It's been a while since I've come up with a Thursday Thirteen (not since last summer!). I do love a good book list and since tomorrow is February 1st and the official kick off of my Month of Letters, it seemed appropriate to think about letter writing not only in fiction but also books about letter writing and collections of letters (how's that for an all-encompassing list?). As I am also joining Melwyk's Postal Reading Challenge, I like to have a list of books to draw from. I'm a great fan of epistolary novels in general (have shared lists before here and here). But this list is only about letters and letter writing. If you have any other good titles fiction or nonfiction, please do share!
1. Bright Star: Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne by John Keats -- I've already mentioned this one. I'm starting my letter-writing reading here. This is a slim volume made up of almost as many pages of poetry as love letters, though only of Keats' letters as Fanny Brawne's did not survive.
2. An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork by Etty Hillesum -- "Hillesum was in her mid-20s at the time of the Holocaust; her diaries consist mainly of musings about the confusion, perplexities, and struggles all around her and mature into a clear philosophy of love of God and all humanity. Her most intimate thoughts are played out at length, but perseverance results in a rewarding view of humanity. The young woman's letters (the second part of the book) reveal a great deal more detail about the day-to-day life at the transit camp of Westerbork (the last stop before Auschwitz). Here, individual people come into view more clearly, and the horrors and atrocities facing the Jews at that time emerge. That Hillesum could rise above hate and generalization in the midst of such horror and evil reveals a tremendous inner strength. Her courage, determination, and faith reveal her amazing spirit."
3. From A to X by John Berger -- "In the dusty, ramshackle town of Suse lives A’ida. Her insurgent husband Xavier has been imprisoned. Resolute, sensuous and tender, A’ida’s letters to the man she loves tell of daily events in the town, and of its motley collection of inhabitants whose lives flow through hers. But the town is under threat, and as a faceless power inexorably encroaches from outside, so the smallest details and acts of humanity assume for A’ida a life-affirming significance, acts of resistance against the forces that might otherwise extinguish them."
4. Other People's Mail: An Anthology of Letter Stories edited by Gail Pool -- (I found this one on my library's shelves). "This collection is unique in that the entire exposition of each piece is conveyed through correspondence of some sort. Editor Pool has selected stories from a remarkably diverse collection of authors, some as well known as Alice Munro and Gail Godwin, and one from author Donna Kline, whose main career is not literature. Some stories are comic, some serious, and some tragic. And despite the diversity of style, theme, period, and ethnic point of view, the volume hangs together very well." (Booklist)
5. My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams edited by Margaret Hogan -- "In 1762, John Adams penned a flirtatious note to 'Miss Adorable,' the 17-year-old Abigail Smith. In 1801, Abigail wrote to wish her husband John a safe journey as he headed home to Quincy after serving as president of the nation he helped create. The letters that span these nearly forty years form the most significant correspondence--and reveal one of the most intriguing and inspiring partnerships--in American history.
6. The Letters of Abelard and Heloise edited by Betty Radice -- "This collection of correspondence between medieval scholar Peter Abelard and Heloise, a French nun, chronicles one of the most tragic love affairs in all history. With their letters, the estranged lovers both mourn and reproach their romantic history as they address a variety of scholarly and professional topics common to the medieval period."
7. Women's Letters: America from the Revolutionary War to the Present edited by Lisa Grunwald -- "Historical events of the last three centuries come alive through these women’s singular correspondences—often their only form of public expression. In 1775, Rachel Revere tries to send financial aid to her husband, Paul, in a note that is confiscated by the British; First Lady Dolley Madison tells her sister about rescuing George Washington’s portrait during the War of 1812; one week after JFK’s assassination, Jacqueline Kennedy pens a heartfelt letter to Nikita Khrushchev; and on September 12, 2001, a schoolgirl writes a note of thanks to a New York City firefighter, asking him, 'Were you afraid?'"
8. 800 Years of Women's Letters edited by Olga Kenyon -- "This inspiring and fascinating book is the first truly comprehensive study of women's letters ever published. Organised by subject matter, and covering a wide range of topics from politics, work and war, to childhood, love and sexual passion."
9. Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal's Journey from Down Under to All Over by Geraldine Brooks -- "As a young girl in a working-class neighborhood of Sydney, Australia, Geraldine Brooks longed to discover the places where history happens and culture comes from, so she enlisted pen pals who offered her a window on adolescence in the Middle East, Europe, and America. Twenty years later Brooks, an award-winning foreign correspondent, embarked on a human treasure hunt to find her pen friends."
10. Love Virtually by Daniel Glattauer -- "It's a virtual romance that begins by chance. When Leo mistakenly receives e-mails from a stranger named Emmi, he replies--and Emmi writes back. Soon, secrets are shared, sparks fly, and erotic tension simmers. Even though Emmi is married, it seems only a matter of time till they meet. But will their feelings survive a real-life encounter? And, if so-what then?"
11. A Life in Letters by Anton Chekhov -- "From his teenage years in provincial Russia to his premature death in 1904, Anton Chekhov wrote thousands of letters to a wide range of correspondents. This fascinating new selection tells Chekhov's story as a man and a writer through affectionate bulletins to his family, insightful discussions of literature with publishers and theater directors, and tender love letters to his actress wife. Vividly evoking landscapes, people, and his daily life, the letters offer revealing glimpses into Chekhov's preoccupations-the onset of tuberculosis, his dual careers as doctor and writer, and his ambivalence about his growing reputation as Russia's foremost playwright and author.
12. The Salt Letters by Christine Balint -- "It is 1854, and with the certainty of land behind her, Sarah flees her home for the uncertainties of life in the new colony. In steerage, she joins the other unmarried women, where the horrors of their close confinement bring an unraveling of secrets no one can control. Sarah endures, longing for her mother's forgiveness and the sweetness of her cousin Richard's breath. As she draws closer to her new land, she becomes increasingly haunted by her own tale and the letter home she cannot write."
13. Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart -- "After deciding that city life as a laundress wasn't for her, Elinore Pruitt, a young widowed mother, accepted an offer to assist with a ranch in Wyoming, work that she found exceedingly more rewarding. In this delightful collection of letters, she describes these experiences to her former employer, Mrs. Coney. Pruitt's charming descriptions of work, travels, neighbors, animals, land and sky have an authentic feel. The West comes alive, and everyday life becomes captivating. Her writing is clear, witty, and entertaining. The 26 letters are brief and tell about her life on the ranch in the early 1900s."
There are endless choices available when it comes to collections of letters. A cursory search in my library's online catalog nets almost 400 results! I own more collections than I list here, too, but didn't want to make my list too long. Much like diaries I find reading letters endlessly fascinating and maybe a little voyeuristic, too. Although I didn't put them in my list I'm also interested in reading letters by the Mitford sisters, as well as Patrick Leigh Fermor, and Katherine Mansfield. Literary letters are of especial interest but so are letters written by travelers (maybe I'll have to come up with another list?).
And starting tomorrow I'll be writing my own letters (or more so postcards actually). I've got a small list of friends I'll be sanding cards and letters to (and a few of you I am long overdue in answering letters!). Once again I'll mention Postable, a virtual online (and private) address book. If you'd like to get a card from me in February, feel free to add your name to my address book. A few of you have already taken me up on that offer, and in honor of a Month of Letters I've even ordered a new stash of postcards! Oh, and I am happy to send abroad. It's kind of like a little 'random act of kindness' sending a postcard or letter to someone.
And hopefully next month I'll be writing (much) more about my letter-writing reading, too! A little teaser for tomorrow, by the way...please do stop back this weekend for another lost in the stacks post--lots of lovely bookish photos to look at!