Literary Quote of the Month

“For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough)—they are experiences,” … Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Sunday Salon... Love Letters of a Different Kind - Epistolary Novels


Still buried under two feet of snow?! I know here in Connecticut it seems like the snow will never stop, but it's Sunday morning! Time to grab that cup of joe and chat about something we all love -Reading! And speaking of reading,there are always some great discussions to be found on Goodreads about books, and always great recommendations. Are you familiar with Goodreads? Goodreads is a social network for readers. There are book clubs, discussion groups, book giveaways, reviews and a virtual place to shelve your books and keep trackof them. If you've never visited Goodreads, and you're a reader, hop on over and check it out! Here's the link to Goodreads, I promise you won't be sorry!

Recently on Goodreads there was a discussion in the Books on The Nightstand group, run by Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness about favorite books about books.(Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness are two bookish people who have a great podcast, Books on the Nightstand, all about books! And a great companion blog to that too!) Someone mentioned The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Have you read it yet? I loved this book, it takes place during WWII, when an English novelist receives a letter from a man she's never met, who lives in the small island of Guernsey. The man found her name inscribed in a used book. They begin a correspondence, and the novelist, Juliet Ashton, finds her next writing project- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, a book club formed in a spur of the moment decision as an alibi when the German soldiers occupying the small island find some of the citizens breaking curfew. It is a wonderful, charming novel. The correspondence grows from just the two of them writing each other, to practically the whole town writing Juliet. It is an epistolary novel - a novel written entirely in letters!

Then someone added to the discussion about another epistolary novel that they enjoyed - Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. I had never heard of this book, but since enjoying The Guernsey book so much, I thought I'd check out Mark Dunn's book. And THAT got me to thinking about other epistolary novels... Have you read any epistolary novels? It's an interesting way to write a book, but also an interesting way to read a book. Kind of like being a voyeur... peeking into someone's private correspondence. To be considered an "epistolary novel", the novel needs to be written with diary entries, documents, letters etc. The novel doesn't necessarily need to be all "letters", but they must play an important & major part of the novel. Now "epistolary" novels can also mean books written in the form of emails, blogging and tweets!

When The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society novel took off in popularity, it was thought by some to be unique because of the way it was written, but epistolary novels have been around a long time! In fact epistolary novels date back all the way to 1485, with The Prisoner of Love by Diego de San Pedro. Probably the first well known and wildly popular epistolary novel was (Love) Letters of a Portuguese Nun "written by" Marianna Alcoforado, that told the passionate love affair between the nun and a french officer. Even a very young Jane Austen wrote a novella, Lady Susan, in this form. So today, I thought we'd take a look at some contemporary epistolary novels...

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn... Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram,* “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.

After reading about this on Goodreads, I just had to get a copy. This sounds like such a fun novel. I can't wait to see how the letters disappear from the novel. Ella Minnow Pea (L M N O P) has also gotten rave reviews too! Some people have called this a dystopian novel because of the control that the "good intentioned" government has over its citizens.

The Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth Berg... In the middle of her life, Nan decides to leave her husband at home and begin an impromptu trek across the country, carrying with her a turquoise leather journal she intends to fill. The Pull of the Moon is a novel about a woman coming to terms with issues of importance to all women. In her journal, Nan addresses the thorniness—and the allure—of marriage, the sweet ties to children, and the gifts and lessons that come from random encounters with strangers, including a handsome man appearing out of the woods and a lonely housewife sitting on her front porch steps. Most of all, Nan writes about the need for the self to stay alive. In this luminous and exquisitely written novel, Elizabeth Berg shows how sometimes you have to leave your life behind in order to find it.

What can I say, if you're of a certain age and a woman... I downloaded a sample on my Kindle to get the feel of the book. At first, on the surface, the letters Nan started writing to her husband seemed to be rather humorous, reflecting on the "horrors" of aging, but there is also an underlying sadness to Nan too. I like the writing of Elizabeth Berg, and know she won't fail me.

