Review: Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience – Shaun Usher.

When I was looking at this, someone had asked if I wanted it as a coffee table book. No. Believe me – if I’m buying a collection of famous letters, you bet your boots I’m going to read it. If anything, it made me miss letter writing. Sign of the childhood era, I guess! I used to write to friends. One moved to Glasgow and it seemed like the furthest away place so we’d write letters when we were 6 or 7. Emails aren’t the same.

There are letters that you’ve heard of – Einstein’s self-proclaimed ‘greatest regret of his life’, or one of them – but then there’s the others, those who’ve just escaped execution, love letters, ones steeped in history, from the alternate speech for the Apollo mission, to a warning about the Challenger disaster. There’s the nephew of Hitler on the obvious problems with joining the army, Elvis and his weird badge collection; there’s F. Scott Fitzgerald getting serious critique, and Steve Martin’s letter for fans (I did particularly enjoy that).

Then there’s the cute and quirky – the children writing to Roald Dahl and sending a dream in a bottle, to Abraham Lincoln suggesting he should grow a beard; there’s Wil Wheaton replying to a fanclub member two decades later when their pack went missing.

I suppose the thing about letters that I like is they’re not meant, in most cases, to be read by more than one or two people, which seems ironic given that this is 125 of them bound in a pretty book with the purpose of being read. The point is you learn bits about people that you wouldn’t otherwise know, the bits they reserve just for the situation at hand, or the people they’re dealing with. It’s just a very interesting book.

I do also enjoy looking at people’s handwriting. There’s some lovely ones in there. And I’m particularly pleased that Roald Dahl’s response was just a delight. Letters rule.

Canongate Books

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