My fiancé died more than twelve years ago and of all the things he left me, it is a box of love letters–and poems, cartoons, and crossword puzzles–I cherish most.   They run the gamut of emotions:  heartfelt, whimsical, poignant, hilarious, romantic, and are a tangible testament to our very special relationship.  Even with a wonderful new man in my life, I will cherish them always.

            Likewise when Jean died, it was the act of hand writing all those thank you cards that set me on the long, long road to healing from my unexpected loss.  The funeral home provided pre-printed thank you notes, but the act of sitting down and putting pen to mourning paper–a difficult find in the age of instant communication!–to individually thank all the people who were so kind to me after his death gave me something on which to focus.  It also allowed me to share with his friends and colleagues the personal connections he had developed with them and to acknowledge that they, too, were grieving his loss.

            It is with this in mind that I read Letters of Note.  The word eclectic does not do justice to this fascinating collection of missives dating back to the sixteenth century. Shaun Usher is 33 year-old writer who administers the web site  He readily admits that publishing this beautiful volume is somewhat ironic in that he is a very poor correspondent; however, the site drew praise and positive feedback, and Usher recognized that some things are just better on page than on a computer screen.  On the web site he says “To me, letters are small artworks and this book will be a catalogue of beautiful, meaningful objects.”    The project was funded via crowd sourcing with pledges ranging from ten to 350 British pounds and dandy prizes at each level of pledging.  The book is 287 percent funded!

            Unlike any of the other compilations of letters I own, Letters of Note is not organized by any particular theme, and the impressive list of people who are represented allows the reader to plow straight through or cherry pick.  Admittedly, many of the letters are from celebrities, politicians, and the well to do, and many have been published before.  Likewise, one generally expects a book of letters to have a grand tone and purpose, yet Letters of Note is quite the opposite.  Most of the letters deal with the mundane business of living, although there are some that will take your breath away, including the suicide letter Virginia Wolfe wrote to her husband; the FBI’s letter to Martin Luther King, Jr., in which the agency urges him to kill himself before someone else does; a wrenching letter  from a widow to her dead husband chastising him for leaving her; and a letter from a London mail carrier to his colleagues describing the Great Fire of London.  There are several letters from Mark Twain and they are as irascible as the man himself, and letters from Leonardo Da Vinci and Eudora Welty seeking employment.  Letters of Note also contains telegrams, drawings and writings that technically are not letters, such as the rescue plea from Lt. JG John F. Kennedy which he carved on a coconut after his PT boat was sunk by an enemy destroyed, and the drop scones recipe sent by Queen Elizabeth II to President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

            The letters in this beautiful volume run the gamut of human emotions which is one of the reasons why it is so appealing.  By the end of Letters of Note I was left with the wistful longing for those days when I regularly wrote letters to and received them from far-flung friends.  Unfortunately I am forced to admit that like shorthand, Latin and pay phones, letters are a moribund art; however, that makes this volume all the more delightful.  Don’t leave it on the coffee table unguarded!