Actual Epistolary Beach Reads

In the May 23, 2017 “Match Book” column in the New York Times Book Review, a reader named Anetra Smith explains that she’s going on a much-needed beach vacation and would like to bring some epistolary novels because she loved The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger and The Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. She received suggestions for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and, for a touch of romance, Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart.

The librarians on my Facebook feed went nuts: “Yes, if you liked Attachments, you’ll LOVE Dracula! I say that all the time, don’t you?” Or, my favorite: “I just turned my head so far sideways it’s nearly parallel with my shoulders.”

I’m not entirely sure what the thought process was that lead to the Times’ recommendations (note: just because the title includes “love story” doesn’t mean it’s a romance), but hopefully I can save Ms. Smith’s vacation with the following suggestions, linked to their Booklist reviews.

Here are the first books that spring to mind:

 

The Boy is Back, by Meg Cabot

Frothy, laugh-out-loud fun. Told via through social media, chat apps, and Buzzfeed-esque news reports, the story finds high-school sweethearts reconnecting after more than a decade apart.

 

I’ve Got Your Number, by Sophie Kinsella

When she loses her engagement ring and her cell phone in quick succession, Poppy is beside herself. Then she finds a cell phone in a trash can, seizes it, and gives out the number so that people can call her if they find the ring. She also starts answering emails on the phone—much to the chagrin of its owner.

 

Let’s Stay Together, by J. J. Murray

Lauren, an actress in New York, gets some fan mail from handyman Patrick. Touched by his sincerity, she writes back. In between snaking sewer lines, Patrick continues the correspondence, and they get to know each other in this enjoyable, compelling, and believable romance.

 

We’re all aware that the NYT is not exactly romance-friendly—so if we want to recommend some slightly more literary epistolary reads, any of the following would be a better choice than classic horror.

Dear Mr. You,  by Mary-Louise Parker

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

 

Hey Harry, Hey Matilda! by Rachel Hulin.

 

Or, in the style of great readers-advisory librarians everywhere, let’s recommend something that keeps with the theme the reader is looking for but isn’t found by just doing a search on the word “epistolary,” like

Love and Miss Communication, by Elyssa Friedland

This might be just what Ms. Smith is looking for. Evie is a high-powered corporate attorney whose job constantly interrupts her personal life, thanks to her ever-present BlackBerry. When her bosses uncover thousands of personal e-mails sent from her work account, Evie gets fired and decides to give up the Internet, much to the astonishment of her friends and family. This is a lively take on life and love in the age of social media.

 

The other thing an experienced readers-advisory librarian would do is try to think about what the reader really likes about epistolary novels. (Admittedly, we’d have the upper hand here with a conversation in person, rather than a written request.) Perhaps Ms. Smith likes that they are told in a short, fast-reading format. In that case, I’d recommend


Nine Women, One Dress, 
by Jane L. Rosen

This novel follows one particular dress around Manhattan, with charming and funny stories loosely woven together to make for a quick read, perfect for the beach.

 

Or perhaps what she likes about letters is the personal, private tone they take. In that case, she might enjoy


The Light We Lost,
 by Jill Santopolo

A romantic tale told by the protagonist, Lucy, as if she’s speaking or writing to her lover Gabe, second-guessing all the moments that could have been, culminating in a heartbreaking ending.

 

Readers, what are some of your favorite epistolary novels? Please comment with more suggestions—particularly if you’ve got good romance picks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About the Author:

Rebecca Vnuk is the editor for Collection Management and Library Outreach at Booklist. She is also the author of 3 reader’s-advisory nonfiction books: Read On…Women’s Fiction (2009), Women’s Fiction: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (2014), and Women’s Fiction Authors: A Research Guide (2009). Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_RVnuk.

1 Comment on "Actual Epistolary Beach Reads"

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  1. lbwmrc@gmail.com' Laura Barnes says:

    The Chilbury Ladies Choir is also a really good epistolary novel. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but it’s worth checking out.

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