Friday, August 3, 2012

Spotlight: Epistolary Novels

Quill and Modern Pen by DigitalParadox
I have a weakness for epistolary novels, I may not always love them, but I'm more likely to pick them up in the first place. I'm sure more than a few of you are wondering what on Earth epistolary means. Epistolary comes from the word epistle, which means letter. Thus an epistolary novel is composed, at least in part, by letters between characters.

Pamela by Samuel Richardson is an early and notable example of the form. First published in 1740, it was a huge bestseller that inspired copycats and parodies. Pamela, a young maid, becomes the object of obsession for her employer, but in the end her virtuous nature leads to a happy ending.

Other Classic Epistolary Novels
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Les Liasons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Contemporary Takes on the Epistolary Novel
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
A story about change, tradition, family, and politics in a small community unified by a reverence for language. The community is shaken when the letter “z” is outlawed, but that is just the beginning. Quirky, clever, and perfect for anyone who loves word games.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peal Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
An epistolary novel set shortly after the end of WWII on the Channel Island of Guernsey, this intricately plotted novel has a wide appeal. The plot has a touch of romance and mystery, but is primarily a moving look into the perseverance of the British residents of Guernsey under the Nazi occupation.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Ms. Walker tackles the complex and often troubling issues of race and sex in America, as well as the individual's strength to persevere through our connections with others and God, in her thought-provoking writing. The Color Purple is the bittersweet story of Celie, a young African-American woman in the early half of the 20th century who is raped, beaten, and isolated. She writes of her troubles to God, and to her sister, a missionary in Africa. The Color Purple was awarded both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Lionel Shriver's reflective, character-driven novels explore the complex impact of contemporary life, from health care to ambition and fame, on society through the lens of the individual. We Need to Talk About Kevin, which was recently adapted as a film, is told through a series of letters written by Eva to her ex-husband after their troubled 17-year-old son, Kevin, kills nine people at his school. We Need to Talk About Kevin was awarded the Orange Prize for fiction in 2005.

Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles
Mr. Miles' bitterly funny first novel will resonate with anyone ever frustrated by the modern inconveniences of air travel or the cumulative disappointments of life. What starts as a bitingly angry letter of complaint by Benjamin Ford to the airline that has stranded him at O'Hare with no escape in sight, becomes Bennie's examination of his entire life.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
Mr. Shteyngart's novels typically include characters who look at America from an, often Russian, immigrant's perspective. His darkly humorous, near future Super Sad True Love Story also takes a biting look at our fascination with technology, from email to social media, and its impact on our relationships.

Alice's Tulips by Sandra Dallas
Sandra Dallas' novels focus on the lives of her quirky, quick-witted heroines and the relationships they build in small town America. Her writing has a homespun quality with careful use of dialect and the stories move at a relaxed pace. The story of Alice's Tulips is told through a series of letters between Alice, a young bride whose husband has left their Iowa farm to fight in the Civil War, and her sister.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
This young adult novel is currently in production for a movie adaptation to be released this September. Charlie writes a series of semi-anonymous letters to an unnamed "friend" about his struggles fitting in in high school after his best friend's suicide. Mr. Chbosky handles some difficult topics with honesty and a little dark humor, as readers watch Charlie confront his past and take control of his future. Parents of younger of more sensitive readers may want to read this book before their teens.

Please stop by the Recommendations Desk on the first floor, check out NoveList Plus on the library's website, or visit W. 11th & Bluff next week for more reading suggestions. Or submit a Personal Recommendations request, and we'll create a reading list just for you!

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