Many of the letters in A Memoir of Friendship are about writing and reading, books and manuscripts; Blanche Howard and Carol Shields swapped book recommendations and writing frustrations and philosophies alongside the everyday stuff and nonsense of life.
In 1993, Blanche wrote to Carol Shields, two years after their novel, A Celibate Season, was published:
“And thank you for all those nice things you said about me. We seem to stand in relation to one another as mutual mentors, since I am always in awe of your talent and studying your work and methods for enlightenment. Odd to have a relationship where mentorship works both ways, isn’t it?”
In A Celibate Season, each writer adopts the perspective of a spouse whose marriage is strained by the period of separation occasioned by the wife’s decision to take a government job in Ottawa, which requires that the husband remains home to pay the phone bill (or, as it happens, not pay it) and to raise their daughter and son.
Each writes a series of letters over several months. (A brief mention is made to their preferring posted letters to e-mail, which seems to have been written into the paperback reprint in the later-90s, and which is ineffective, because later, when there actually are time-sensitive matters, surrounding transportation arrangements, a couple obviously would have altered their preference to keep communication open, had email truly been an option.)