Years ago, when I opened a magazine or a newspaper, I skipped the Letters to the Editor section. It never occurred to me in those young and naive days that I would find anything of value in them. Today, the Letters to the Editor is one of the first things I read when turning to a new issue of a magazine or newspaper.
The science fiction magazines were the first in which I began to seriously read the Letters column. In the letter columns, I found names that were vaguely familiar, and after I began to sell stories, I found the names of friends an acquaintances showing up there. When I was engaged in my Vacation in the Golden Age, I loved reading the letter columns (“Brass Tacks”) in the old issues of Astounding Science Fiction. Often there were delightful surprised, late 1939 or early 1940 issues with letters from a young Isaac Asimov or Ray Bradbury, both of whom were mostly still fans at the time.
I began reading the letter columns in other magazines later. I started with Scientific American. I was interested in readers’ responses to the articles, and especially the author replies. This was, in a popular sense, a microcosm of the scientific method in action, with research being summarized and commented on.
This broadened to other magazines, and newspapers more recently. Reading the Letters to the Editor has become one of the more enjoyable parts for me. I was reading the Letters column in a recent issue of Down East Magazine, and I began to wonder why I found these columns so interesting. After some thought, I decided it was because of the civilized tone the letters take.
Compared to the comment threads on social media, Letters to the Editor columns read like a breath of fresh air. They are not always well-written letters, but they get their points across clearly and concisely. The letters are focused on the subject at hand, rather than the letter-writer. And, of course, the letters are moderated for content and length. Even the most irate letters in the letter columns that I read seem calm, and reasonable when compared to a comment thread.
Over the years, I’ve done my share of letter writing. My first Letter to the Editor that was published in a magazine appeared in Science Fiction Age, edited by Scott Edelman. That letter appeared in an issue in 1997, I think. I had a second letter appear in the magazine some time later.
In 2003, I wrote a Letter to the Editor of the New York Times, which found its way to publication in the National edition. I’ve had a letter published in a local paper as well. Thinking about it, I believe I am batting 1.000 when it comes to Letters to the Editor. I’ve sent out four and all four have been published.
It has been a while since I’ve written a letter to the editor. These day, I enjoy reading the letter columns more than I enjoy writing letters to them. I’d rather spend my time writing here.