Charities are the last bastion of corporate greed

1 August 2015

Jack Nicholson’s moving portrayal of a lonely old man in About Schmidt convinced me that I should sponsor a child. You may remember the scene at the end: he gets… Read more


The wonderful, vanishing world of the handwritten letter

4 July 2015

Those who write letters and send them by post are a dying breed. I was fortunate to have served as a newspaper columnist and received a great many. Often eloquent,… Read more

Vladimir and Véra: in love for life

Nabokov’s love letters are some of the most rapturous ever written

27 September 2014
Letters to Véra Vladimir Nabokov, translated by Olga Voronina and Brian Boyd

Penguin Classics, pp.864, £30, ISBN: 9780141192239

After the publication of The Original of Laura, Nabokov’s last and most disappointing novel in a very sketchy draft, you might have been forgiven for thinking there wasn’t much left… Read more

Letters of Note includes letters from Elvis Presley to President Nixon Photo: Mondadori via Getty

'God has given me a new Turkish colleague called Mustapha Kunt...'

30 November 2013
To the Letter: A Journey Through a Vanishing World Simon Garfield

Canongate, pp.464, £16.99, ISBN: 9780857868589

Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving a Wider Audience Shaun Usher

Canongate, pp.384, £30, ISBN: 9781782112235

Under normal circumstances, Simon Garfield’s chatty and informative excursion into the history of letter-writing would be a book to recommend. In recent years this author has produced eloquent and witty… Read more

Leonard Bernstein in 1945

Did Leonard Bernstein do too much to be a great artist?

16 November 2013
The Leonard Bernstein Letters Nigel Simeone

Yale, pp.606, £25, ISBN: 9780300179095

Nigel Simeone’s title for his edition of Leonard Bernstein’s correspondence rings compellingly, novellistically, through the force of the definite article, as in The Aspern Papers, or The Scarlet Letter. The… Read more

Ernest Hemingway (Picture: Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Does the world need 17 volumes of Hemingway's letters?

26 October 2013
The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume II:1923-1925 Sandra Spanier and others

CUP, pp.515, £30, ISBN: 9780521897341

‘In the years since 1961 Hemingway’s reputation as “the outstanding author since the death of Shakespeare” shrank to the extent that many critics, as well as some fellow writers, felt… Read more

Diana Cooper,with her son John Julius Norwich in London, 1944

Darling Monster, edited by John Julius Norwich - review

12 October 2013
Darling Monster: The Letters of Diana Cooper to her son John Julius Norwich, 1939–1952 John Julius Norwich

Chatto, pp.528, £25, ISBN: 9780701187798

It must have been awful for Diana and Duff Cooper to be separated from their only child during the war, but we can be grateful for it because it’s a… Read more

Don Bachardy poses beside his portrait of Christopher Isherwood, Santa Monica, 2010

To 'Flufftail' from 'Pinkpaws': The Animals is only good for celebrity-spotting

21 September 2013
The Animals: Love Letters Between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy Katherine Bucknell

Chatto, pp.481, £25, ISBN: 97870571241378

There is a fine old tradition of distinguished literary men addressing their loved ones by animal-world pet names. Evelyn Waugh saluted Laura Herbert, the woman who became his second wife,… Read more

Dear Lumpy, by Roger Mortimer - review

25 May 2013
Dear Lumpy Roger Mortimer and Louise Mortimer

Constable, pp.174, £12.99, ISBN: 9781472109279

After the success of Dear Lupin, Roger Mortimer finds himself facing something not normally experienced by former Guards officers who have been dead for more than 20 years — namely… Read more

Why is there such guff in the online comments below my articles?

