For the Love of Mail

Long Live the Post Horn!
By Vigdis Hjorth
208 pp. Verso. $19.

Mail matters.

I’m talking about actual, physical, hold-it-in-your-hands-and-smell-it mail.

It’s no exaggeration to say that my first friend — siblings excluded — was the postman on our route. Growing up, I’d daily listen out for the familiar sound of his truck and run outside as soon as I heard it.

Other kids had the ice cream truck, I had the postal truck.

The postman and I would chat about all manner of things. The weather, politics, sports … you have it.

For the five minutes or so it took him to sort the mail and distribute it into the correct boxes, we’d hash out the issues of the day and, when it was time for him to go, I’d stroll back home, turning at just the moment he drove off to meet his wave.

I still love checking the mail, even if I no longer have a set address, which makes getting mail these days somewhat more difficult. I have it sent to this location, to that location, wherever I happen to be at the time.

Some of it inevitably never gets to me because, by the time my change of address has been registered by the appropriate authorities, precious mail has already been sent out — mail that won’t arrive until I’ve left.

Unlike in Norway — or at least, the Norway that Vigdis Hjorth conjures up in “Long Live the Post Horn!” — there is no process in the US for bringing “dead mail” to life again, by which I mean, the US Postal Service lacks the funding and time to effectively ensure that misaddressed mail reaches its intended recipient.

Instead I have to imagine that in US post offices there exist big bins marked “dead mail” in which all misaddressed mail — or at least, mail without a legible return address — is tossed, to be burned in momentous heaps at the end of every month … or something.

“Long Live the Post Horn!” deals with just such a scenario.

In the Norway of the book, the ruling Labor government — led by former Prime Minister and current NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg — is set to adopt an EU regulation that would make Norwegian post offices more like American ones. Which is to say, it would permit private companies to compete with the national postal service.

This monetization of the mail would increase the cost of sending a letter and see certain routes — notably those in more rural areas — cut in order to save a few kroner.

Americans are only too familiar with this scenario because it’s already happened. The US Postal Service has long had to compete with private industry and those who rely on the postal service have paid the price.

The US Postal Service has had to bend the knee to Amazon in order to stay afloat, its drivers forced to work longer hours to make sure you receive your toilet seat warmer on Sunday because god forbid any of us should have to wait till Monday.

Whether it’s due to my love for the mail — the actual, physical, hold-it-in-your-hands-and-smell-it mail — or because of the feelings that Hjorth has conjured here, I found “Long Life the Posthorn!” to be a charming read.

It’s a meaningful book, a fond recollection of the times we rushed to the mailbox, full of hope for what might be inside, for who might have written to us. Memories of times, it’s clear in hindsight, we took for granted.


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