• The cover of the book Up the Down Staircase

    Up the Down Staircase

    Bel Kaufman was a schoolteacher herself, so it’s with firsthand knowledge that she penned this 1964 bestseller, which follows a disorienting first year of teaching high school English for fresh-faced college grad Sylvia Barrett. The woes of the public school system—and the dogged commitment of teachers who work in them—comes through via a swath of materials, from bewildering school-wide memos to eager homework assignments.

  • The cover of the book Artful


    As with nearly every book by Ali Smith, Artful evades anything resembling easy classification. It has its origin in a series of lectures on art, which form the bulk of the narrative—but gradually, the book reveals itself as an unconventional ghost story and a powerful meditation on loss. The result might be unpredictable, but it also strikes a mournful, resonant chord.

  • The cover of the book Dracula


    Given the prevalence of the epistolary form in the 19th century, it would be a mistake to overlook one of the most well-known examples of it. What’s notable about Dracula is not only the array in which Stoker uses a host of different styles to tell the story, but how he’s also able to use them to create an abundance of suspense.

  • The cover of the book Super Sad True Love Story

    Super Sad True Love Story

    With each passing year, the satirical vision of the near future on display in Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story seems less comedic and more ominous. In telling the story of the romance between Eunice Park and Lenny Abramov, Shteyngart makes use of fictionalized diaries—but also deftly comments on how people of different ages utilize social media and technology. The result is a thoroughly complete sense of this fictional world.

  • The cover of the book Last Words from Montmartre

    Last Words from Montmartre

    “If this book should be published, readers can begin anywhere,” reads a note from the author at the beginning of Last Words from Montmartre. Over the course of the book, Qiu Miaojin’s novel tells a powerful, fragmented story of love, emotional intimacy, and identity—and uses the shifting tone of a series of letters to illustrate its narrator’s current state.

  • The cover of the book Fifth Business

    Fifth Business

    In this novel, Robertson Davies tells the story of the life of Dunstan Ramsey, a recurring character in several of his books. It’s done in the form of a letter Ramsey is writing after his retirement, leading to a memorably succinct closing line. It also brings together aspects of the memoir (albeit a fictional one) with the epistolary novel, creating a memorable portrait of a single life.

  • The cover of the book How to Set a Fire and Why

    How to Set a Fire and Why

    The novels of Jesse Ball often take bold risks with their form, finding unconventional ways of exploring themes of parenthood, authoritarianism, and the creation of art. How to Set a Fire and Why is structured as a series of writings from the novel’s narrator: a singular young woman with a frustrated take on the world around her, and a penchant for arson.

  • The cover of the book House of Leaves

    House of Leaves

    Mark Z. Danielewski’s beloved cult novel encompasses several aspects of the epistolary, as its structure posits it as a series of found documents within found documents, each of which has its own unsettling properties. The ensuing storyline, about a family who discovers their house contains numerous unsettling properties, is scary on its own; in this larger context, it becomes magnificently unsettling.