Heart on my Sleeve by Ellen Wittlinger... While on a college visit, Chloe meets Julian, another prospective freshman, and infatuated, the two high school seniors begin a long-distance relationship. Chloe is thrilled that she'll have a boyfriend at college, although she doesn't know how to break the news to Eli, her best friend whom she's sort of dating. As Chloe and Julian prepare to meet again, they must face the question of whether their relationship is based on who they really are or who they imagine each other to be.

This is a YA novel that's gotten some great buzz, and The Horn Book praised by writing... "Wittlinger's novel - about genuinely connecting, not just communicating - will hook readers, both with its lovestruck but thoughtful main characters and with its realistic-looking but easy-to-follow layout of e-mails, instant messages, and handwritten letters flying back and forth among the protagonists and their friends and family." This is also a great example of how epistolary encompasses not just "letters", but newer forms of communications!

Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger... Last Days of Summer is the story of Joey Margolis, neighborhood punching bag, growing up goofy and mostly fatherless in Brooklyn in the early 1940s. A boy looking for a hero, Joey decides to latch on to Charlie Banks, the all-star third baseman for the New York Giants. But Joey's chosen champion doesn't exactly welcome the extreme attention of a persistent young fan with an overactive imagination. Then again, this strange, needy kid might be exactly what Banks needs.

This book is not just made up of letters, but is filled with notes, report cards, postcards and other "writable things". It looks to me like it would be a sweet coming-of-age story, written in a very inventive way. And something "you guys" out there would really enjoy!

Other notable epistolary novels... The Color Purple by Alice Walker, White Tiger by Araind Adica, Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea, 84 Charing Crossing Road by Helene Hanff and The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif.

*Here are some suggestions from Chick with Books Readers... Nikola from Nikola's Book Blog shares Dracula by Bram Stoker, Kaye from Pudgy Penguin Perusals shares The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd, and Uniflame shares life on the refrigerator door by Alice Kuipers. Thanks everyone for sharing these suggestions!

Here's a Recap of this past weeks blog... for Memoir Monday I highlighted a book any foodie reader would appreciate - Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton -which is a look at the 25 year journey Gabrielle took before opening up her acclaimed NY restaurant, Prune. Gabrielle has a great writing style that just easily sweeps you up in the story. Then on Wednesday (even though the date says Sunday), I reviewed the 1st book in the adorable Manga series Chi's Sweet Home by Konami Konata. Written in the Western style, which is how graphic novels usually are written (read front to back), Chi's Sweet Home tells the story of a Chi, a lost kitten who eventually finds a home and a family with the Yamada's. If you've ever lived with a kitten, you will love the antics of Chi. Publisher's Weekly calls it the cutest Manga of 2010, and I have to agree- it is sweet and kids of all ages (including my age) will enjoy it. Then for First Lines on friday, I shared the beginning of The Raven's Bride by Lenore Hart. This book is a ghost story, a love story and from the opening lines looks to be a delicious read! The ghost of Virginia Poe, the love of Edgar Allan Poes life opens the book coming to visit her lover & husband. I can't wait to dive into this book! BTW, Today is the last day to grab one of the 3 romances Sourcebooks is offering ebook fans! One is a historical fiction from Elizabeth Chadwick! Here's the link to read more about Sourcebooks free ebooks!

Other mentionables... Delirium by Lauren Oliver was released this week!! Here's my review of Delirium. If you enjoy dystopian love stories, YA love stories, great books, you have to read this! I have to warn you though, it is only the first book in a planned trilogy! I really need to read book two now!! Also the Jane Eyre Readathon hosted by Laura of Laura's Review Bookshelf started! Feb. 7th will be the first "check-in". No pressure, read at your own pace, and it's not too late to start! Basically, if you'd like to read Jane Eyre and have a place to discuss or comment on what you're reading, getting insights from other readers, etc. this is a way to share it all. Here's the link to the original Readathon Sign-up. This week Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness will be released! I chatted about Discovery of Witches in a Sunday Salon a few weeks ago as one of my hot picks! Kind of like a Harry Potter for adults. And the 3rd book in the Flavia de Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley, A Red Herring Without Mustard will be released this week too!

