Sunday, January 5, 2014

Epistolary Reading in 2014

Photo by acroamatic in Flickr, CC licensed
I wrote up my reading goals for 2014 a few days ago, and kept feeling like I was forgetting something.  It wasn't until I was wandering the amazing bookstores on Main St. in Charlottesville, Virginia, when I remembered what I had omitted - letters!

I don't read much history, but I enjoy memoir and biography.  Much of what makes up a biography comes from personal letters.  I remember in doing some research on the composer Lou Harrison, realizing all the little tidbits that were possible because he had left his letters on file at an archive.  I often wonder what will happen to all of us when we die and the majority of our correspondence dies in our e-mail accounts.

At least for people in the past, what remains of their letters tells a story.  We can learn about a person, a place, an event, a time.  I would like to do that more intentionally in 2014, and I am committing to reading at least one volume of letters a month.

Which letters?  I have no idea.  If you have ideas, I'd love to hear them.  It isn't helped that in most bookstores, letters are filed under history or biography, so first I would need to have an idea of a time period or person I might hope letters exist for.

When visiting the Appomattox Court House yesterday, I had a nice chat with the recent college grad working in the bookstore.  He pointed me to a volume of letters from the confederacy, arranged in date order from 1864-1865.  That book, No Soap, No Pay, Diarrhea, Dysentery & Desertion:A Composite Diary of the Last 16 Months of the Confederacy from 1864 to 1865  will be one of my twelve volumes, and I expect to learn quite a bit more about the War Between the States (as it is referred to down here.)

@jackiemania just wrote a post about the letters of Emily Dickinson, and those definitely intrigued me.  Watching John Adams on HBO made me want to read the letters between John and Abigail.  Added up, this makes three months' worth, so I am definitely in need of recommendations for my epistolary reading.  


  1. Jenny--This is an old one I read long ago but it had that sweet British charm:
    84, Charing Cross Road / Helene Hanff

  2. This is an interesting goal, its something a lot of people don't read much of. I'll be reading your reviews with interest :)

    And I second the recommendation of 84 Charing Cross Road, its a lovely little book.

    1. I will definitely read this one, it sounds so cute!

  3. I haven't read all the volumes but Virginia Woolf's letters are fascinating.

  4. i loved the guernsey literary and potato peel society (fiction) but i'm fascinated by the mitford sisters, so i would recommend "The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters," edited by Charlotte Mosley. here's the nytimes review:


Thanks for visiting the Reading Envy blog and podcast. Word verification has become necessary because of spam.