Thursday, March 27, 2014

Discussion Post: My Love of the Epistolary Novel

Thursday, March 27, 2014 12:02 AM with 21 comments



Discussion Post: Loving Epistolary Novels

e·pis·to·lar·y: 

1. relating to, denoting, conducted by, or contained in letters. 

2. (of novel or other work) constructed in the form of a series of letters. 

 

In honor of Love Letters to the Dead, a book I just finished a couple of days ago (the review can be found here), I've decided to try to explore my love of the epistolary novel and showcase a few of my favorites.

 

I've always been a fan of stories told through epistolary methods. Of which I mean not just letters, but also by email, diaries, texts, etc. There a few reasons for this. 

 

The first is that one of the things I both love and miss most about teenage me was the way I was always writing. I wrote journals, poems, stories, and-yes-letters. Most of these letters were really just another way of journaling my feelings about a person by addressing my writing to them--almost always the boy I was crushing on or just broke up with. I'm going to explain how this was almost always the same person. For some reason the following scenrio was 95% of my relationships in high school:

 

Boy: I like you.

Me: That's cool. I'm going to make this relationship as confusing and as difficult as possible so that you will prove your worth by battling through all my crap to find the real me.

Boy: What? I'm a teenage boy and that just isn't going to happen.

Me: Wait! Where are you going? *Sobs, writes poetry/stories/journals, discusses boy ad naseum with friends.* 

 

Rinse/Repeat 

 

 

Ahem. There were a few reasons for this, I think. The first is that I was just a late bloomer and not ready for a real relationship. The second is that I started reading Harlequin romance novels, Danielle Steel, VC Andrews, Sweet Valley High, etc in, like, the fourth grade. Relationships were supposed to have angst and passion. They weren't supposed to be about watching some dude play Playstation. Finally, I needed something to write about. Looking back at my teen self, I'm pretty sure I put myself through this just so I would have something to write about. Whatever. It was what it was was, and I wouldn't change a minute of it. So these novels written in diary, letter, emails, what-have-you let me reminisce about that time in my life when I was constantly just writing, writing, writing. 


The other reason I think I love the epistolary form so much is that it seems like we are getting a truer, deeper look into a character. Third person can only go so far. Even first person can feel distant as somebody is telling a story. When I tell stories, I omit, I change, I exaggerate, etc. BUT when somebody sits down to write they are opening up in a way more personal manner. Books written through journals and letters are showing the real person.

 

Some of my favorite epistolary novels:

 

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The Jessica Darling Series by Megan McCaferty

Very few books can compete with my love of Jessica Darling and the books that follow her. Told in journal form, this series follows several years of Jess's life from her formidable high school years through college and beyond. If you haven't read this book, do yourself a favor. If you have, I have two words for you: Marcus Flutie. 

Boy Next Door by Meg Cabot

This is part of a loosely connected series of three books labeled the "Boy" series. The other two books are Boy Meets Girl and Every Boy's Got One. All three are just these sugar-y sweet (in the best possible way) books told mostly through email. 

Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Follows a boy named Charlie who chronicles his freshman year of high school through letters to an unnamed person. This book is tough to read at times, but just so, so good. 

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

Oh, Bridget Jones, the English singleton just trying to lose 15 pounds and stop smoking cigarettes. By far my favorite retelling of Pride and Prejudice.

Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot is basically the queen of the epistolary novel. This adorable 10 book series follows a teen girl who finds out she is the princess of a small country. 

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

This book wreaked me. It follows a girl named Laurel who writes dead celebrities like Kurt Cobain and Heath Ledger while working through the grief caused by her beloved sister's recent death. 


Like always, I'd love to hear from you. Do you like the epistolary format or does it drive you crazy? Any recommendations?





21 comments:

  1. I've only read Perks out of all of those, but I'd looove to read Love Letters to the Dead (just kind of a little bit desperate for it now XD). I do like letter books. I loved Beverly Cleary's ones, Dear Mr. Henshaw, I think?? they were called. If it's done right it can be super personal and very hilarious.

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    1. Perks is so wonderful. I think you will like LLttD. I forgot about Beverly Cleary. She's so awesome. Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. I read the Jessica Darling series and enjoyed the first book. The rest, however, was a whole world of disappointments for me. Whelp.

    Anyway, I'm jealous that you've been a writer at such an early age. While I read until I'm blind since I was a wee person, I never really did pick up a pen until I was in my 30s. I see the joys in reading these types of novel, sure - especially if humour is an ingredient to the whole process.

