10 Excellent Epistolary Novels

Each time BookBrowse reviews a book we also go "beyond the book" to explore a related topic. Here is a recommended reading list of 10 epistolary novels - that is to say books written in the form of letters or journal entries - which we wrote to support our review of Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey:

Epistolary novels are not new – Bram Stoker's Dracula, for example, was published in 1879, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein even earlier, in 1818. The form, which is not limited to letters, (nor to horror novels!) also includes journal entries, newspaper clippings, emails, and other forms of correspondence. Perhaps its appeal lies in its inherent hush-hush nature: the main character seems to share a secret with the reader, something meant for his or her own eyes, or one other beloved's eyes. The reader feels lucky to be included in the communication. Whatever the reason, the epistolary novel continues to be written, and enjoyed. Iona Grey's debut novel, Letters to the Lost, is one such novel. Here are 10 others. It is not an exhaustive list, by any means, but a good place to begin investigating this intriguing form.


Above and Beyond: A Selection of BookBrowse's "Beyond the Book" Articles

Dear BookBrowsers,

Each book we feature in the BookBrowse Review (our twice-monthly membership magazine) is backed by a review and an excerpt, and often a reading guide and author interview. In addition, we always include a "Beyond the Book" article. In fact, these pithy features are so popular that a significant number of members tell us they look forward to reading them first.

To feed the geek in you, we feature a sampling of recent Beyond the Book articles in this special edition. They explore a gamut of topics to satisfy a wide range of interests and are representative of the kind of content we love to dig into. We pack our reading recommendations with just that extra touch of noteworthy content because we know that you too love the excitement of discovering something you never knew before.


Was Christopher Marlowe Actually William Shakespeare?

A Prisoner in MaltaEach time BookBrowse reviews a book we also go "beyond the book" to explore a related topic. Last week we reviewed A Prison in Malta, the first in a new 16th century mystery series by Phillip DePoy which introduces a sleuth to appeal to mystery, historical fiction and literary aficionados alike, none other than playwright Christopher Marlowe (who, in all likelihood, did do to a fair amount of real-life spying for Queen Elizabeth.)

Going "beyond the book" our reviewer James Broderick eruditely explores the 400-year-old question - did Shakespeare write his plays or were they written by someone else? And was that someone Christopher Marlowe? If you've found the "Shakespeare authorship" question a tad dry, even irrelevant, or perhaps didn't even know there was a question to resolve, be prepared to be happily entertained and intrigued as James, in a mere 700 words, eloquently gets to the gist of a debate that has spawned dozens of books:


Popular German Crime Writers

This blog first ran as a "beyond the book" article for BookBrowse's review of The Watcher by Charlotte Link

Thanks to authors like Jo Nesbo, Karin Fossum, and Henning Mankell, not to mention Stieg Larsson, American readers have become quite familiar with contemporary Scandinavian thrillers and novels of psychological suspense. As The Watcher demonstrates, however, the Nordic countries hardly have a monopoly on this genre, and in recent years several novels by contemporary German thriller writers have begun to hit the English-speaking market. Here are a few names to look for:


How the Word "Ghost" Got Its Spelling

In addition to reviewing books, BookBrowse goes "beyond the book" to explore interesting aspects relating to each book we feature. Here is a "Beyond the Book" feature written to complement our review of Spell It Out by David Crystal

David Crystal is a prolific scholar of linguistics who specializes in language pathology, phonetics, and linguistic disability.

What I admire most about Crystal's scholarship in Spell It Out is its humanity. He never loses sight of language as a form of human expression—whether through orthography or pronunciation.

Consider for example, the history of the word, "ghost":

"Why is there an h here? And in ghastly, aghast and the whole family of related words –– ghostly, ghostliness, ghastliness, ghostbusters and so on? It wasn't there when the word first came into English. In Anglo-Saxon England we find it used in the form gast, with a long 'ah' vowel...But there was no h in the Anglo-Saxon spelling: the Holy Ghost was a Hali Gast. Nor was there an h in the word in Chaucer's time…Then along came Caxton [William Caxton, the first printer and publisher of books in England], who sets up his printing-shop. But who was to carry out the painstaking task of typesetting the new books, letter by letter? There was nobody capable of doing it in England. Caxton had learned his trade on the European mainland…so he looked to the Continent for help. We know the name of one of his assistants, Wynkyn de Worde. He and the other compositors…all spoke Flemish."

Crystal points out that the Flemish-speaking typesetters were on their own: "There were no dictionaries or house style guides to help them choose which spellings to use. In Bruges they would all have been used to reading manuscripts in Flemish spelling. So, if a word reminded them of its Flemish counterpart, why not spell it the Flemish way?"

William CaxtonAnd so Caxton refers to the "Holy Ghoost," and "ghost" appears in his printing of Chaucer's "House of Fame." This spelling looked "right" to the Flemish printers and, Crystal reports, soon looked "right" to everyone else: "…by the end of the 16th century everyone was using the new form. Hamlet's dead father is a ghost, not a gost. And slowly the h spread to related words. Aghast appears first in the 15th century, and eventually replaces agast. Ghastly replaces gastly."

Even today contemporary Wynkyn de Wordes are inventing new spellings for old words - in books or perhaps while texting or Tweeting - that will someday catch on as "ghost" did and exert their own "ghostly" influence on other words as well.

By Jo Perry, first published on BookBrowse as the "beyond the book" article relating to Spell It Out by David Crystal

Picture of Caxton from Unrealcityaudio

Your Brain on Literature: The benefits of reading

Reading quiet, literary fiction, like Someone by Alice McDermott, nudges us towards contemplation and self-examination. But according to a recent study conducted at the New School for Social Research in New York, it may do even more. This much-publicized study, "Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind," concludes that reading literary fiction can better the ability to "read" the thoughts and feelings of others. The researchers, Ph.D candidate David Comer Kidd; and professor of psychology, Emanuele Castano; suggest that this is achieved by an increase in empathy and the ability to recognize and share the feelings of others.


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