I love writing and receiving letters, so naturally I'm a sucker for a book written in letter form. Letters and epistolary books have a long literary tradition, but particularly in recent years, more and more authors have used this method of storytelling to convey their ideas.
Epistolary books can include formats other than letters, including diary entries, news clippings, e-mails, text messages, and government documents. But for this round-up, I'm concentrating just on books that are written specifically in letter form. How does a book being written as a letter affect the way it interacts with the audience? What are the various ways in which letters can be used?
I always feel more personally connected to books written as letters, as if the author is writing to me specifically. Letter-writing in nonfiction often feels more intimate, as though the author is having a private chat with me, not speaking through an essay. In fiction, however, letters can provide a block to the truth — is a character telling the full story? Or just their side of events?
Here are seven books that have taken the form of letters — from Between the World and Me to The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
1'Between the World and Me' by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This National Book Award-winning book of essays is written as a letter from author Ta-Nehisi Coates to his son about the harsh realities of growing up black in America.
2'Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
The latest book by Americanah author and feminist icon, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, comes in the form in a letter to her friend, Ijeawele. In the letter/book, Adiche gives Ijeawele advice on how to raise her newborn daughter as a feminist.
3'Swimming Lessons' by Claire Fuller
In Swimming Lessons, a woman writes letters to her husband, hides them inside the books of his extensive library, then disappears. The book alternates between the letters she wrote, and the story of her daughters, who, decades later, must care for their father.
4'The Color Purple' by Alice Walker
This beautiful, classic novel is written as letters to God. Set in rural Georgia in the 1930s, this book gives voice to the black women of that period.
5'Letters to a Young Poet' by Ranier Maria Rilke
This classic contains the real letters of the famous poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, to a young poet who had sent him some of his work. Through these letters, readers get a glimpse of Rilke's own inner workings as a poet and are treated to amazing insights on the creative life.
6'Dear Mr. You' by Mary-Louise Parker
In this beautiful book, actress Mary-Louise Parker writes letters to various men in her life, real and hypothetical.
7'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky
This modern-day classic is told through letters from Charlie, an introverted teenager trying to navigate dating, family drama, and all the wild rides that adolescent life has in store.