Blog – Posted on Friday, Oct 14
50 Epistolary Novels to Add to Your TBR List
For as long as people have had written language, they’ve written letters to each other. It’s no wonder, then, that an entire novel format is based around this experience. The epistolary novel has a long literary history across time, genres, and countries. Traditionally, it consisted of diary entries, or letters written to a single character or between multiple characters.
As the way we communicate changed and advanced, so did the epistolary novel. Telegrams, emails, voice recordings, and other forms of electronic communication have been used to create “found footage”-like narratives. No matter what documents are used to tell a story though, the additional realism and suspense offered by this structure mean dozens of authors have taken advantage of it to write their stories. Here are 50 epistolary novels that are worth a read.
1. The American Diary of a Japanese Girl by Yone Noguchi
This is the diary of Miss Morning Glory, a young Japanese girl who takes a trip across the United States with her rich uncle at the turn of the century. At times witty and playful, she comments on Japanese culture and American lifestyle. While at first Miss Morning Glory seems like a simple girl mostly interested in her own appearance, as the story progresses, she often breaks conventions. Sometimes, she secretly dresses as a man to walk freely in the world, and, on one occasion, she helps a woman run a tobacco shop so she can visit her sick husband. She deftly switches between gender, class, and ethnic roles, embodying the “New Woman” character of the early 20th century. Originally published in 1902, this is the first published novel by an American writer of Japanese descent and an interesting look into the past.
2. Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono
Toundi Ondua is a young man in Cameroon, seeking a way to advance and get away from his rural home and his father’s anger. He shares his unpredictable, and often tragic, life in his diary. Fascinated by the white colonials in his town, the naive Toundi believes a world of opportunity is open to him when he becomes the houseboy of a Cameroonian administrator. But as he draws the curtain back on this world of privilege he sees the discrimination and prejudice that truly runs through it. At once humorous and sobering, Toundi’s diary is a powerful record of European imperialism in Africa.
3. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Charlie is a mentally disabled man who, as part of an experiment, has an operation that increases his IQ. His newfound intelligence is mirrored by Algernon, a lab mouse who was the first recipient of this experimental technique. In a series of lab reports written before and after his operation, Charlie’s thinking and outlook on the world changes completely. With his newfound perspective, he gains clarity on the unfair, and occasionally cruel, ways he was treated when he was disabled. As he faces this newfound society, he fears what will happen to him should the experiment start to fail. Ultimately, Charlie’s journal entries tell a poignant story about disability and human nature.
4. Carrie by Stephen King
This debut novel from horror master Stephen King also ranks as one of his most iconic works. Carrie is the story of a bullied teen with terrifying telekinetic powers. Ostracized by both her classmates and her fanatically religious mother, Carrie’s descent into revenge-fueled madness is chronicled through newspaper articles, government reports, and opinion pieces written by one of her peers. A classic of the horror genre, Carrie has been adapted for the screen, bringing some of the novel’s most iconic and blood-drenched scenes to life. A bucket of pig’s blood on prom night, anyone?
5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Set in the early twentieth century, The Color Purple follows two African American sisters, Nettie and Celie. Separated as young girls, they bridge the distance of years and miles through letters, first from Celie to God then between each other. A memorable cast of characters draws readers further into the novel and Walker’s unflinching portrayals of women’s struggles. She doesn’t shy away from difficult topics like domestic and sexual abuse, portraying them with with compassion and honesty. Walker paints a complete portrait of women’s lives, full of resilience and bravery in the face of unfairness and the companionship that grows out of it. It’s no wonder The Color Purple was the recipient of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1983.
6. Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter by J. Nozipo Maraire
A mother’s love for her daughter is a unique thing. When the unnamed narrator’s daughter, Zenzele, leaves Zimbabwe to study abroad at Harvard, she writes her a letter imparting life lessons and strengthening their connection. In telling Zenzele the stories of her past, her mother reflects on old lovers and important family members, her own dreams and disappointments, and the contrasts of the world around them. It all comes together into a compelling historical and philosophical narrative that looks deeply into Zimbabwe’s colonial past and the revolutionaries who fought for its independence.
