The BookLook

The BookLook: ‘Letters of Note’ compiled by Shaun Usher

by Gemma Pearson

Forget Google, forget watching the news, forget The Daily Mail online’s sidebar of shame. In fact, forget everything until you get a copy of this book. Because Letters of Note might just teach you fabulous things that you don’t know you’d love to know.

The BookLook: ‘Letters of Note’ compiled by Shaun Usher

Other than with ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’, never have I gone to such efforts to extol the virtues of a book. Perhaps it demonstrates how little I knew about world history, or the fascinating people that have made their mark within it, but this book made me feel so empowered with knowledge.

All generous in their content, and, by their very nature, thoughtful, this beautifully curated compilation of real letters bustles with life, pain, hope, good intent, humour and love. Some of the letters are unusual, some quite frankly bizarre, but all fascinating and insightful.

I was taken aback by the speech written for the President, had Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin not made it back safely when Apollo 11 landed on the moon, then humbled by the co-founder of the structure of DNA writing about his discovery to his 12 year-old son.

I was amazed by Mark Chapman’s letter to an auction house enquiring about the possible worth of the Beatles album that he got John Lennon to sign an hour before he shot him.

Then there’s Gandhi’s letter to Hitler, reaching out ‘for the sake of humanity’, or Anais Nin’s impassioned response to a collector of her work who asked her to “leave out the poetry…and concentrate on sex”.

There’s Virginia Woolf’s final heart-wrenching letter to her husband and a 1917 letter to Winston Churchill that contains the first recorded use of the acronym ‘OMG’!

When John Stenbeck heard from his 14 year old son that he was in love, his response is exemplary: “The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.”

Said the screenplay writer of Rebel Without a Cause about the untimely passing of James Dean: “From Jimmy I have already learned the value of a minute. He loved his minutes and I shall now love mine”.

This collection is diverse, moving and enthralling. I recommend putting aside some of your minutes to enjoy it.