Why I Love Epistolary Novels. And Why You Should Too!

Do you love epistolary novels? 

Do you know what an epistolary novel is? Well, don’t fret if you don’t. I didn’t know that term until I sat down to write this blog post. I’ve been calling epistolary novels books written as letters or journal entries. But apparently there’s a word for that. Epistolary novels! If you already knew that then I have a cookie I’d like to give you.

I am currently reading (or rather listening to on audiobook) Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence. I love this book. As the title suggests, it’s a collection of letters a librarian has written to books. Yay! I’m not the only one who talks to books or other inanimate objects (Sorry, coffee pot. You’re not the only one I’m involved with). That means I’m not crazy, right? Well, maybe we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.

As I was reading Dear Fahrenheit 451, laughing my ass off as Annie has a drunken conversation with a pretentious bookcase at a party, I was reminded of a book I recently read that was written in letter form (It was Hey Harry, Hey Matilda by Rachel Hulin and it wasn’t all that great) . Then I thought, “Hey! I’ve read a lot of these books written as letters!”

I love a book written as a series of letters or journal entries because it allows you to get to know the narrator on an intimate level. The characters writing the letters have a specific audience or recipient they’re writing to, or maybe they don’t. Maybe they’re writing an open letter or an intimate journal entry meant for no one else’s eyes. But whomever the words are intended for, they are usually not meant for the reader.

Reading an epistolary novel makes me feel like I’m eavesdropping on a really important conversation. Like when I laid at the top of the stairs late at night so I could overhear my parents’ conversations after they thought I had gone to bed. Like listening to my babysitter talk on the phone to her boyfriend after she set us up with a PG-13 movie. It feels like I’m reading something that’s not meant for me, but I read it anyways. It feels good to be bad, doesn’t it?

I also like that it’s not all laid out for you. You have to do a little bit of work to figure out all the details of the narrator’s life. You’re seeing their world in glimpses through the letters. Key bits of information are dropped here and there and its up to the reader to piece it together.

Here are some epistolary novels that are worth the read:

Dracula by Bram Stoker
In all honesty, I have not read this book. I started it in one of my I’m-going-to-read-every-classic-ever-written-no-matter-how-dull-it-may-be phase, but never made it past pg. 25. However, it is the godfather of all epistolary novels.

“Dracula is an 1897 Gothic horror novel by Irish author Bram Stoker. Famous for introducing the character of the vampire Count Dracula, the novel tells the story of Dracula’s attempt to move from Transylvania to England so he may find new blood and spread undead curse, and the battle between Dracula and a small group of men and women led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing.”

 

 

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple This is actually on my nightstand waiting to be read. I’ve heard great things about it and can’t wait to read it!

“Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.Then Bernadette disappears. To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence–creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.”

 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky Oh teenage angst. How you make for such good literature!

“A funny, touching, and haunting modern classic. The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, Perks follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood.”

 

 

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl A must-read for Holocaust nonfiction. For more books about the Holocaust worth reading check out my last blog post.

“In 1942, with the Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, the Franks and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death.”

 

Attachments I love Rainbow Rowell. I’m not afraid to say it! This pre-Eleanor and Park novel is a great read.

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It’s company policy.) But they can’t quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.”

 

 

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life And of course, the inspiration for this blog post. I’m about 70% of the way through and would already recommend this. Hilarious!

“In Dear Fahrenheit 451, librarian Annie Spence has crafted love letters and breakup notes to the iconic and eclectic books she has encountered over the years.” 

What are your favorite epistolary novels?

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2 thoughts on “Why I Love Epistolary Novels. And Why You Should Too!

    1. You would love Dear Fahrenheit 451. There were some things in there I think only librarians would fully understand. Thanks for reading!

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