Letters of Note by Shaun Usher

Book Review by Kristian Doyle | 02 Dec 2013
  • lettersofnote
Book title: Letters of Note
Author: Shaun Usher

Based on the website of the same name, Letters of Note is a compilation of 125 letters that truly runs the epistolary gamut. There are, of course, a fair few classics: one of Rilke's profoundly instructive 'letters to a young poet,' 'Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus', Virginia Woolf's crushing suicide note, etc. But there are also plenty of lesser-known marvels, such as the chilling memo prepared by presidential speechwriter William Safire in the event that the 1969 moon landings went fatally awry, or a Campbell's product marketing manager's letter to Andy Warhol, in which the artist is informed that he has been sent "a couple of cases" of tomato soup (his favourite, apparently) as a show of gratitude.

As with any anthology, the selection is all-important. Here, Usher has managed to strike a perfect balance: seriousness abounds, but so does charming absurdity: a page after Benjamin Franklin's 'pay it forward' letter to Benjamin Webb, for example, you get a little boy asking Frank Lloyd Wright to design a kennel (to which Wright actually agrees). But it isn't just remarkably well compiled; Letters of Note is a hefty, luxuriously bound and designed work, and, in the era of the eReader, it serves as a strong reminder of how books can be beautiful material objects, too. [Kristian Doyle] 

Out now, published by Canongate Unbound, RRP £30