Readability: More than Legibility

Read, here, a letter dated July 1957 from JD Salinger to the hopeful producer of a film version of The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger was known for his cantankerous resistance to over-commercialization of his art. Whether he’d burn all his unpublished works before he died was once a popular topic of cocktail party conversation amongst literati and wannabe-literati alike. (One night I was engaged in such a discussion while sitting in an empty bathtub on a sidewalk in Alphabet City. Doesn’t get much deeper/hipper than that.)

Take a minute with the letter, posted on The tone is fantastic, an expert blend of fluency, insolence and humor. For all his pomp (fully merited) I think Salinger takes a remarkably analytical tack, neither overly-personal nor defensive. And he calls himself “super-biassed,” which is just gold in my opinion. My favorite part, however, comes at the very end:

Thank you, though, for your friendly and highly readable letter. My mail from producers has mostly been hell.

Highly readable letter! This shouldn’t be rare, but it is.

I really try with my letters (which, naturally, are almost entirely electronic). I use full sentences, proper punctuation, capital letters. I aim not to simply write emails, but to craft them. Do I shoot off quickie emails and text messages? Absolutely. But in professional communiques, and even to my closest friends, I typically attempt to express myself clearly and to convey my literal message along with a sense of emotional context, be that enthusiasm, outrage, humor, hopefulness, bleak resignation, what have you. What I write reflects me and whatever cause I’m representing.

Which is why it pains me to read emails that indicate an utter lack of care — or proofreading. It’s embarrassing for the author and disrespectful to me. We don’t have time in our busy days to pen a novella every time we need to write an email, but we can do one another the simple courtesies of carefulness and attention. Maybe from time to time we can pause before hitting Send and ask ourselves, what would JD say about this?

I encourage you to check out more letters on the site, like this vintage gem from the editors at Mad Magazine. Editors, if you’re reading this, I’d love to get a form letter like this instead of being routinely ignored. Just saying.

[Thanks, Cathleen.]

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