There’s a Book for That: Epistolary Novels
This week we are leaping on the news that the beloved novel, THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL SOCIETY, is being adapted for a major motion picture by Netflix. Shaffer and Barrow’s epistolary novel (a tale told through letters) reminds us of the particular power over readers epistolary novels have. So we have selected some of the best of them from our catalog. These contemporary and classic works move from the era of parchment to email, and may just inspire the letter-writer in you:
THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.
FOLDED NOTES FROM HIGH SCHOOL by Matthew Boren
A status-obsessed senior unexpectedly falls for a freshman because of his Danny Zuko audition in their high school’s production of Grease in this outrageously funny epistolary novel set in 1991. For young adults and up…
DEAR COMMITTEE MEMBERS by Julie Schumacher
Jason Fitger is a beleaguered professor of creative writing and literature at Payne University, a small and not very distinguished midwest liberal arts college. His department is facing draconian cuts and squalid quarters, while one floor above them the Economics Department is getting lavishly remodeled offices. His once-promising writing career is in the doldrums, as is his romantic life, in part as the result of his unwise use of his private affairs for his novels. His star (he thinks) student can’t catch a break with his brilliant (he thinks) work Accountant in a Bordello, based on Melville’s Bartleby. In short, his life is a tale of woe, and the vehicle this droll and inventive novel uses to tell that tale is a series of hilarious letters of recommendation that Fitger is endlessly called upon by his students and colleagues to produce, each one of which is a small masterpiece of high dudgeon, low spirits, and passive-aggressive strategies.
LETTERS FROM SKYE by Jessica Brockmole
A sweeping story told in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, Jessica Brockmole’s atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.
THE ANTAGONIST by Lynn Coady
A piercing epistolary novel, The Antagonist by Lynn Coady demonstrates all of the gifts that have made its author one of Canada’s most respected young writers. Here she gives us an astonishing story of sons and fathers and mothers, of the rewards and betrayals of male friendship, and a large-spirited, hilarious, and exhilarating portrait of a man tearing his life apart in order to put himself back together.
ATTACHMENTS: A NOVEL by Rainbow Rowell
Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It’s company policy.) But they can’t quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives. And then… “Hi, I’m the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you . . .” Also available in a Spanish edition.
DADDY-LONG-LEGS AND DEAR ENEMY by Jean Webster
One of the great novels of American girlhood, Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legs (1912) follows the adventures of an orphan named Judy Abbott, whose letters to her anonymous male benefactor trace her development as an independent thinker and writer. Its sequel, Dear Enemy (1915), follows the progress of Judy’s former orphanage, now run by her friend Sallie McBride, who struggles to give her young charges hope and a new life. Also available as a young readers’ edition.
ELLA MINNOW PEA: A NOVEL IN LETTERS by Mark Dunn
Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal phrase containing all the letters of the alphabet, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.
A WOMAN OF INDEPENDENT MEANS by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey
A bestselling sensation when it was first published by Viking in 1978, A Woman of Independent Means has delighted millions of readers and was the inspiration for the television miniseries starring Sally Field.
From the early 1900s through the 1960s, we accompany Bess as she endures life’s trials and triumphs with unfailing courage and indomitable spirit: the sacrifices love sometimes requires of the heart, the flaws and rewards of marriage, the often-tested bond between mother and child, and the will to defy a society that demands conformity.
84, CHARING CROSS ROAD by Helene Hanff
This charming classic love story, first published in 1970, brings together twenty years of correspondence between Helene Hanff, at the time, a freelance writer living in New York City, and a used-book dealer in London at 84, Charing Cross Road. Through the years, though never meeting and separated both geographically and culturally, they share a winsome, sentimental friendship based on their common love for books. Their relationship, captured so acutely in these letters, is one that has touched the hearts of thousands of readers around the world.
PAMELA OR, VIRTUE REWARDED by Samuel Richardson
Fifteen-year-old Pamela Andrews, alone and unprotected, is relentlessly pursued by her dead mistress’ son. Although she is attracted to young Mr B., she holds out against his demands and threats of abduction and rape, determined to defend her virginity and abide by her own moral standards. Psychologically acute in its investigations of sex, freedom and power, Richardson’s first novel caused a sensation when it was first published, with its depiction of a servant heroine who dares to assert herself.
For more on these and other novels in letters visit: Epistolary Novels
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