10 First-Class Epistolary Novels

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10 First-Class Epistolary Novels

In our increasingly digitized world, we’ve lost payphones, typewriters, floppy disks, beepers, cassette tapes and, soon, even the teaching of cursive in schools. But epistolary novels continue to champion the intimate, relaxed approach of telling a story through letters, journals and other forms of personal communication. If you’re unsure if you’ve ever read such a novel, perhaps these famous titles ring a bell: Dracula, Bridget Jones’ Diary, World War Z and Super Sad True Love Story. In any case, here are 10 more epistolary tales worth reading. Pull up a chair, light a candle and dive in.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Everyone knows you should never send anything personal from your work email account...but does anyone actually abstain from doing so? Certainly not Beth and Jennifer, two friends who maintain a comedic email chain about boyfriends, marriage, pregnancy, et al. throughout Rowell's charming novel. Alas, their girl talk is being monitored by their office's new internet security officer, Lincoln, who should technically report or reprimand them in some way. And he would, except for the fact that he's found himself falling head over heels in love with Beth. Rowell's talent to find mordant in the mundane makes for a hilarious, relatable and somewhat plausible read.

Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson

Dodson's self-proclaimed "illuminated novel" is perfect for the overactive mind. Bats of the Republic tracks two parallel stories: one is told through a series of letters written by Zadock Thomas from the Texas frontier in 1843, and the second takes place in a post-apocalyptic Texas in 2143 and features Zeke Thomas, a relative of Zadock and heir to the centuries-old mystery surrounding a letter marked "DO NOT OPEN." Dodson gives readers the satisfaction of reading through seemingly every supporting document and digression: maps, drawings of animals, newspaper articles, personal correspondence, ledgers, etc. And even though Bats isn't the easiest novel to follow, largely due to its typographic shifts and pyrotechnics, Dodson's literary off-roading offers an experience unlike any other for the intrepid bookworm.

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

With Dear Committee Members, Schumacher delivers the university professor protagonist we've always wanted. The novel is a collection of recommendation letters written by Jason T. Fitger, a crotchety professor of English and creative writing at Payne University. For anyone who's ever had the deal with the harrowing experience of writing a recommendation, or for any recovering adjuncts, Schumacher's biting, satiric novel will offer a familiar cry and a welcome reprieve.

God is an Astronaut by Alyson Foster

Within God is an Astronaut, Foster writes comedic gold in the form of a botany professor's email dispatches. Content to spend her days erecting the greenhouse she always said she would, Jess' plans are thwarted after six people die in a space shuttle crash at her husband Liam's space tourism venture. In a Hail Mary attempt at damage control and cash flow, Liam allows a famous documentary filmmaker to film the family. As Liam looks to the sky, Jess confronts her past digressions and current predicaments by digging further into the earth, only to realize that the solution to both may propel her to interstellar heights.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The penultimate bildungsroman for the LiveJournal set, Chbosky's debut novel could easily be placed beside such other YA classics as S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders and John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. Wallflower is presented as a series of letters that Charlie, a sensitive and introverted freshman in high school, writes to an undisclosed recipient. "Dear Friend," each letter begins, and what follows is Charlie's narrative of his poignant, uplifting and traumatic youth. But what makes Wallflower such a successful book is not its realism, but its unerring sense of hope, especially with the book's iconic final line: "And in this moment, I swear, we are infinite."

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston

Imagine chancing across a steamer trunk filled with memorabilia from a dream life: foiled romances, college at Vassar, friendship with young poetess Edna St. Vincent Millay and a trip to Paris in the company of royalty. Your wish is Preston's command with The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, a decoupaged novella/zine mashup that's an absolute joy to explore.

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larson

Home Alone meets The Royal Tenenbaums in Larson's novel about a precocious cartographer. After being awarded the prestigious Baird prize by the Smithsonian Institute, 12-year-old Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet leaves the confines of his family's Montana ranch for Washington D.C.—without telling his family. The ensuing narrative is a compendium of lists, maps, drawings and numerous footnotes that T.S. uses to map the world, offering the perfect literary escape.

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

Vanessa and Her Sister is a rich, lyrical novel told from the perspective of Virginia Woolf's sister, Vanessa. Parmar illuminates Vanessa's tale through an elaborate collection of journal entries, letters and other historical facsimiles. The resulting tapestry delivers a birds-eye view of sparkling young bohemia, at the heart of which is Vanessa's strikingly talented and increasingly mercurial sister. Parmar's tribute to a less-examined life is a welcome addition to the annals of Woolf fanfiction.

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Egan's Rubik's Cube of a novel slowly reveals the enigma of its interconnected stories as it advances. From protagonist Bennie Salazar alights a constellation of friends, friends of friends, lovers, employees and more characters whose lives are knit together. Among their stories is an anthropological examination of an African vacation and a PowerPoint project about "Great Rock and Roll Pauses," which provides the perfect summation of the novel's theme: the examination of pauses and time's terrible, inevitable forward march.

Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Semple's comedic mystery boasts all of the animal antics, scathing social critiques and madcap hijinks you'd expect from a former writer for Arrested Development, SNL and Ellen. The novel explores the disappearance of Bernadette Fox on the eve of her family's vacation to Antarctica, and her teenage daughter Bee sets out to unravel the mystery. Semple's journey through the breakdown of a brilliant and cloistered young architect-turned-housewife proves addicting with every page.