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Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us

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“A celebration of the adventure that is other people.” —Ariel Levy, author of The Rules Do Not Apply Lauren Groff, Elizabeth Kolbert, Pam Houston, Pico Iyer, T Kira Madden, Gregory Pardlo, Maggie Shipstead, and Peter Orner are among the 65 writers who grapple with this mystery: How can an ephemeral encounter leave an eternal mark?   When Colleen Kinder put out a call for a “A celebration of the adventure that is other people.” —Ariel Levy, author of The Rules Do Not Apply Lauren Groff, Elizabeth Kolbert, Pam Houston, Pico Iyer, T Kira Madden, Gregory Pardlo, Maggie Shipstead, and Peter Orner are among the 65 writers who grapple with this mystery: How can an ephemeral encounter leave an eternal mark?   When Colleen Kinder put out a call for authors to “write a letter to a stranger who haunts you,” she opened the floodgates. The responses—intimate and addictive, all in the form of letters, all written in the second person—began pouring in. These short, insightful essays by today’s best literary minds are organized around such themes as Grati­tude, Wonder, and Farewell, and guide us both across the globe and through the mysteries of human connection. Bestselling author Leslie Jamison, who provides the foreword, reveals she has been haunted for years by a traveling magician she met in Nicaragua. Journalist Ted Conover writes his missive to a stranger he met on a New Yorker assignment in Rwanda. From the story of Vanessa Hua’s shoe shopper in China to the tale of Michelle Tea’s encounter in a Texas tattoo parlor, these pieces are replete with observations about how to live and what to seek, and how a stranger’s loaded glance, shared smile, or question posed can alter the course of our lives. Moving and unforgettable, Letter to a Stranger is an irresistible read for any literary traveler and the perfect gift for anyone who is haunted by a person they met once but will remember forever.


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“A celebration of the adventure that is other people.” —Ariel Levy, author of The Rules Do Not Apply Lauren Groff, Elizabeth Kolbert, Pam Houston, Pico Iyer, T Kira Madden, Gregory Pardlo, Maggie Shipstead, and Peter Orner are among the 65 writers who grapple with this mystery: How can an ephemeral encounter leave an eternal mark?   When Colleen Kinder put out a call for a “A celebration of the adventure that is other people.” —Ariel Levy, author of The Rules Do Not Apply Lauren Groff, Elizabeth Kolbert, Pam Houston, Pico Iyer, T Kira Madden, Gregory Pardlo, Maggie Shipstead, and Peter Orner are among the 65 writers who grapple with this mystery: How can an ephemeral encounter leave an eternal mark?   When Colleen Kinder put out a call for authors to “write a letter to a stranger who haunts you,” she opened the floodgates. The responses—intimate and addictive, all in the form of letters, all written in the second person—began pouring in. These short, insightful essays by today’s best literary minds are organized around such themes as Grati­tude, Wonder, and Farewell, and guide us both across the globe and through the mysteries of human connection. Bestselling author Leslie Jamison, who provides the foreword, reveals she has been haunted for years by a traveling magician she met in Nicaragua. Journalist Ted Conover writes his missive to a stranger he met on a New Yorker assignment in Rwanda. From the story of Vanessa Hua’s shoe shopper in China to the tale of Michelle Tea’s encounter in a Texas tattoo parlor, these pieces are replete with observations about how to live and what to seek, and how a stranger’s loaded glance, shared smile, or question posed can alter the course of our lives. Moving and unforgettable, Letter to a Stranger is an irresistible read for any literary traveler and the perfect gift for anyone who is haunted by a person they met once but will remember forever.