    I didn't know what these types of novels were called until you mentioned it in your review of Letters to the Dead.

    Thanks for sharing, Nat!

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    1. I think the first 2 books are definitely superior to the rest of the series, but I just love JD so much. I wrote so much when I was younger, and then pretty much completely stopped once I hit my mid-20s. That's one of the reasons I love doing this blog--it makes me write! Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. Love this format too! My examples are adult books, but it was a nice element in Frankenstein and the author who did Guernesy Literary and Potato Peel society did an outstanding job with it too.

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    1. Definitely Frankenstein. I haven't read the Guernesy book, but I know that it was hugely popular. I should give it a try. Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. I would definitely have recommended Princess Diaries if they weren't already on the list! I loved those books so much when I was younger, and I now want to reread them and actually finish the series. I'm all for epistolary novels. In fact, I now want to read the Jessica Darling books because now that I know they're told in journal form.

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    1. I loved the PD series, too. The Jessica Darling series is seriously my favorite. I love the style and Jessica is one of my all-time favorite characters. Definitely pick them up! Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. I like this format, but I haven't read a lot of books like it. :( I remember reading "Regarding the Fountain" when I was a kid, and it was more through letters/tickets/newspaper clippings/etc. When I got a bit older, I got into the Madison Finn books.

    Thanks for the recommendations! :)

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    1. Hmmm. I'm not familiar with either of these. I love it when books also have newspaper clippings and the like. Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. I love-love books featuring diary entries or letters! The Jessica Darling series a fave of mine, too, but I also adore Jaclyn Moriarty's books (Feeling Sorry for Celia, Finding Cassie Crazy, The Betrayal of Bindy MacKenzie, and Dreaming of Amelia). I think you'd enjoy them :) Oh and I have to mention Code Name Verity, such excellent use of letters in that book!

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    1. Oh and you should try Jaclyn's A Corner of White because it features two kids sending letters through a crack in our world :)

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    2. I've heard great things about the author, but haven't picked them up. I actually have A Corner of White on my Kindle. I'll have to make some time for it. Thanks for the suggestions!

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  7. I love this format as well! I really need to get to the Jessica Darling books as well as Love Letters. Both sound so good! And haha, I write a lot of letters too. Some of them I actually pen, some of them I type and then delete but most of them usually stay hidden in my brain forever. I'd like to write them all out so I can dig them out and read them in the future!

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    1. I had all my high school letters in a drawer, but when me and my husband moved across country I had to get rid of them. Nothing like having to pack an actual moving van to make you lose some unneeded stuff. I still have all my old journals, though. I'll always keep those. The JD series is the best--definitely pick those up. Thanks for stopping by!

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  8. I just finished reading The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick, which was entirely told through letters to Richard Gere. Definitely different. I haven't read that many books told through letters, other than Perks and the Jessica Darling books (although I have to admit, I only read the first few of those). I do enjoy diary format, since you're basically in the character's head I always feel like I really get to know the character. ~Pam

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    1. Oh, yeah. I actually started reading that one, but got distracted. I need to finish that. Exactly--I love being in the character's head. Thanks for stopping by!

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  9. I really enjoy this format, but whenever I try to come up with examples, my mind blanks.

    I've heard great things about Perks, so I've got plans to (hopefully) read it soon!

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    1. I actually listened to Perks on audio during my commute and absolutely loved it in that format. The movie is amazing, too. Thanks for stopping by!

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  10. I know some people dread epistolary novels, but I look forward to them. I loved Perks, and sadly it's the only one I've read of the ones you listed, but I definitely have plans to pick up Love Letters after seeing it everywhere over the last month or so. And I agree...you get such an in-depth look at a character through their own writing as compared to them just relating their feelings or story through dialogue. I used to write all the time, too...I kept a journal until I met my husband and started using him as my sounding board, but I still miss it sometimes. Except when my mom found it that time and read it and decided to ask me about ALL THE THINGS. Not cool, Mom, not cool.

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  11. I loved epistolary novels when I was in late elementary and middle school. I couldn't get enough of the Dear America and Royal Diaries books. I also like the fact that the epistolary form was historically one of the first type of books that was appropriate for young women. For example, "The Coquette" as a warning and moral instruction in regards to marriage prospects.

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Hello, there! Thanks for taking the time to comment. I read each and every one and will do my best to respond--usually on your blog instead of on mine. I will, however, always answer direct questions. Due to serious time restraints, this blog is now an award free zone, but I appreciate the thought!