Letters to a Best Friend
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A lively and intimate selection of letters on life, literature, and art from one of America’s finest prose stylists.
In 1988, when author and former surgeon Richard Selzer answered a letter from Peter Josyph, a New York artist he had met, he did not know that he was embarking on the most enduring correspondence of his life. In thousands of letters, written in longhand over the course of two decades, Selzer devoted himself to the epistolary art—an art that, even among writers, has become increasingly rare in an age of cell phones, e-mails, and text messaging. "Letters are definitely a genre," Selzer says, "and I think it's one of the best. " As this lively and intimate collection demonstrates, Richard Selzer is one of its master practitioners.
In spontaneous, conversational style, Selzer writes about his life and work with the unpredictable vision and sharpness of wit that, in his stories, memoirs, and personal essays, have made his reputation as one of the great prose stylists of his day. It is also the record of a friendship. As Peter Josyph remarks in his introduction, "With a good correspondence, as with the blowing between horn players improvising off each other's riffs, it isn't easy to say whether it's art or society because it is both of them at once. This is a book about two men who value a friendship balanced upon words; men for whose friendship the phone is a thief; men who are comfortable with the U. S. mail. "
Richard Selzer is a former surgeon and professor at the Yale School of Medicine. He is also the author of many books of short stories and essays, including Rituals of Surgery; Confessions of a Knife; The Exact Location of the Soul; and Knife Song Korea: A Novel, also published by SUNY Press. He has been honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Magazine Award, the Pushcart Prize, and the American Medical Writers Award. He lives in New Haven. Peter Josyph is a writer, painter, actor, and filmmaker. He is author of Liberty Street: Encounters at Ground Zero; What One Man Said to Another: Talks with Richard Selzer; and The Wounded River: The Civil War Letters of John Vance Lauderdale, M. D., which was a New York Times Notable Book in 1993. He directed the award-winning documentary Liberty Street: Alive at Ground Zero. He lives on Long Island.
"…collectively [the letters] reveal a brooding Selzer, a man continually doubting himself as a writer, doubting his decision to leave surgery; yet we also see a man capable of soaring to almost giddy heights, sustained by a tart tongue and a tendency to veer toward the dramatic. He is a man of many voices. Selzer and Josyph seem to stabilize each other—Richard the older always encouraging Peter the younger, always praising … the less-experienced writer, who is also a painter, playwright, actor, raconteur … Selzer's letters contain Josyph; they answer him in sustained conversation over a long period of time—their cumulative effect of value to both scholar and common reader. " — Sewanee Review
"Richard Selzer has long been a favorite of mine. His stories are fascinating. " — Annie Dillard, author of Tickets for a Prayer Wheel