Novels in letters for National Letter Writing Week

The second week of January is National Letter Writing Week! Most of us have abandoned pen and ink in favor of emails, texts and tweets, but below are five books that may just inspire you to send a nice, old-fashioned letter — stamp and all.

Guernsey Potato Peel SocietyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows

After spending the entirety of World War II writing a column of pithy observations, Juliet Ashton wants to do something more. She wants to write something important about the war, but what? An answer comes, fortuitously, in a letter from a man on the island of Guernsey who came across a book she previously owned and wanted further reading recommendations. Before long, Juliet is corresponding with all of the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society deals equally with a love of language and the Nazi occupation of the British Channel Islands, coming together to form an extremely charming book.

Ella Minnow PeaElla Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters
Mark Dunn

Ella Minnow Pea lives on the small (and fictional) island of Nollop, a place named after Nevin Nollop, author of the famous sentence, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Nollop’s sentence is a pangram — that is, it uses every letter of the alphabet. Unfortunately for Ella and her friends and family, the island’s Council is becoming increasingly totalitarian. Letters have begun falling off of the statue of Nevin Nollop and, as they do, the citizens of Nollop are banned from using them. Told in the letters between Ella and those close to her who must become increasingly creative to get their messages across, Ella Minnow Pea is in some ways a monument to communication and the necessity of freedom of expression.

The HistorianThe Historian
Elizabeth Kostova

When Paul’s mentor disappears mysteriously, all that is left behind is a cache of letters addressed to ‘My successor.’ What Paul reads in those letters will take him on a trip that spans much of Europe, as well as Turkey, on a search for Vlad the Impaler — otherwise known as Vlad Dracula — the medieval ruler behind the Dracula myth. It seems that Paul’s mentor believes that Vlad Dracula is undead and still walks the earth. Kostova uses the epistolary style well, giving characters information that they would not have otherwise had. The letters are so well written that the reader can get lost in the narrative, but they are still believable as letters.

The Art of the Personal LetterThe Art of the Personal Letter: A Guide to Connecting Through the Written Word
Margaret Shepherd with Sharon Hogan

After reading all of these lovely epistolary novels, you may be feeling inspired to reclaim the craft of letter writing yourself, but where to begin? Whether you are unsure what to include in a condolence letter, are not sure what belongs in a letter and what is okay for a quick email, or need help choosing the correct type of paper for your correspondence, Margaret Shepherd’s The Art of the Personal Letter can help. Shepherd includes both the big picture of letter writing and specifics on how to write every kind of letter you could ever have occasion to send.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
Maria Semple

Bernadette Fox is a little wacky, but her daughter Bee doesn’t care and considers her mom to be one of her best friends. The two are planning a trip to Antarctica as an early graduation present for 15-year-old Bee. Only one problem: Bernadette suddenly has the uncomfortable attention of the Russian mob, the FBI , the police, the neighbors, Bee’s school and an architecture grad student. The night before Bee and Bernadette were supposed to leave, Bernadette goes off alone, leaving Bee behind to pick up the pieces. Although not an epistolary novel like the others on this list, much of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is told through a collection of handwritten notes, emails and official documents, a form that is as unconventional as Bernadette herself.

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