7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Stephen Chbosky’s coming-of-age novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower takes place throughout the 1991/92 academic year, and follows Charlie, a high school student who struggles with loneliness, alienation, and depressive tendencies, while learning to step outside his comfort zone and risk vulnerability to build friendships. The novel is told in a series of letters addressed to “Dear friend,” an unnamed character who Charlie confesses his deepest insecurities to. A difficult book to summarize but an emotional read for anyone who has ever been a teenager, Chbosky’s novel quickly rose to cult classic status, and for good reason.
8. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Londoner Juliet Ashton is a young writer trying to find a sense of stability following the end of World War Two. She’s looking for a topic for her next book when she suddenly receives a letter from a man on the island of Guernsey, who found her address from her old copy of a Charles Lamb novel. Soon, the two begin a correspondence, speaking about everything from literature to the German occupation of Guernsey during the war. Through her letters to the man and his friends, the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – an alibi they created when they were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans – Juliet is drawn into this eccentric world where she learns about their lives and the hardships of the German occupation. Full of heart and humor, this is a tale about the ways books bring people together.
If this book sounds appealing, check out our list of great WWII books written by women for even more titles that belong in your TBR pile.
9. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being follows two characters on opposite sides of the world, living seemingly opposite lives — Nao (pronounced ‘now’) and Ruth. Nao’s a Japanese high school student who documents the cruel bullying she goes through and recounts her grandmother’s memories in her diary, whereas Ruth is a Canadian writer who encounters said diary washed up on the beach. This clever, warm, and moving story shows the sheer expansiveness of the epistolary form: interspersing diary entries with Google searches, emails, and letters, it makes clear just how unexpectedly connected we all are, despite being in different points on the space-time-continuum.
10. The Martian by Andy Weir
Styled in the form of a series of log entries, The Martian is the diary of a (presumed) dead man. Botanist and engineer Mark Watney, one of the first humans to walk on Mars, is left for dead after disaster strikes and his mission commander is forced to abandon him on the planet’s surface in order to save the rest of their crew. What follows is a tale of resourcefulness, determination, and a surprising amount of humor in the face of insurmountable odds, as Mark is forced to make do with what is left behind of their mission to survive. This fast-paced sci-fi adventure has achieved blockbusting bestseller status, critical acclaim, and even an Oscar-nominated film adaptation — not bad for a story originally self-published on Weir’s personal blog.
For more exciting titles like this one, check out our list of the 100+ best sci fi books.
11. Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu by Yi Shun Lai
Marty Wu’s life is kind of a mess. An account executive at an advertising agency, she dreams of opening her own boutique costume shop. At the moment, that’s not really working out for her, so she reads lots of self-help books and keeps a journal where she updates her progress…which isn’t a lot. In her harried entries, she writes about her explosive career meltdown and the ensuing stress that has her running between New York and her family in Taiwan. Comedic and insightful, Lai explores the weight of family expectations and how Marty grows beyond them.
12. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
A classic of Gothic literature, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein shaped the genre and gave life to one of the most beloved monsters of all time. Unlike their on-screen counterparts, Victor Frankenstein and his creature are far more prone to philosophizing than fighting. Frankenstein tells his whole sordid tale to a ship captain who records it in a long letter to his sister. From the hubris of playing God to the creature and Frankenstein’s circuitous vows of revenge, this story examines what it means to be a true monster.
13. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Dodie Smith’s irresistible I Capture the Castle gave us one of literature’s most iconic opening lines: ”I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” And it only gets better from there. Cleverly written not in the form of letters, but rather in a collection of journals kept by 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, I Capture the Castle is about a poor girl living in a crumbling Suffolk castle with her very eccentric and bohemian family. But what she lacks in wealth, she makes up with spirit — especially when two American bachelors move in next door, threatening to change everything about her family’s situation.
14. This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Two opposing agents in a war across time become the most unlikely pen-pals. What starts as a friendly rivalry quickly turns into something deeper as they continue to exchange letters hidden in time and space. Working from a shared outline, co-authors El-Mohtar and Gladstone would surprise one another with the “letters” from their respective characters which allowed them to write the characters’ reactions organically. In lesser hands, this process might result in an "exquisite corpse"-style novelty — but instead we have a deeply intimate and heart-rending relationship brought to life in four dimensions.
15. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
CW: Sexual assault
Since she started her freshman year of high school, Melinda hasn’t spoken. Outcast by her peers because she called the cops on an end-of-summer party, she is isolated and alone, and feels like nobody will listen to what she has to say, the truth about what happened at the party and the boy who is still a threat to her. Told in Melinda’s bitterly ironic diary entries, she fights against the hypocritical world of high school and through the work on an art project begins to heal and find the strength to fight back against the wrong done to her. Laurie Halse Anderson’s first novel has often been banned and challenged in schools across the world, but its honest and realistic portrayal of sexual assault still remains incredibly relevant twenty years after its initial publication.
16. The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
A large house in the Scottish Highlands, a picture-perfect family, and an incredibly lucrative nanny position. This is exactly what Rowan Caine has been looking for. But when she arrives at Heatherbrae House, she’s soon thrust into a nightmare that finds her awaiting trial for murder. Writing to her lawyer from her jail cell, Rowan lays out the whole dark tale: A so-called “smart” house filled with cameras, mysteriously malfunctioning technology, and three girls who are nothing like the well-behaved children she first met. But despite the lies she told to get the job, she maintains her innocence – and warns that the real murderer is still at large. Suspenseful and eerie, Ruth Ware’s thriller is a cracking example of modern Gothic storytelling.
17. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend
The first entry in Sue Townsend’s series of diaries introduces us to the rich inner world of the ever-excruciating (and utterly relatable) Adrian Mole. Set squarely in early 80s Britain, Adrian’s diary flits between the big events of the day — Charles and Diana’s wedding! Thatcher! — as well as his dawning obsession with his classmate, Pandora Braithwaite. Written from the unfiltered and naive perspective of an early teenager, Adrian’s diary is packed with the sort of toe-curling and unaware observations that are all too common in boys his age.
Fans of this book can follow Adrian’s life through its sequels, where he encounters more than his fair share of disappointments as a middle-aged man.
18. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize, The White Tiger is an ambitious and incisive work about India and its struggles with class and religion. Told through the eyes of Balram Halwai, we follow him as he grows from a simple village boy to a successful entrepreneur — and not always through honest means. Mischievous and irreverent (and at times downright philosophical), he narrates the events of his life in a letter to the Chinese premier, detailing the darkness he sees in the world, some of which he’s guilty of himself, and the good that might still be left in it.
19. Dracula by Bram Stoker
Letters, telegrams, memos — who knew meeting a vampire involved so much paperwork. Bram Stoker’s Dracula has no protagonist, largely due to the broad range of sources the novel is drawn from, but begins with the story of solicitor Jonathan Harker. Harker has been employed by the mysterious Count Dracula, a Transylvanian noble who enlists the lawyer to help him purchase property in England. Upon arriving at Dracula’s castle, Harker discovers he is trapped in a veritable house of horrors, and is forced to fight for both his life and his sanity. This twisting Gothic tale features an intimidatingly large cast of characters, but the epistolary approach creates an immersive reading experience and makes this horror classic surprisingly digestible — and utterly chilling.
20. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
If you can’t make your mind up between poetry and fiction, Ocean Vuong’s debut novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, is a masterful blend of both, written in the form of one long lament/love-letter which explores the possibilities and limits of language. From the first page, the narrator, Little Dog, addresses his mother directly; a mother who can’t read and might never be able to understand the words he’s so earnestly penning:
Let me begin again.
I am writing to reach you—even if each word I put down is one word further from where you are.
As Little Dog dives into his family history of violence and economic hardship, of masculinity and sexuality, of leaving Vietnam and building a life as immigrants in the States, he also works his way to a revelation that may never truly reach its intended recipient. By framing it as a letter, Vuong is able to capture the fraught yet tender love between mother and son, and underline the importance of telling your own story, even if no one is listening.
21. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
It all starts quite gruesomely with a murdered pooch and the question of who did it. Despite the title, the real story isn’t about the poor dog: that’s just the catalyst for everything else. Christopher Boone is an autistic teen who believes in truth above all else. So he’s determined to find out exactly what happened to the neighbor’s dog. What begins as a murder investigation turns into a confrontation of difficult truths hidden by Christopher’s family. In a journal, he records his investigation, his views on the world, and observations on how complicated everyone else seems to make things.
