I’ve read three books recently that are composed as letters to the reader from the author. Rather than traditional scholarly works, these are opinion pieces where the author is specifically arguing a point of view. In each case, the author has felt the need to “respond” to a particular issue. Interestingly, the approach of addressing the readers via this format begs the audience (much more than traditional non-fiction books) to have a reaction: to nod in agreement, shake their head in disagreement, and to think about the issues themselves.
David Boren’s A Letter to America is in response to the cynical bipartisanship in American government. It’s a thoughtful read that calls for a truce between the waring parties to solve the problems our country faces.
Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation is in response to the many letters he received following the publication of his book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. Harris argues against the dangers of religion. Not surprisingly, members of the faith community have offered their own letters in response: Letter to a Christian Nation: Counter Point by RC Metcalf and Letter from a Christian Citizen by Douglas Wilson.
In The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, author Naomi Wolf warns that the Bush administration’s post-911 policies threaten our civil rights and our way of life.
I don’t know if these books have changed any minds, but I started wondering if their success was turning into a trend in literature: the book as letter as opinion piece. A search on the Internet says “probably not.” Recent titles do include Hill Harper’s Letters to a Young Brother and Letters to a Young Sister, but Harper’s works were inspired by Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, a recent compilation of correspondence written in 1903. These books, like Maya Angelou’s Letter to My Daughter, are about inspiration and the passing on of wisdom and advice, not about changing public opinion or arguing for new policies.
My online search did turn up a wonderful book that I’m definitely going to investigate: Letters from the Earth by Mark Twain. This compilation of fragments, short stories and essays was published in 1962. The title piece includes “letters written by Satan to his fellow angels about the shameless pride and foolishness of humans,” according to a review on the Amazon.com site. Now, those are some letters I want to read!