Ryan Chartrand

It’s inside of all of us. It’s the guilty desire to turn down the TV when the neighbors are arguing. Or the tiny voice that urges us to go ahead and sneak a quick glance at the old love letter left on the counter by a significant other. We figure if we weren’t supposed to read it, it wouldn’t have been left in such an obvious place.

Most of us manage to suppress these urges in the name of proper etiquette. But now, riding on the wave of success of publications like “PostSecret” and “FOUND Magazine,” editor Bill Shapiro has found a way for us to indulge our voyeuristic yearnings without the accompanying feeling of shame.

“Other People’s Love Letters: 150 Letters You Were Never Meant to See,” is addicting; there’s really no other way to put it. Comprised entirely of real letters – dug out of drawers, hope chests and shoeboxes across the North American continent – the book provides a fascinating look at how we fall in, and out, of love.

Normal people wrote the letters. Often hard to read and rife with misspellings and poor grammar, they manage to convey a stronger sense of love and loss than most professional writers who make a living doing this kind of thing.

“I can’t believe your real . and i think about you constantly in some way or the other all day, i havent gave the finger to anyone driving since i met you,” reads one entry.

Now that’s love.

Other letters aren’t as happy, which makes them that much more interesting. Gooshy letters are nice. But the “I still love you, but I can’t hurt you anymore” letters – those are priceless.

The pain and remorse in some contributions are so real and so overwhelming that they actually induce a physical reaction.

One such entry consists of three letters, covering a time span of roughly three years. They were written by “Rebecca” and sent to her estranged boyfriend “Mike” following their failure to carry on a long-distance relationship. With each letter, and each year, she grows increasingly bitter.

Her first note ends, “the other part is struggling in the past trying to forget but wanting to remember the first time. in detroit. i touched your face.”

The next reads, “maybe we could only love each other from a distance.”

Eventually she concedes, “all i ever wanted was the truth from you, i hate being left with so many questions. this is the last time i’ll say goodbye.” That’s the last we hear from “Rebecca.”

Of course, no collection of love letters would be complete without the naughty and the downright stupid. Or maybe some combination of the two. For example, “P.S. I look forward to your letters too much to call. Also, where do you stand on chains?”

An unexpected side effect of “Other People’s Love Letters” is its ability to dredge up old memories in the minds of its readers. On some level, most of us can relate to the desire to send sappy notes reading, “You are my sweetheart even with popsicle feet,” or to write “Liar” 183 times on a piece of college-ruled paper.

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