A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Not enough people write letters anymore. It’s quite tragic actually when you think about it. We all correspond far more often but our correspondences are now mostly hurried, disposable and the worst part, in text-speak. (Note: I never, ever,ever, ever write 2 for to or l8r for later…but I do see it!)
But there is something so wonderfully uplifting about shuffling through the pile of bills and catalogues and random mailings and finding a real and actual letter buried in there. It makes your heart skip!
Letters of Note is a collection of…well…letters. Notable letters. 125 of the world’s best, in fact. And before I begin on the contents and why this is one of my favourite books just now, I must first enthuse greatly about the format. This is a doorstop of a book, you could really do damage if you dropped this on any small toes. It’s beautiful and weighty and if you’re currently writing a Christmas List then this is definitely something to think about. It’s a good gift choice. It’s so impressive it’ll look like you really care a lot.
Being a very, very nosy person who is prone to eavesdropping and listening in to private conversations at any opportunity, I love the almost clandestine pleasure reading these letters gives. Shaun Usher began the website Letters of Note which I was an avid reader of, but the book format has really taken these stunning pieces of history and moved them to a whole new level. This is a book for dipping into, flicking over the pages to see where you land next. Katharine Hepburn writing to Spencer Tracy eighteen years after his death. Or Mary Stuart to Henry III of France just before she was beheaded. Or Gandhi writing to Adolf Hitler in 1939 to plead for him to avoid war. These letters are wholly reproduced in large photographs and also transcribed, which helps when the writer is more of a scribbler.
I have my own favourites. Three Elvis Presley fans wrote to President Eisenhower in 1958 to plead with him not to cut off Elvis’s sideburns when he gets his GI haircut. They say they will, “just about die!” if they cut his hair off. Alec Guinness wrote to Anne Kaufman on April 19th 1976 about, among other things, his role in an upcoming movie called Star Wars. He says the dialogue is rubbish and “none of it makes my character clear or even bearable.” He also refers to his co-stars one of which may be called Tennyson Ford, who all make him feel ninety and treat him as though he were 106.
I could go on for hours picking out some extraordinary correspondences that not only mark out cultural landmarks but also historical ones. This isn’t just a great way to waste time and rifle through people’s paperwork, it’s also a hugely educational resource. It’s also one of those books which can be prettily left lying on the coffee table and you will always be drawn to pick it up. Putting it down will be more of a problem.
P.S…Just released on the 1st of October is the follow up Lists of Note, which I am putting on my own Christmas List. I cannot wait to read…
1. A shopping list written by two 9th-century Tibetan monks
2. A handwritten list of the BFG’s favourite words by Roald Dahl
3. The 19 year-old Isaac Newton’s list of the 57 sins he’d already committed
4. Galileo’s list of parts needed to build his telescope
5. Einstein’s punitive list of conditions imposed on his first wife
6. 29-year-old Marilyn Monroe’s inspirational set of New Year’s resolutions
7. Martin Luther King’s advice for black people starting to use buses
8. Johnny Cash’s list of ‘things to do today’
9. Michelangelo’s illustrated shopping list
10. Advice for ‘chick rockers’ by Chrissie Hynd