Some of the memorable and beloved reads are epistolary novels. Recently I popped the cherry of The Color Purple, a collection of letters between two African African sisters from the south that was censored over the years since it was published. A more modern representative of this genre is The Perks of Being A Wallflower. They are stories told through journal entries, letters, and more pertinently nowadays, text messages and emails. The one epistolary novel that I keep returning to is 84 Charing Cross Road.
The book is the collection of a New York woman’s correspondence with a London bookstore. First published in 1971, the slim v olume became a most unlikely bestseller. Hanff was an impecunious book-lover. Her correspondence with the staff of Marks & Co., an antiquarian bookstore in London, spanned two decades. Evoked from these letters was the post-war austerity in Britain. Hanff wrote them with a wish list of titles she’d been unable to acquire in new York. She had an antiquarian taste in book but couldn’t afford the high prices. The shop manager, Frank Doel, sent her some o the items and promised to look out for second-hand copies of the out-of-print books. The business transactions evolves into a personal relationship. Having heard about the food rationing in effect in Britain, Hanff sent the staff a small Christmas present of foodstuffs most Brits hadn’t seen for years, including a large ham.
Epistolary novels are fun to read. They are fascinating way to capture how we communicate at a certain moment in time. They are like mini communication time capsules. Think of the last time you wrote a letter. I’s only a matter of time before we get a novel told entirely of Instagram and Twitter updates.