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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

'Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Circulation' edited by Shaun Usher

 Received from the Publisher 

From the BLURB:

Letters of Note is a collection of over one hundred of the world's most entertaining, inspiring and unusual letters, based on the seismically popular website of the same name - an online museum of correspondence visited by over 70 million people.

From Virginia Woolf's heart-breaking suicide letter, to Queen Elizabeth II's recipe for drop scones sent to President Eisenhower; from the first recorded use of the expression 'OMG' in a letter to Winston Churchill, to Gandhi's appeal for calm to Hitler; and from Iggy Pop's beautiful letter of advice to a troubled young fan, to Leonardo da Vinci's remarkable job application letter, Letters of Note is a celebration of the power of written correspondence which captures the humour, seriousness, sadness and brilliance that make up all of our lives.

Including letters from: Zelda Fitzgerald, Iggy Pop, Fidel Castro, Leonardo da Vinci, Bill Hicks, Anais Nin, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Amelia Earhart, Charles Darwin, Roald Dahl, Albert Einstein, Elvis Presley, Dorothy Parker, John F. Kennedy, Groucho Marx, Charles Dickens, Katharine Hepburn, Kurt Vonnegut, Mick Jagger, Steve Martin, Emily Dickinson and many more.

Letters of Note started four years ago with the sole aim of bringing people, “correspondence deserving of a wider audience". The collator of the blog and book is Shaun Usher, a writer himself, and I have long been a fan of his – so I was thrilled when he pitched the idea for a Letters of Note book to the crowd-sourced publisher, unbound. Eight pages at the back of the book list all of the unbound subscribers who made the Letters of Note book a reality, which is just lovely.

The book itself is a design feast. UK design studio ‘here design’ are responsible for the cover design and typesetting; but for the sumptuous loveliness and heft, I’m quite surprised that it’s only retailing for AUD$49.99 – also surprised, because Usher has included reproductions of original documents throughout the book, which adds such quality and uniqueness. 

So there’s a stunning reproduction of her own stationary that Annie Oakley wrote on to US President William McKinley, when she was offering her army of “lady sharp-shooters” to the Spanish-American war (he declined). There’s also a full-page picture of a tablet (circa 1340 BC) from Ayyab to Amenhotep IV. A yellow legal-pad letter from John Kricfalusi includes doodles of what would later become his ‘Ren & Stimpy’ characters. 

And on the pages where letters could not be reproduced in their original form, Usher has included some stunning photographs of the correspondents. Like the haunting portrait of Virginia Woolf that accompanies her suicide note, discovered by her husband on their mantelpiece (“If anybody could have saved me it would have been you.”) 

Sometimes, when the correspondents were not famous enough to warrant a photograph, Usher has included photography – like the image of earth from outer-space to go with a letter from the director of science at NASA, to a Zambia-based nun (she wanted to know why billions of dollars was being spent on space travel, when there were children starving here on earth.) 

The letters are laid down in no particular order, rhyme or reason – and I love that. They are just as they came to us on the blog, each page-turn revealing a delightful treat. Here’s Ernest Hemingway giving writing advice to F. Scott Fitzgerald (“That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best – make it all up – but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way.”) An award-winning Pixar writer/director responding to correspondence from a young fan, or a threatening letter addressed to Martin Luther King. There is a surprise with the turn of each page.

And I was so pleased that my two favourite letters from the blog are included in this collection. 

The first is a letter of advice from John Steinbeck to his then fourteen-year-old son, Thom, who had fallen for a girl called Susan. “You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply – of course it isn’t puppy love.” I adore this because there’s such pleasure in knowing one of the greatest authors of all time wrote just as deeply and from the heart in his own correspondence with family as he did in the books that made him a legend. And he ends the letter “Love, Fa” – which just slays me.

But my absolutely favourite letter is one of sadly macabre humour and chest-swelling triumph. ‘To My Old Master’ is a letter from Jourdon Anderson to Patrick Henry Anderson, dated August 7th 1865. Jourdon was slave to Patrick Henry for 32 years, but fled with his wife and children when Union Army soldiers freed the plantation. One year later (and after the Civil War), Jourdon’s old master wrote to him, asking that he return to work. Jourdon’s reply is magnificent, though Jourdon makes mention of the injustice and brutality he and his suffered under the old masters –“We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense.” The letter ends, “Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.” 

The ‘Letters of Note’ November release is perfectly timed – here is a book that will make a fine Christmas present, but an even better graduation gift. Herein are the magnificent, laugh-out-loud, heart-piercing letters that Usher was right to want to share with a much wider audience. Gift this book to someone and they’ll appreciate the humour, wisdom and eloquence of the 100 letters within. 


1 comment:

  1. This sounds like its an amazing book to savor in increments and re-visit again and again. I'd love to add this to my book shelf =)


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