18 May 2013

What’s to be done about the online comments sections in daily newspapers? These (for those estimable Spectator readers who have yet to succumb to tablets, iPhones and computer screens) are… Read more

Here and Now, by Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee - review

18 May 2013
Here and Now: Letters 2008-2011 Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee

Faber, pp.248, £20, ISBN: 9780571299263

In love, there is always one who kisses and one who offers the cheek. So too in the luckless genre of letters artificially exchanged for the purposes of publication. There’s… Read more

23 March 2013

Joining the club Sir: As Robert Hardman notes (Royal notebook, 16 March), not only is the C back in FCO but these days there is a waiting list of countries… Read more

16 March 2013

Sir David must stand down Sir: Reading the reports of Sir David Nicholson’s evidence before the House of Commons Health Committee on 5 March 2013 (Leading article, 9 March), it… Read more


‘A world dying of ugliness’

4 February 2012
Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters translated and edited by Michael Hofmann

Granta, pp.551, 25

Some writers’ lives are estimable, some enviable, some exemplary. And some send a shudder of gratitude down the spine that this life happened to somebody else. It isn’t necessarily about… Read more


The truest man of letters

7 January 2012

In 1969 an author in his early thirties published his first book. The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters won the Duff Cooper prize, delighted the reading public,… Read more

Friends across the sea

17 December 2011
The Acceptance of Absurdity edited by John Saumarez Smith and Jonathan Kooperstein

Maggs Brothers, pp.126, 25

On 12 February 1952 the novelist Anthony Powell received a letter from a bookseller in New York. Robert Vanderbilt Jr was the proprietor of a couple of Manhattan bookstores and… Read more

A gimlet eye

10 December 2011
Jane Austen’s Letters edited by Deirdre Le Faye

OUP, pp.667, 25

We should be grateful to families which encourage the culture of writing letters, and equally vital, the keeping of them. Leopold Mozart, for instance, taught his son not only music… Read more

A serenely contented writer

3 December 2011
P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters edited by Sophie Ratcliffe

Hutchinson, pp.602, 30

Beaming Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, KBE, D.Litt. (Oxon), Mark Twain medallist and co-founder of the Hollywood Cricket Club (1881-1975), personified a rare oxymoron: he was a serenely contented writer. Shortly… Read more


My Dear Hugh: Letters from Richard Cobb to Hugh Trevor-Roper and Others edited by Tim Heald

5 November 2011
My Dear Hugh: Letters from Richard Cobb to Hugh Trevor-Roper and Others edited by Tim Heald

Frances Lincoln, pp.240, 20

Richard Cobb had many good friends, among them Hugh Trevor-Roper, who kept letters, and so made this selection possible. There must be many more letters, since the author was an… Read more


The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume II, 1941-56, edited by George Craig, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn and Lois More Overbeck

29 October 2011
The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume II, 1941-56 edited by George Craig, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn and Lois More Overbeck

CUP, pp.791, 30

The die was miscast from the start, more’s the pity. As we reach the halfway point in this massy four-volume edition of the letters of Samuel Beckett, I cannot stifle… Read more


Dark art

22 January 2011

Shadow Catchers is an effective title, with its magical and occult associations, and a nice echo of body snatchers into the bargain. Shadow Catchers is an effective title, with its… Read more

Bad enemy, worse lover

11 December 2010
Saul Bellow: Letters Benjamin Taylor (ed)

Penguin Classics, pp.608, 30

Five years after his death, Saul Bellow’s literary reputation has yet to suffer the usual post-mortem slump, and publication of these lively letters should help sustain his standing. Five years… Read more


Two of a kind

23 October 2010
Letters to Monica by Philip Larkin edited by Anthony Thwaite

Faber, pp.475, 22.50

They were ‘soulmates’ according to people who knew both of them. They were ‘soulmates’ according to people who knew both of them. The word has a double-edged quality; it may… Read more


Young man on the make

28 August 2010
Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin Elizabeth Chatwin and Nicholas Shakespeare

Cape, pp.554, 25

We are not going to agree about Bruce Chatwin. The five books he published in his lifetime are, to some readers, magnificent works of art, setting out grand ideas about… Read more


Before she was a novelist

10 February 2010
Iris Murdoch, A Writer at War: Letters and Diaries Peter J. Conradi

Short Books, pp.303, 16.99

‘It’s hard in letters quite to hit the mean between being earnest and sounding damn silly’ — as Iris Murdoch admits on page 205 of this book. ‘It’s hard in… Read more