Yesterday Hilary McKay said in a comment here that lovely letters from friends and fans are a problem, from the point of view of hanging on to them. Or getting rid of them, as the case may be. And I agree, apart from the fact that I have no fans. While smaller than books, letters can be harder to store. How do you file them so they can be found again?
Hilary’s books will be found on the shelf with the other M books. But a letter from someone whose name you might not remember later on? Can’t even do the alphabetical filing. (It’s pretty much like all the rubbish I have kept because it might come in handy one day. And when you accidentally come across it ten years later, you neither recall you had it, nor would have known where to look for it.)
Anyway, letters and cards are one thing, and I do hang on to some of the best and prettiest. But emails. Do you keep them?
And by keep, I don’t necessarily mean whether you let them sit in your inbox, or in a mail folder carefully labelled Hilary McKay (sorry to be using you as an example, Hilary), to be unearthed at a later point. I mean print them out and keep them as though they’re letters (which many are, in some way).
I tidied the filing cabinet some time ago. This was long overdue, and I pruned the contents much harder, being quite ruthless. I was somewhat taken aback when I came across a thick wad of authors’ emails on paper. They were from the olden days, when emails were longer and less frequent, and I was less jaded and treasured them immensely. Hence the printing out and keeping.
Well, I don’t do that anymore, I can assure you. I don’t necessarily believe that cyberspace will safeguard correspondence any more than I did then, but I’ll risk it. (Obviously I treasure every last scrap of email from real people.)
Also, I am not keeping the stash of print-outs. They have been shredded. Could have turned into bedding for the hamster, if I had one.
But I do wonder what happens to any future books about a person, where in the past letters have been one of the ways to learn about someone. Michael Faraday wrote so many letters during his lifetime that they fill six volumes of very hefty books. When a biographer comes to write about Hilary McKay, how will they find the material? I’m sure there will be lots of letters, but will any researcher know to ask me to make my inbox available? And should I do so? I mean, you never know what might turn up.