I hope I piqued your interest with something today! What do you think about epistolary novels?! Love 'em? Hate 'em? Never read one before? If you found a trunk full of old love letters, would you open and read every one? Share what you're reading here! And if you have any bookish suggestions, you can share them here too!

Happy reading... Suzanne

12 comments:

Nikola said...

Epistolary novels can be really, *really* tiresome, especially the Victorian ones - the slow-moving plot and the archaic language are hard enough, but the epistolary form is then just the icing on the cake.

That being said, Bram Stoker's *Dracula* is an epistolary novel. And I loved it to pieces - the form fit the novel perfectly and it was great to actually get more characters' perspective on the same thing this way.

Mary said...

I enjoy epistolary novels. Loved Guernsey (read it a few years ago). Last Days of Summer is one of my favorite books. Loved it. I'm a fan of Elizabeth Berg but haven't read Pull of the Moon. I'll look for it. Great post, Suzanne!

Mason Canyon said...

You've definitely piqued my interest today. You have a great mix of wonderful sounding books. I haven't read any epistolary novels, but you have several here that have grabbed my attention and I'll have to check out. Thanks.

Mason
Thoughts in Progress

Booksnyc said...

Sometimes the epistolary format can seem forced to me but I did love Guernsey - once I let go of the format I am completely immersed! That book has opened my mind to trying new novels in this format.

Kaye said...

My niece was vacationing in NH and went to a barn sale and bought a book titled The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd. After she read and raved about it, I got it from the library and loved it!! It's written in letter and diary entry form. Such a good story!!

Vasilly said...

I love Pull of the Moon. It's one of my favorite books ever. Bloggers everywhere have loved Ella Minnow Pea and I'm glad that I have a copy of it though I haven't read it yet.

If I found a trunk full of old love letters, I would definitely open and read every one! Love letters are so romantic! Today I'm reading Among Others by Jo Walton which is about growing up, books, and reading.

Have a great week.

Suzanne said...

Nikola,
You know it's funny, but I've never read the original Dracula! And I didn't realize that it was an epistolary novel! Making note now to read ASAP! I bought a copy to read and it's in my TBR pile! Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm for Dracula!

Mary,
Guernsey was such a wonderful book! I wasn't so sure about it at first, but I just got swept up in the story.Nice to hear that you loved Last Days of Summer! I am putting on my TBR list now.

Mason,
If you are going to try a epistolary, I'd give the Guernsey book a go. Although I am enjoying the Elizabeth Berg novel The Pull of the Moon now. (probably because I'm part of that over 40 crowd) :-)

Suzanne said...

Booksync,
That's what I had to do when beginning Guernsey- let go of the format. As soon as I immersed myself in the story, I forgot about "how" it was written and could enjoy it. Now I don't seem to have that "problem".

Kaye,
Thanks for the recommendation! I haven't heard of The Ginger Tree before or Oswald Wynd. And any book that gets "raves" is always a must read for me too! Ooh, my library has it too! I'm going to reserve it! AND it's set in China! An added treat!

Suzanne said...

Vasilly,
I would read through those love letters too! And I'm loving Pull of the Moon! Ella Minnow Pea is next on the list- I picked up my copy yesterday!

Hmm, I like the sound of Among Others. I'm a sucker for books about growing up and to include books & reading along side that is great.... OK, now I have to put Among Others on my TBR list! Thanks for sharing!!

Uniflame said...

Have you ever read lief on the refrigerator door? I don't remember who has written it, but it is about a mom and teenage daughter who mainly communicate though notes on the refrigerator door, because they are both so busy with their lives. I thought it was a great book. I loved the note concept :)

Suzanne said...

Uniflame,
That sounds so interesting! I looked it up it's "life on the refrigerator door" by Alice Kuipers. AND there's a Bargain Hardcover available at Amazon for $6.38! Yeh!
I read the excerpt and really was enjoying the exchange!

Thanks for sharing!

Nikola said...

Oh I'm so glad you'd want to read it!! :) It's really a great book, and a great companion to it is the Francis Ford Coppola movie, with Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder. It's only moderately scary, but it paints the story the way Bram Stoker wanted to: the story of a lonely man in love, desperate to change his situation by defying social norms (vampirism here is merely a metaphor).

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