on October 3, 2000
Strange that it took so long for someone to think of this. Lovecraft was one of history's great letter-writers, and many of his letters contain autobiographical details, so why not gather those all together? Well, here they are, 343 pages of letters, Lovecraft's autobiographical sketch SOME NOTES ON A NONENTITY, and some explanatory notes. The letters don't really form a coherent autobiography, and someone who reads this book without having read Joshi's biography of Lovecraft first will probably not form a very clear idea of Lovecraft's life.
Most of the letters are new to me, even though I am familiar with the contents of the multi-volume Arkham House "Collected Letters." Virtually all the letters are a delight to read, since poor Lovecraft could find entertainment in even the most humdrum activities... consider the wild Arabian Nights bazaar-haggling fantasy he inserts into the account of his search for a good, cheap suit, after a thief made away with almost everything he owned in the way of wearables.
The text has one annoying defect; the letters are usually not introduced by telling us who they were written to, and one must repeatedly turn to a couple of pages marked "sources" for this vital info. Lovecraft's tone and style, and openness or reticence, varied greatly with correspondent, and this is background info you have to have to appreciate a given letter.
Typographical errors are very few; I spotted only about four, all probably transcription errors in copying from Lovecraft's microscopically hand-written originals.
Like the majority of university press books I have seen over the past 40 long-suffering years, this one suffers from what Lovecraft himself might call "preternaturally odious" design. The cover consists of a fuzzy snapshot of Lovecraft superimposed on a collage of details from old engravings, and each major section is defaced by a grey blob that is probably imagined, by someone with no sense of design, to be decorative. Chapter headings seem to have been affected by word-processing runaway, so that for instance the index is headed "Marriage and Exile, Clinton Street and Red Hook"!
Let's just say I loved every word of it. After you read it, this should go right on the shelf with your worn, much-read volumes of Lovecraft fiction, and you'll find yourself dipping into it at random, at odd times. What a man! Recommended!
on October 15, 2002
If you don't have access to the 5-volume "Selected Letters" (published by Arkham House), this book is indispensible. This collection of letters spans Lovecraft's adulthood and covers such diverse topics as writing, eighteenth century antiquities, philosophy, politics, racism, economics, cats, travel, and even the art of buying a cheap suit!
Veteran Lovecraft scholars will enjoy this work because of the editors' efforts at placing each selection of letters in its proper context. These little annotations assist the reader in gaining a better understanding of the author's need to communicate with kindred spirits (despite his avowed misanthropy), his attempts to battle his depression with satiric humor, and the sometimes extreme lengths undertaken to cope with the slide into poverty and near starvation.
Well researched and ably constructed, Joshi and Schultz's offering is a welcome addition. Highly recommended.