30 review for Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    There was the woman sitting in the movie theater a few seats away. I glanced at her and saw myself. My Doppelganger. Did she recognize me, as well? And the older lady who sat down at my table in the downtown mall food court, an academic who told me that every culture has a sandwich, a meal wrapped in something. And most of all, the woman who saw the child me standing in front of the toys in the grocery store, contemplating the cellophane bags of plastic cowboys and Indians and knights on horses an There was the woman sitting in the movie theater a few seats away. I glanced at her and saw myself. My Doppelganger. Did she recognize me, as well? And the older lady who sat down at my table in the downtown mall food court, an academic who told me that every culture has a sandwich, a meal wrapped in something. And most of all, the woman who saw the child me standing in front of the toys in the grocery store, contemplating the cellophane bags of plastic cowboys and Indians and knights on horses and dogs of all breeds. I was seven or eight, very blond and golden-skinned from the sun, chubby with full cheeks and a round tummy, and a gap between my front teeth. She told me I would grow up to be beautiful. No one ever had said that to me. I was told I could look like Cinderella, if I lost weight. That I would grow up to be the fat lady in the circus if I didn’t lose weight. I was awestruck. Strangers can impact our lives with indelible memories. I was charmed by the idea of a book of letters written to the strangers who haunted people. Letters to a Stranger includes 60 short essays addressed to the person whose life intersected with the author, briefly, but with a lasting impact. Passing Stanger! You do not know how longingly I look upon you,/You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking… Walt Whitman, To a Stranger “You, stranger, haunt the storyteller,” Coleen Kinder writes in her Introduction. I loved how contributors took me across the world to New York City, Portland, Oregon, Denmark, California, Beijing, Uganda, Peru, Berlin, Florence, Pakistan, Mexico, and even Antarctica. The letters are arranged in themes. Symmetry, Mystery, Chemistry, Gratitude, Wonder. Remorse, Farewell. The essays have intriguing titles. To the Boo Radley of my Childhood (Peter Turchi). To the Woman Whose Shoulder I Slept On (Keija Parssinen). To the Woman With the Restraining Order (Maggie Shipstead). To the Poet Who Disappeared (T Kira Madden). The pandemic changed everything. We hid behind masks, swerved to avoid strangers on the sidewalk, stood distanced in line. It is good to remember when we were not afraid of strangers, when we could travel to new and sometimes uncomfortable places. I enjoy reading these letters and the experiences they share. And they make me think of my own stories, the untold tales of the impact of strangers in my own life. I received a free egalley from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Alyson Stone

    Book: Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us Author: Colleen Kinder Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars I would like to thank the publisher, Algonquin Books, for sending me an ARC. Whenever I pick up a collection written by different authors, I always get a little nervous. For me, these kinds of books can go either way. I found myself, though, highly invested in this collection. These are letters written in second person-so if you get far enough into it, it almost feels like these letters were Book: Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us Author: Colleen Kinder Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars I would like to thank the publisher, Algonquin Books, for sending me an ARC. Whenever I pick up a collection written by different authors, I always get a little nervous. For me, these kinds of books can go either way. I found myself, though, highly invested in this collection. These are letters written in second person-so if you get far enough into it, it almost feels like these letters were written for you. By having that mindset, it feels like you are out and about in the world with the authors and just having a normal conversation. When I had this mindset, I found myself really enjoying the book. Now, with like with other collections, there was a few that I didn’t enjoy as much, but for the most time, I did enjoy it. What I really liked about the letters was the fact that they are written in letter length. This means that each entry is one the shorter side. I know, I know, a lot of times with a shorter entry, we don’t always get the whole picture. That isn’t the case here. Each letter is focused on a certain scene or more in the author’s life and how a stranger impacted that moment. We get the interaction and how it has affected the author-this means we get a scene with some thoughts. Afterwards, we move on to the next letter. It sounds rather choppy, but I found that it worked. While it wasn’t too much information, it was enough to throw us into the moment and get a little insight as to what was going on in both the author’s and the stranger’s life at that given moment. It also gives us a reminder as to what pre-COVID-19 life was like, when we weren’t afraid to travel, afraid of strangers, and was out there experiencing the world. It reminded us of a time when we could go out and not feel uncomfortable by our daily surroundings. It gave us some insight to what the world used to look like and what we having awaiting us once this nightmare is over. It gives us hope-hope in a time in which we need all the good news we can get. Oh, yes, some of these letters are rather on the darker side, but for the most part, they offer us these little tidbits of the softer side of human nature. Sometimes you just need a book like this to allow you get away from the real world. Overall, I had a good time with this one. If you are someone who enjoys travel and essays in the form of a letter, I think you will enjoy this one. This book comes out on October 5, 2021. Youtube: https://youtu.be/PLv8xauOzA0

