Letters of Note, Splendidly Noted

Shaun Usher understands the art of letter writing – as any fan of his site, Letters of Note, knows – and now his book by the same name brings all that art to the printed page. Letters of Note, the book, is beautiful, large-size, fabulously produced, and above all, it is art. Not only are the one hundred letters he chose to reproduce here in the book great to look at, they are great to read, allowing experiences that are in turn transformative, moving, and inspirational (or chilling, in a few cases). The letters are historical and for the ages, personal and universal, just like art. Just like letters.

Anyone will be inspired to write a letter after perusing the examples offered by Usher, especially given the variety of styles – straightforward, like the letter written by Abraham Lincoln to a very young adviser; exalting, like the letter written by Mark Twain to Walt Whitman; honest and generous, like the letter written by Iggy Pop to a fan; humorous, like the one written by cartoonist Charles M. Schultz explaining that a newly-introduced character would be axed (and she was, as fully illustrated by Schultz in the letter); and heartbreaking, like the last love letter written by a Union solider before he was killed in the First Battle at Bull Run. Letters long and short are presented, typed and scrawled, elegant and rude – Usher has all kinds, and the lesson is: just do it. Write a letter, mail it, and make history.

The one hundred letters are put together with humor (nice juxtaposition: a letter from Queen Elizabeth II to Eisenhower, sharing her scone recipe, followed immediately by a letter from Jack the Ripper detailing how he ate the kidney of one of his victims), intelligence (good background information is provided for each entry, allowing a full appreciation of the letters without cluttering up the book with too much noise; taste (photos and layout and production), and most of all, with love. Shaun Usher ranks as one of the world’s great lover of letters and his reverence for the art of correspondence shows.The volume is so well-produced it could become an heirloom, passed down through generations. I can only hope that future generations will recognize the mode of letter writing, and find inspiration, as I do, in just how meaningful and lasting a communication by letter can be.