Anyone familiar with this blog knows I am a huge advocate for written correspondence. I have a deep love for stories and novels written in letter format, and I write myself letters every New Year’s in a beloved tradition I started at age fifteen.
Imagine my delight when I discovered a book called Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience, essentially a collection of over one hundred of the world’s most entertaining, inspiring and unusual letters.
The book comes from a fellow letter aficionado Shaun Usher, who started a blog of the same name where he shared some of his favourite letters discovered, that he wanted the people of the internet to be privy to. The blog quickly took off and a book was soon in the works, then another book, and another. Today on Shaun's website you can buy any one of his numerous collections of letters grouped by topic or theme, including the OG collection; the book that first caught my eye while browsing a book shop in York last year.
At Christmas, I put in an order with my local independent bookshop (because supporting your local small businesses is where it's at) to gift this gem to my equally letter-obsessed friend, and was surprised to find the second edition entitled More Letters of Note waiting for me. My disappointment quickly turned to misty-eyed joy as I flipped through the pages and found their contents to be enchanting as the original. A good letter is a good letter, and this baby is full of them.
Between its covers you will discover Richard Burton’s farewell note to Elizabeth Taylor, deaf blind Helen Keller’s powerful letter to The New York Symphony Orchestra about ‘hearing’ their concert through her fingers, Jane Austen recounting the previous night's party to her sister through the hangover it left her with, the final message from a mother and father on death row to their young children, David Bowie’s endearing response to his first ever piece of fan mail from America, a slave's hurried note to his wife upon learning he was sold and shipping out immediately, a woman in the final stages of terminal cancer recalling one of her most simple yet most treasured memories of time spent watching monarch butterflies with her dearest friend, a comical welcome to the world from the family dog penned by Charlotte's Web author Elwin White to his newborn still in hospital, a heartbreakingly beautiful love letter with regret sewn into every word from an ex GI Officer to the secret lover he met and lost at war, and even Albus Dumbledore writing to a reader applying for the position of Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor at Hogwarts.
The haphazard ordering of the letters throughout the book mean there is no right way to read them, and any way you go about it you are bound to ricochet from one emotion to another. Despite spanning milenna and written by individuals from different countries against vastly varied backdrops, they are all tied together by the thread of humanity; humanity that puts the pen in the hand and compells us to write whenever what we are feeling is to much to keep in. Consequentially, it is a portrait as beautiful as it is complex of what it is to be human, and I found it truly one of the most enjoyable reads I have had in a long time. A book to invest in and keep in the home, if ever there was one.