Dear Readers of the Wheelock College Library Blog,
Have you ever written a love letter . . . be it a note passed before gym class, a hand-written card picked just for that special someone, or a double-spaced, proofread, edited piece of perfection that expresses your thoughts just so? I believe in the power of mail, particularly the variety on which you put a stamp, but electronic can be equally meaningful. The entries I write here on this blog are my love letters to books; if someone picks up a book I recommended and feels something, my letter would have done its job.
Here listed for you are a few of my favorite epistolary novels, unscientifically chosen and in no particular order.
Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis: Evil is real and its employees are legion. Wormwood, a younger demon recently under such employ of Lucifer, receives advice from elder demon Screwtape about how to best torment Wormwood’s assigned human. Lewis appeals to readers regardless of their beliefs; the idea of temptation, fall, and redemption are explored on a very human level.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker: Letters also reveal the nature of good and evil in Alice Walker’s classic, though the tormenters in this novel are very much human. Protagonist Celie writes first to God and then to her sister, about pain, sorrow, joy and hard-won triumph. Also available as an e-book!
Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira: This contemporary young adult novel begins with a school assignment: write a letter to a dead person. Laurel picks Kurt Cobain because her late sister May loved him. Laurel, inspired by the assignment, keeps writing letters to other famous people gone too soon. Through Laurel’s letters, the reader moves with her from grief to the truth of her experience.
Why we Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman: This book is written in letters, but it is really a book about a box. Min collected all of the items that defined the moments of her relationship with Ed. He dumps her, and so she dumps the box, along with her thoughts about its contents, on Ed’s porch. Though heartbreak is fresh, there is a post script that suggest the hope of a new love.
Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary: Also a book about a school assignment, Leigh Botts writes to his favorite author over the course of several years, later keeping a diary of his thoughts rather than sending them. In writing to Mr. Henshaw (both real and imagined), Leigh comes to terms with his parents’ divorce, a school lunch thief, and his own emerging desire to be a writer. Leigh’s voice is pitch- perfect for a little boy, but appeals to anyone who has been forced to write to someone else, only to find him or herself.
These five books are my favorite epistolary stories because they demonstrate how personal storytelling affects not just the reader, but the writer as well. Letters start in one place and end in another; a good story takes the reader along for the ride. These stories show love, lost love, despair, hope. So often the movement from one to the other is not linear, rather the good and the bad are jumbled up together. Clean lines are erased and roughly drawn, not unlike the pencil and eraser markings of a note from a friend.