Monday, January 5, 2009

Best collections of literary letters, 2008

For National Public Radio, Troy Patterson selected 2008's best collections of literary letters, genuine and otherwise.

One title on his list:
Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger, by Lee Israel

The title comes from a note a contrite Dorothy Parker banged out in the early 1960s, except that it doesn't. The title comes from a Dorothy Parker note counterfeited by the rather unrepentant Lee Israel in the early 1990s. Once a best-selling biographer, Israel had slid headlong into hard times — food stamps, liquid lunches — when a chance discovery in a research library sparked a criminal epiphany. Over roughly 15 months, she painstakingly forged 400 letters "by" famous authors and showbiz notables, paying her Manhattan rent by selling them to autograph dealers. A writer with the talent to fake the voices of Noel Coward and Lillian Hellman is a real writer, and Israel's slender self-portrait as a literary low-life — a woman with vintage typewriters stacked in a mildewed storage locker, with a jug of scotch at her mouth after the FBI finally comes calling — is an absorbing hybrid of barstool yarn and brisk thriller.
Read about the other collections to make the list.

--Marshal Zeringue