Snail mail, analog messages, vintage social media. Whatever you want to call it, sending a pen & paper letter through the postal system is a satisfying experience, second only to receiving a handwritten note oneself! That’s why stationery lovers have declared February to be International Correspondence Writing Month (InCoWriMo). This post isn’t about letters, though. It’s about books, specifically books that celebrate all things letter-related! Which ones though?
Good question. I have turned to the Letter Writer’s Alliance on Goodreads and their curated list of epistolary novels for my list of seven books. Some of them are old favorites and a few are new ones to me. Let’s start with one of my all-time favorite books, Going Postal by Terry Pratchett.
Going Postal (A Discworld Novel) by Terry Pratchett
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett is quite possibly one of my most favorite books of all time. Terry Pratchett is a supreme satirist and Going Postal is his poke at the postal system. Moist Von Lipwig is a con artist offered a choice: whip the Ankh-Morpork post office into shape or die. He makes the wise choice and so begins the hilarious adventure of stamp collecting, lost mail, correspondence races, and more.
84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
84 Charing Cross Road was the second epistolary novel I ever read (the first being The Color Purple). It’s a love story, not between a man and woman, but of a man and woman and their mutual adoration of books. It’s also a quite interesting look into post-WWII England and the hardships they faced at that time. Helene ordered over forty books from the small bookshop on Charing Cross Road between 1949 and 1968 and not one of them was a piece of fiction! The Pointe-Clare Library Blog has the full list of books Helene ordered if you’re interested.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia da Luce #1) by Alan Bradley
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was the first book I read for the Letter Writer’s Alliance book club. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, really, but I was delighted that I read it. Flavia – a budding chemist, poison expert, and precocious pre-teen – is leading a humdrum life until a dead bird, a stamp, and a murdered man happens to her family. She’s on a mission to solve the case, no matter what. It is a non-stop read that was hard to put down. And I enjoyed the twists that the author, Alan Bradley, wove into the storyline along with the normal worries of a pre-teen we can all relate to (or maybe it was just me!).
Neither Snow nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service by Devin Leonard
A history of the United States post office? Yes, please! Neither Snow Nor Rain details how one of the most essential of American institutions came into being and continues to run today. Leonard also discusses the issues that the post office faces today. A good read for anyone interested in history and letters!
Letters to the Lost: A Novel by Iona Grey
I love the prose that Iona Grey weaves into Letters to the Lost. It ebbs and flows like water but surrounds the story not to drown it, but to steady it and move it forward. It’s a love story but it’s also about redemption and finding one’s place in the world. A good book for a rainy day.
Death Takes Priority (A Postmistress Mystery Book 1) by Jean Flowers (aka Camille Minichino)
Cozy mysteries should be fun to read and leave you wondering whodunnit right up to the end. That’s exactly what Death Takes Priority does. It’s a twisty storyline with some very enjoyable characters. As someone who is on a first name basis with the local postmen and postwomen, I enjoyed the story immensely!
Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn
If you’ve ever practiced cursive – or tried out a new fountain pen – you’ve probably written “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” about a million times. In Ella Minnow Pea, the characters live on a fictional island where the originator of that pangram is venerated. And when the letters from the pangram start disappearing from their hallowed place in the middle of town, the island council does the only thing it can do: remove the letters from the alphabet too. By the end of the book, the Islanders are left with five alphabet letters. A smart book and a funny read.
The End…or Is It?
There are plenty more epistolary novels to read, like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Shaffer and Barrows or Meet Me At the Museum by Youngson. But these should get you started down the epistolary road. I really like writing that word…epistolary. It just rolls off the fingers. Anyway, when you’re done reading a book or two, feel free to send me a letter about how much you enjoyed the selections in this list. I always respond to my mail!
April Hayman, Author
101 Coso Ave., #1499
Ridgerest, CA 93556
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