Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries: out now, 2/3/15, from Graywolf Press. Cover is by Marian Bantjes, one of my favorite contemporary designers.


Letter to a Future Lover is...a breathtakingly original, thoughtful consideration of what it means to be a reader—or a writer, or a human being. His focus isn't books, exactly, but rather the things we find in them: notes, date due slips, scrawlings in the margins. As an essay collection, it's magnificent; as a love letter, it's a work of overwhelming devotion and generosity.... Monson knows that we must hold on to things — not just libraries, but ideas, emotions, one another. And we also have to let go, the way he let go of these essays, first as notes in books, then, here, in book form. His words, as usual, are a gift — he is one of America's best living authors, and his 2005 novel Other Electricities was one of the best of that decade.

Letter to a Future Lover is a masterpiece, filled with compassion and brilliance, and a powerful call to arms: "Treating a library as a crematorium for yesterday's knowledge does no one any good. Instead let's keep it live ... so that we might think the world a library and by so thinking, and our feeling, and our stealing, and our starting something new here, make it so." --Michael Schaub, NPR


Buy it here from Graywolf. Or Amazon. Or Powell's.



“Amidst much tedious hand-writing re: the future of the book, Ander Monson not only shows us the way forward but chronicles codex’s codes, singing an ode to book qua book, to marginalia and to the margins. A physically beautiful and intellectually thrilling work.” —David Shields

"Ander Monson loves the world with such powerful desperation—even/especially the awful parts—and he loves, maybe even more, all our failed attempts at representation. Being inside his mind for a few hours, being in such close quarters with all that love, is perhaps the greatest pleasure of reading Letter to a Future Lover, but it is not, by a long shot, the only one." —Pam Houston

"Like you, I've read so many 'books about the book' by now: the thick tome of biblioscholarship, the collections of (think Horatio Alger's Ragged Dick) weird titles, the books that saved somebody's childhood, plus the bucket list books, and the histories of papermaking and font design . . . And now, as if these books have met to form a private club we can join, here's Ander Monson's tribute to written marginalia, published lists of errata, book defacings, bindings, maps, tickertape and sacred texts, a braille Playboy, those dear old library check-out slips, all of it in that wonderful allusive, poetic, factoidal Monsonian vision and voice that allow him, finally, to take on the entire cosmos we live in, stars and death and love and memory. If you can find a card catalogue still in existence, check under G for 'genius.'" —Albert Goldbarth



Monson’s heady riffs and profound meditations lead to poignant thoughts about our memory libraries—what is retained, how we retrieve them, and what is lost. Monson’s vivid, mind-whirling essays add up to a dynamic and idiosyncratic celebration of libraries that expands into a delectably labyrinthine, provocative, and affecting inquiry into nothing less than how we preserve and share human experience. Donna Seaman, Booklist

In this collection of essays on the secret lives of books, as seen through marginalia, sidenotes, personal collections, and reader histories, Monson weaves together thoughts on life, loss, lust, libraries, and everything in between—a celebration of bibliophilia in a neat little package that draws the reader in as it considers the wonder of books and their infinite histories. The “letters” (or essays) can be read in any order, as Monson reminds us, each epistle contains its own subtle bit of wisdom. This is a hard book to describe, packed with information and insight on any number of topics, from library catalogs to memory to the days of Biosphere 2. It defies expectation and is much more than memoir or meditation, bringing the reader into an intimate conversation that sparks the imagination with thoughts on what might be. —Library Journal

In his highly quirky, sometimes frustrating collection of short essays, Monson reflects on the communal experience of reading books in libraries and on the nature of libraries themselves. He recalls the pleasures of card catalogues and wonders which books were stored in a now-empty library. He makes the point that the voices that speak to us from books are not always the ones the author intended; sometimes readers leave comments in a book’s margins, or pieces of paper between its pages. One of the more intriguing and effective essays is his open letter to those who have defaced books with their own bigoted or outraged commentary. Most of his pieces began life as ephemera themselves, with Monson leaving them in library books. There are moments of insight and delight, and the idea of exploring literally marginal writings is a bright one, but Monson’s idiosyncratic presentation and prose style can be exasperating, walking a fine line between self-reflection and self-indulgence. The essays are offered alphabetically, and the author’s advice (given in the second essay, “AI”) is to dive right in and read them in whatever order one wishes. In this respect, his book is gracious and respectful toward its intended readers, even if it may prove inaccessible to some of them. —Publishers Weekly

Short essays on libraries, literature and life. As an eclectic writer, editor and academic, Monson (Nonfiction/Univ. of Arizona; Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir, 2010, etc.) defies conventional continuity to make leaps of connection, not only between paragraphs, but even within a sentence. He continues to challenge the very meaning of meaning, daring readers to come to terms with "the book, the book about the book," and the very concept of the library, be it public, prison, personal, seed, digital or abandoned and repurposed. "A library is a synonym for slow, a silent coil into the past's dust," he writes. "Quick transmission of anything here won't get you anywhere." Monson writes of the future reader, even lover, with whom he connects through a book and of the life that you leave behind, not merely in the books that you've written, but the ones you've read: "You get at least two afterlives. One resides in memory, not yours, but another's. You don't get to choose whose. The other is in the disposition and dispersion of your books." These essays are more often playful than impenetrable, though they defy easy paraphrase or analysis. The author suggests early on that readers start with the section called "How to Read a Book," which he places in the middle of this book and which he begins, "Read this first. Or read this last." He later advises to use the book "like a game. Reading is participation, but I want more of you. So mark it up. Annotate a page. Trade a boring essay with another copy." Each reader will have a different experience with the book, which the author suggests is as much the reader's book as the writer's. Writing that requires a receptive readership as flexible as the prose. —Kirkus Reviews