A debut memoir in letters that covers more than four decades of correspondence and recollections.
Leighton was a prolific letter writer, exchanging hundreds with his mother and father starting in the 1940s. In the newly written letters to friends and relatives collected here, he draws on these older missives, as well as others that he wrote to his wife in the ’50s during their engagement and to his daughter, Kim, when she traveled overseas in the ’70s and ’80s—a sum total of 501 letters (despite the book’s subtitle). From these scattered sources, a surprisingly clear chronology surfaces in this book, chronicling a life of rich personal and professional pursuits. The author was born in western Maryland and largely grew up across the street from a Methodist church. He attended nearby Western Maryland College and earned an M.D. from the University of Maryland before becoming a Navy lieutenant and flight surgeon, which allowed him to travel widely in Asia. He eventually became an academic and rose to the level of dean at the Medical College of Ohio. Leighton’s story also covers his travels with his wife before she died from melanoma in 2009. The author’s unwavering devotion to his family shines through in every letter, and his desire to preserve and communicate its history is endearing and admirable. However, the assemblage of letters here can be confusing at times, as it’s not always clear how the recipients are precisely related to the author. Also, they chronicle an exhaustive but personally idiosyncratic tale that likely won’t appeal to those who don’t already know the author well. Leighton’s prose is clear, if mechanical, and the letters generally follow a repetitive formula, beginning with the same introduction: “I’m writing to you….” As a result, this memoir is sure to be cherished by the author’s family members, but it doesn’t strike a more universal chord.
A charming epistolary recounting but one that may have a limited audience.