A LIFE IN LETTERS: Ann Landers' Letters to Her Only Child

Margo Howard, Author . Warner $22 (391p) ISBN 978-0-446-53271-6

Landers (1918–2002) penned thousands of letters to troubled strangers during her many newspaper years, but in writing to her daughter, the advice columnist's personality comes through with more clarity than was ever evident in her published work. Howard has amassed a staggering collection of Landers's letters, which span 40 years and range widely in subject matter and tone. Several notes refer to the famous feud between Landers and her twin sister, Pauline (aka Dear Abby). There are gossipy moments, as when Landers writes about a socialite who's had a facelift so disastrous she's unrecognizable. Unfortunately for those who like such dish, Howard is disappointingly ethical, concealing names and identifying information. However, this strategy is effective in taking the attention away from the occasional catty jab and focusing more closely on the book's real strength, which is showing Landers as the loving, flawed, sometimes even surprisingly dull person that she was. Beyond the occasional mentions of celebrities or TV appearances, the columnist's letters are simply notes mailed from a mother to a daughter, and anyone who's sent or received similar missives will feel pangs of identification. There's praise and encouragement, shock over allowance squandering during college days and, quite often, a healthy dose of nagging. Some letters are downright yawn inducing, with sentences like, "Daddy and I are planning on coming to Parents' weekend on Friday." While these kinds of entries can be trying, they provide a profile of Landers that will thrill fans of her work and be of interest to letter-writing mothers and daughters everywhere. Agent, Bob Barnett. (Oct. 8)

Forecast: A barrage of media—including radio ads, print ads and a Today show appearance—guarantee hefty sales for Howard's book. It should be a popular holiday gift.

Reviewed on: 09/15/2003
Release date: 11/01/2003
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Hardcover - 639 pages - 978-0-446-53315-7
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