"Letters of Note" by Shaun Usher

Book Summary:

“Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience” by Shaun Usher is a unique collection of 125 letters from famous writers, scientists, artists, and other remarkable people throughout history.

There is an image of each letter and a transcript to go with it for easy reading, the book is also filled with photographs, portraits and relevant artworks that adds a visual treat to this collection of text.

The book contains letters from:

  • Albert Einstein

  • Benjamin Franklin

  • Ernest Hemingway

  • Fyodor Dostoevsky

  • Kurt Vonnegut

  • Ray Bradbury

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • Ludwig van Beethoven

And many more.

Book Lessons:

1) Life Advice from F. Scott Fitzgerald

In 1933, the famous American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, best known for writing “The Great Gatsby”, sent a letter to his young daughter while she was away at camp.

The letter is filled with wisdom such as the things she should worry about in life and the things that she shouldn’t worry about. Here are a few lines from the letter:

All I believe in life is the rewards for virtue and the punishments for not fulfilling your duties, which are doubly costly.

“Things to worry about:

  • Worry about courage

  • Worry about cleanliness

  • Worry about efficiency

Things not to worry about:

  • Don’t worry about popular opinion

  • Don’t worry about dolls

  • Don’t worry about the past

  • Don’t worry about the future

  • Don’t worry about growing up

  • Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you

  • Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault

  • Don’t worry about disappointments

  • Don’t worry about pleasures”

2) Writing Advice from Ernest Hemingway

Even the best writers encounter roadblocks and question the quality of their work. So in 1934 when F. Scott Fitzgerald needed honest feedback, he turned to his old and trustworthy friend, Ernest Hemingway.

Fitzgerald had just published “Tender is the Night” and wanted Hemingway’s opinion on the book–Hemingway did not hold back and the brutal honesty of his advice remains invaluable for all writers.

Here are a few quotes from the letter:

For Christ sake write and don’t worry about what the boys will say nor whether it will be a masterpiece nor what. I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.
Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it–don’t cheat it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist–but don’t think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you.
You’re not a tragic character. Neither am I. All we are is writers and what we should do is write.
But Scott, good writers always come back. Always. You are twice as good now as you were at the time you think you were so marvelous...You can write twice as well now as you ever could.
All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is. Go on and write.

3) Advice from Fyodor Dostoevsky

In April 1849, Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky was arrested for discussing literature banned by Czar Nicholas I and sent for execution. At the last minute, the execution was called off and Dostoevsky was instead sent to a prison camp in Siberia.

He would go on to spend almost 5 years in prison and after being released, write such classics as “Crime and Punishment” and “The Brothers Karamazov.”

A day after his execution was called off, Dostoevsky sent a letter to his brother in which he described his death sentence, talked about his new perspective on life. Here are a few quotes from the letter:

When I look back at the past and think how much time has been wasted in vain, how much time was lost in delusions, in errors, in idleness, in ignorance of how to live, how I did not value time, how often I sinned against my heart and spirit,–my heart bleeds.
Life is a gift, life is happiness, each minute might have been an age of happiness.
Now, changing my life, I am being reborn into a new form. Brother! I swear to you that I shall not lose hope, and shall preserve my spirit and heart in purity. I shall be reborn to a better thing. That is my whole hope, my whole comfort!
The life in prison has already sufficiently killed in me the demands of the flesh which were not wholly pure; I took little heed of myself before...do not fear that any material hardship will kill me. This cannot be! Ah! To have health!

Book Review:

“Letters of Note” by Shaun Usher is the perfect coffee table book, especially for people who love to read or write. There is something special about reading letters, particularly handwritten letters, from famous individuals that gives readers an inside look into the person’s soul.

Since most of the letters are only a page or so, you can read this book bit by bit without having to remember past characters or the storyline. Instead, pickup this book whenever you have a few minutes and read a letter from Charles Darwin or John F. Kennedy.

The book is also filled with images and photographs that add another layer of personality to the letters and make the writing come alive. Whether you are into science, writing, art, music–there is something for everyone in this book.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

If you’re interested in reading the full letters or reading more letters from a wide-range of authors, you can get “Letters of Note” here.

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