those who wish to write more successful notes than I have, but also would be helpful to read for those who want to be more gracious and polite recipients of notes, to know that it is best to celebrate personal mail and the concern and courtesy and respect it comes with, and to read charitably. As in so much else in life, writing and receiving notes is a way to show one’s honor and respect and outgoing concern for others, and a way to show oneself worthy of the honor and respect that one seeks. Perhaps I am not as optimistic, given my experience, in civilized communication being redeemed one note at a time as the author, but it would be nice if she was right that the note would always be recognized as coming with class and courtesy, with credit instead of trouble to come back to the sender. Whether you are as sanguine as the author or not, though, it is an excellent read.
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on February 19, 2015
As a writer I love books like this. They point the way for others to take in the craft. Its a great reference for a writer, or would make a great gift along with a journal, stationary, pens or whatever for someone you know who loves to write. Handwritten letters seem to be fading.. bring them back to the surface with the help of this book.
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