The Spell of Letters

The pleasures of reading other people’s mail.

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84, Charing Cross Road

Helene Hanff

I Send You This Cadmium Red . . .

A Correspondence between John Berger & John Christie

The Happiness of Getting It Down Right

Letters of Frank O’Connor & William Maxwell

The Element of Lavishness

Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner & William Maxwell, 1938–1978

Two Gardeners: A Friendship in Letters

Elizabeth Lawrence & Katharine S. White

The Delicacy and Strength of Lace

Letters Between Leslie Marmon Silko & James Wright

The Holmes-Laski Letters

The Correspondence of Mr. Justice Holmes & Harold J. Laski, 1916–1935

Correspondence Across a Room

V. I. Ivanov & M. O. Gershenzon

The Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters

I’ve read no sustained correspondence as enjoyable as these British, bookish, and refreshingly well-mannered exchanges between a publisher (Rupert Hart-Davis) and his former teacher (George Lyttelton). Their talk — which unfolds in the weekly epistles the gentlemen exchanged from 1955 until Lyttelton’s death in 1962 — bustles with Hart-Davis’s incessant activity (including editing the letters of Oscar Wilde, publishing a celebrated array of authors, and occupying the center of London’s literary culture) and brims with his elder’s wide reading, rich store of experience, and pure delight in having an audience for the comings and goings of his fertile mind. Crammed with marvelous bons mots (try this one, quoted early on by Lyttelton: “that state of resentful coma which scholars attempt to dignify by calling research”), arcane yet curiously pleasing cricket metaphors, and civilized chitchat of the highest order, these letters make up an ideal and ever-inviting course of reading, especially if you’re an Anglophile, bibliophile insomniac.

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Portions of the above have been adapted from the book, 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die by James Mustich. Copyright © 2018 by James Mustich. Published by Workman Publishing.

Now: Author, 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die. Then: publisher and chief bookseller, A Common Reader.

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