22. The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
Awkward teenager Mia Thermopolis’s life is thrown for a loop when her grandmother reveals that she’s in fact, “Her Royal Highness Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldo,” heir to the throne of Genovia. Before she knows it, homework and high school crushes become the least of her problems, with ‘princess lessons’ and an imminent move to Europe coming into the picture. Before long, her new identity brings unwanted complications, including boys with ulterior motives, disputes with her best friend, and more trouble than Mia had bargained for. Mia’s endearing personality comes across with each entry of her journal, making this a touching, relatable read about dealing with love, growing up, and finding oneself.
23. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Piranesi inhabits a unique world; a massive house, endless and mystifying, full of strange statues and a sea with its own weather patterns. He keeps a journal where he records his observations of the House and the meaning he gleans from the statues. His only companion is The Other, who visits him twice a week, and enlists his help to uncover the great secrets of the House. Despite the House’s improbability, Piranesi loves it with a deeply felt tenderness. But the more he explores, the more he finds evidence of another world and another person, which might just reveal the awful truth behind his existence.
24. Lady Susan by Jane Austen
Lady Susan wouldn’t fit in very well with Jane Austen’s other main characters. Devious, manipulative, and positively ruthless, the recently widowed Lady Susan writes letters to her equally villainous friend Mrs. Johnson. In those letters, she lays out her plans to secure a second husband through any means necessary and match her daughter Francesca with whatever suitor comes her way, good or otherwise. In public, she hides behind an angelic demeanor, but her letters reveal the truth: that in such a patriarchal society, a woman in her circumstances must be clever and deceitful to secure her livelihood. It’s not one of Austen’s most romantic works, but this wickedly funny comedy of manners still makes for a delightful read.
25. The Incarnations by Susan Barker
Sometimes the past can come back to haunt you, and sometimes it’s a past you don’t even remember. Wang is a simple taxi driver in Beijing when a letter falls out of the sun visor of his taxi, and turns his world upside down. Written to him by a mysterious unknown “soulmate,” the letter, and the four that follow, are filled with stories of his previous lives. Spanning one thousand years of Chinese history, Wang’s past is fraught with tragedy and betrayal. And it’s not over yet. As the letters keep coming, the “soulmate” appears to draw ever nearer, but what are their true motivations? Skillfully weaving together multiple narratives, Barker reminds us that history is never as far away as we imagine.
26. Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
“Sunday 1 January. 129 lbs. (but post-Christmas), alcohol units 14 (but effectively covers 2 days as 4 hours of party was on New Year's Day), cigarettes 22, calories 5424.”
The candid journal of Bridget Jones is a must-read for hopeless romantics. From the very start of the novel, we see that Bridget’s life has an abundance of problems: single and living alone in London in her 30s (the horror!), she obsesses on her weight, her unhealthy habits, and her lack of a love life. As she starts the new year with a resolution to shake things up — namely, losing weight and finding a boyfriend — Bridget’s misadventures grow evermore unfiltered and hilarious. Whether it’s her infatuation with her boss or failure to keep her resolutions to herself, Bridget’s relatable foibles (for example, ironically oscillating between desiring love and refusing to accept its importance) and her comedic style of narration makes this a fun, entertaining read.
27. The Woman Priest by Sylvain Maréchal
This short novella has a lot to say about religion, marriage, and love. Agatha is a young woman living in pre-revolutionary Paris when she falls in love with a priest. Rather than let him slip through her fingers, Agatha makes a drastic decision. Disguising herself as a man, she enters the seminary, eventually becoming a Catholic priest. While in the seminary, she secretly writes letters to her friend Zoe as she embarks on a career forbidden to women, in search of a love that is just as prohibited. Biting and incisive, this story remains relevant almost three hundred years after it was written, as it questions the institutions that govern us and how we live our lives.
28. The Magical Language of Others by E. J. Koh
Distance is a barrier, as is language, both of which separated Eun Ji Koh from her parents as a teenager. When she was sixteen, her parents moved back to South Korea for work, leaving Eun Ji and her brother alone in California. For years, her mother wrote her letters in Korean, asking for forgiveness and love. It isn’t until Eun Ji finds the letters in a box many years later that she understands them. As she translates them, she considers the history of her family, the tragedies they lived through, and how those tragedies shaped both their lives and her own. An aching and emotional memoir about the love between a mother and daughter, Eun Ji mixes poetry and letters to offer beautiful insights on love and language.
29. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Soon-to-be parents, beware: this one probably shouldn’t go on your TBR. Written as a series of letters between a woman and her husband, We Need to Talk About Kevin chronicles a parent’s worst nightmare. Eva Katchadhourian’s son has always been difficult, but as his behavior escalates from challenging child to nihilistic and aggressive teen, she cannot have anticipated what was coming — or could she? A complex and haunting novel about a family reckoning with the aftermath of a tragedy they may have had a hand in creating, Shriver deftly explores themes of grief, guilt, and the nature of evil. While the subject matter is heavy, We Need to Talk About Kevin remains as relevant and important today as it was two decades ago.
30. Sorcery & Cecelia: Or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Regency England is a world of mannered intrigue and well-kept secrets – the existence of magic being just one of them. Kate and Cecilia are lifelong friends, so when Kate goes off for her first Season in London, she keeps Cecilia up to date with all the goings on in her letters. Soon enough, the two girls are embroiled in a magical adventure, when they each meet the Mysterious Marquis and his friend, James. The two men are trying to stop a magical plot that endangers them all, and the girls are quickly swept along for the ride. Along the way, people are turned into trees and chocolate pots, and the girls discover they might just have powers of their own. This light and clever story is a fun twist on the Regency period and is just the first in a series of delightful novels about Kate and Cecilia.
31. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Who is Bernadette Fox? That’s what her daughter Bee is trying to figure out. Bee knows her mother as an intelligent shut-in, an unassuming presence in her life and the backbone of her family. When Bee requests a once in a lifetime trip to Antarctica as a present, there’s no question in her mind that she’ll get it. That is, until Bernadette disappears without a trace. Suddenly, Bee is thrown out of her depth and has to consider she never really knew her mother at all. Determined to find her, Bee wades through emails, invoices, and school memos to uncover the past Bernadette has been hiding for decades and find out who her mother truly is.
32. Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn
Off the coast of South Carolina, the fictional island of Nollop battles against a totalitarian government. Their rebel leader? A young girl named Ella Minnow Pea. Their plight? The prohibition of certain letters. The island is a unique place where language is worshiped above all, so much so that the island’s namesake Nevin Nollop, the creator of the famous pengram, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog,” has a statue with those words inscribed on it. And when letters start falling off the statue, the Council decrees it illegal to use them. As more letters fall and the town’s communication becomes ever more limited and suppressed, Ella finds a way to fight back. In letters between Ella and her cousin, Tassie, the girls witness the island’s descent into oppression, their own words soon becoming void of those forbidden letters. In their struggle lies the importance of fighting for your rights because when you see they’re at risk of being stripped away — even if it starts with the smallest thing, like just one letter.
33. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Roy and Celestial are just beginning their lives together. They have a house, good jobs, and though their marriage isn’t perfect, they’re happy together. Then everything is turned upside down when Roy is arrested and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Separated from each other, Roy and Celestial write letters to keep in touch and although they start off sweet, the distance and the years take their toll. When Roy is let out early, Celestial isn’t sure if she can hold onto her love for him. A heart-rending story about the impacts of incarceration, An American Marriage reflects the experiences of the millions of people affected by America’s prison system.
34. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Get lost in the wild, glamourous world of 70s rock‘n’roll. Many years after her heyday, legendary frontwoman Daisy Jones sits down with an interviewer to create a band documentary about her years making music in Los Angeles and her whirlwind relationship with Billy Dunne of The Six. As Daisy takes us through the twists and turns of music history, it’s hard to believe she isn’t a real person and the songs interspersed throughout can’t be found on any real streaming services. An overall immersive narrative filled with larger-than-life characters, this is a story that’ll sweep you off your feet.
35. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
“It’s kind of a long story,” would be an understatement when describing the nearly 600-page-long letter that makes up this novel’s narrative. And it’s not just long — it comes with receipts. Within a single letter lie nested narratives, reported dialogue, and diary extracts, all married together to tell the story of Gilbert Markham’s fascination with the mysterious Helen Graham, the woman who holds a secret he’s dying to know. Painting an unflinching portrait of an abusive marriage, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall touches on important questions about the institution of marriage in the 19th century, and it’s earned its place on many feminists’ shelves.
36. Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole
Spanning two world wars and two love stories, Letters From Skye follows a mother and daughter duo through the years, as they fall in love and weather the storms of history. The mother, Elspeth Dunn, is a poet on the isle of Skye who’s shocked when she receives a fan letter from an American college student. Over the course of their correspondence they fall in love, but as the First World War dawns, their bond is tested. Years later, Elspeth’s daughter Margaret falls in love with a Royal Air Force pilot. Much like her mother, they communicate through letters while he’s fighting in Europe. But when her mother disappears, Margaret finds a box of old letters that leads her on a journey into her own past. This novel doesn’t just use letters as a narrative framework; it's a reflection on the powerful art of letter writing, and how written notes are an embodiment of our personal history.
37. Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
If you could write a letter to any dead person, who would it be? For Laurel, the answer is easy: Kurt Cobain. What starts out as an English assignment turns into a way for her to process her grief over her sister’s death, as well as reflecting on the challenges of starting high school, making new friends, and falling in love. She writes to her personal heroes and the ones her sister loved, from Janis Joplin to Amelia Earhart. Though her recipients are long gone, Laurel reaches across space and time to find the companionship she needs.
38. Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
Immersive, heart-wrenching, and romantic are just a few words to describe this book. On the eve of World War I, Evie Elliot is sure her brother Will and their best friend, Thomas Harding, will be home by Christmas, and that they will finally achieve their dream of going to Paris together. As the years drag on and the war never ends, their fantasy becomes ever less tangible. Evie and her friend, Alice, feel impotent and look for ways to be involved in the war effort that aren’t just knitting socks for soldiers, while Thomas is struggling with the brutality of trench warfare. Melding meticulous research and human emotion, Last Christmas in Paris is a historical novel that examines everything from the stringent propaganda of the British war office to the personal struggles of those living through the war.
39. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Dracula has long lived in the collective imagination of the literary world. Its introduction of vampire mythology into the mainstream and its creative use of the epistolary format, as we mentioned earlier, have long captured the interests of readers and authors alike. Following that tradition, Elizabeth Kostova creates a sweeping narrative that spans years and continents as one young woman picks up her father’s quest to unearth the truth behind two legends: Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. Might these two figures be more connected than academia would lead us to believe? As she descends into deeper and darker depths, wading through letters, archives, and monasteries, she might just discover the awful secrets hidden by time.
40. The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
Nisha lost her mother when she was a baby, but she still feels her absence now that she’s 12, especially as she navigates an increasingly confusing world. India is gaining its independence and is being separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The new divide creates tensions between Hindus and Muslims, and Nisha and her twin brother Amil, who are half-Hindu and half-Muslim, aren’t sure where they belong anymore. When her father decides to undertake the dangerous journey from Pakistan to India in hopes of a better life, Nisha is faced with the destruction of the only home she’s ever known. In letters to her mother, she chronicles their journey and its hardships, along with her hopeful dreams for the future. A short yet emotional book, The Night Diary was awarded the Newbery medal for its deeply moving portrayal of an important moment in history.
41. Silence by Shusaku Endo
If you’re looking for something spiritually, morally, and intellectually stimulating, Silence by Shūsaku Endō might just be the book for you. Published in 1966 but set in 17th century Japan, a time when Christian missionaries and followers were being persecuted, Silence is told in a mix of letters, documents, and third-person narration. The plot takes the reader deep into Japan as Rodrigues, a Portuguese priest, goes to investigate the rumor that his mentor, Father Ferreira, has renounced his faith under torture. On foreign soil, Rodrigues faces the consequences of Christian missionary expansion and is ultimately forced to make the same choice as his mentor: to abandon his fellow Christians to suffer, or to abandon his God.
42. Don't Cry for Me by Daniel Black
A fractured family, a history of shame, and the hope of reconciliation create a moving portrait of Black fathers and sons in Don’t Cry For Me. On his deathbed, Jacob starts writing letters to his gay son, Isaac, who he hasn’t spoken to in years. Examining the tragedies and traumas that led to the dissolution of their relationship, he voices for the first time the truths he left buried and mistakes he made. Daniel Black’s novel carries an authentic spirit of empathy and forgiveness, that doesn’t shy away from the difficult path to achieving them.
43. Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love by Kim Fay
Food sustains us and nourishes us – not just physically, but spiritually, and it can just as easily bring people together. This is what two writers in 1960’s America discover in Love & Saffron, Kim Fay’s heartwarming novel about love and friendship. Joan Bergstrom is a blossoming young food writer from LA who sends a fan letter and a gift of saffron to the fifty-nine year old food columnist, Imogen Fortier. As they continue writing to each other, their professional relationship turns into a personal one, and their friendship strengthens not just their personal lives, but their romantic ones. Together, they weather the tumultuous sixties, rekindling old loves and finding new ones, and find that food can be one of the most joyous things in life.
44. Cover Story by Susan Rigetti
Fashion! Glamor! Scandal! Cover Story has it all. Lora Ricci is excited to land an internship at ELLE magazine after a terrible year at NYU. When she meets contributing editor, Cat Wolff, it looks like her luck might finally be turning around. Convinced by Cat to drop out and become her ghostwriter, Lora falls for Cat’s charismatic charms and extravagant lifestyle. Writing by day and partying by night, Lora thinks she has it all. But the closer she gets to Cat, the more she sees the cracks in her veneer, and the truth of the shady business she’s really gotten herself involved in. In diary entries, emails, and even FBI correspondence, Susan Rigetti unfolds the nuances of scam culture and the kinds of twisted dynamics that come from a relationship built on lies.
45. The Appeal by Janice Hallett
If you’ve ever wanted to play detective, this book is for you. Someone murdered an actor in the Fairway Players troupe, and though someone has been arrested, there’s questions about their assumed guilt. Two young lawyers are tasked with going through the many documents pertaining to the case – emails, messages, letters, and more – as they try to uncover who the real killer is. Along with the murder is the question of whether the charity show where the victim was killed was really on the up and up – or whether the money meant for little Poppy Reswick’s cancer treatments was being used for something else. What’s really the truth? Well, you’ll just have to read The Appeal and figure it out.
Love a good whodunit? Check out our list of the 30 best mystery novels of all time.
46. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
An intimate story of happiness and love, fathers and sons, Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead is a quiet yet powerful meditation on the small moments that give our lives meaning. An aging narrator writes letters to his young son, meant to be read long after his death and reflecting on all the things he has learned and hopes his son one day comes to understand. Largely plotless, Gilead instead focuses on unearthing the mysteries of life and chronicling the history of three generations of family. It is a beautiful and stirring piece that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.
47. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
In the age of email and instant messaging, letter writing is something of a lost art. As Helen Hanff could attest, letters are more than a form of communication: they are a way to forge connections and friendships across vast distances. Obsessed with hard-to-find British literature, the young writer reached out to the Marks & Co Book Shop in London (sadly no longer in business!), hoping to find rare and out of print books. What started out as a search for books led to twenty years of correspondence and a lifelong friendship with bookseller, Frank Doel, and the other employees of Marks & Co. Discussing literature, life, and everything in between, this collection of real letters is intimate, witty, and full of heart and a counter argument for every cynic who says life can’t be like the movies. For that reason, we hope you’ll forgive this nonfiction entry to this list!
48. Letters from a Stoic by Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Letters from a Stoic shines an illuminating ray of light into the workings of one of the greatest minds in history: Seneca the Younger, Roman philosopher, dignitary, orator, and tragedian. His lasting contributions to theater, politics, and Stoic philosophy influenced major historical figures, such as Marcus Aurelius and William Shakespeare — and this selection of his letters is an impressive compilation of the values, ethics, and wisdom that he continues to impart today.
49. The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon
Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book is often overlooked in favor of The Tale of Genji when it comes to early Japanese works — yet this witty book stands tall on its own feet as a masterful example of Japanese writing, even though it was never meant to be published. Originally Shonagon’s private journal, it chronicled her daily life as a trusted lady of Empress Teishi’s court in the 1000s. The result? An altogether delightful collection of essays, poetry, lists, and anecdotes that gifts us timeless and relatable observations from the middle Heian period such as this: “Infuriating things: A guest who arrives when you have something urgent to do, and stays talking for ages.”
50. Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin
Spoiler alert: this coming-of-age novel, which is presented to us in the shape of a fictional diary full of letters, journal entries, and vignettes, isn’t actually written by a crocodile. However, the reptile’s figurative presence is a looming shadow throughout Notes of a Crocodile, which tells the story of a nameless protagonist (nicknamed Lazi) struggling to navigate late 1980s Taiwan as a queer student in society. Interwoven into the narratives are satirical interludes that imagine a horde of humanoid crocodiles invading Taiwan—an apt metaphor for the way queerness was seen as an epidemic in Taiwan before the turn of the millennium.