  3. 4 out of 5

    Marianne Mersereau

    This is a wonderful collection of letters written to people with whom the authors had chance encounters or special brief connections. I especially like the one written by the poet Kiki Petrosino about the time after her graduation when she lived with her grandmother.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kerry

    As soon as I read the description for this book I thought it sounded so intriguing. I found myself skimming over some stories and no judgement to those people but they didn’t hold my interest. A great book idea.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Pine Reads Review

    “We spend our lives turning them into beloveds and ghosts: the ones we need, the ones we ache for, the ones we lose, the ones we brush up against and never really know, who stay with us anyway.” Self-proclaimed friend of the editor and stranger-letter-writer herself, Leslie Jamison writes a moving forward that touches perfectly on the sheer breadth of interactions and emotions covered within this collection of sixty-five pieces all from different writers spread throughout the world. I think that “We spend our lives turning them into beloveds and ghosts: the ones we need, the ones we ache for, the ones we lose, the ones we brush up against and never really know, who stay with us anyway.” Self-proclaimed friend of the editor and stranger-letter-writer herself, Leslie Jamison writes a moving forward that touches perfectly on the sheer breadth of interactions and emotions covered within this collection of sixty-five pieces all from different writers spread throughout the world. I think that number is worth emphasizing because within this anthology, there are seven unique categories each letter is sorted into, all of which strike a very specific emotional cord that followed me through empty days of mood reading to entire weekends consumed by reading as fast as I can. I have chosen to review one or two letters under each category, hopefully allowing you to have a glimpse at my own intrigue for the book’s conception, as well as an accurate review of its content. Some of these essays immediately enthralled me from the index, while others sat with me quietly but longingly in the fashion of their own stranger interactions. “I felt the things we had said float between us like the heat, things too honest for people we loved.” “To the Father Paused Under the Tree” by Anjali Sachdeva was the first letter I gravitated towards because it is one of the only pieces located in Arizona. Listed simply as Grand Canyon, the letter details the treacherous yet overpopulated Bright Angel Trail, where both met under a small shaded tree on the hiking path. It is categorized under the first section titled Symmetry, possibly marked by the cyclic nature of their wearied conversation reflected in the fulfilled but unanswered status of her own parenthood. This letter, like many of the others I discovered while continuing to read, is as brief and emotionally impactful as the initial stranger interactions. Sachdeva’s fleeting yet memorable connection with a man as they discuss the realities of having children, the man’s two daughters and wife lagging behind on the difficult trail, shows the beauty in a simple conversation with someone who does not know the intricacies of your life. “To the girl on the Berlin U-bahn who looked like me: I hope these things because I want to believe I am not alone.” Writer Annie Schweikert, whose essay “To the Face In the Subway Glass” finishes out the Symmetry section. It conveys the deep tiredness that comes with traveling in a place that almost (but not quite) feels like your home, or should but doesn’t fit yet. Her stranger interaction, however, is in passing with another woman who looked so similar to her, she was essentially a reflection. The two do not actually speak, but Schweikert’s letter conveys the dissonance that comes with seeing your mirror image walking away from you, and realizing that for a brief moment you wish to be them if simply not to be you. “I never discovered whether your gentleness that afternoon was truly kindness for a bedraggled stranger, or whether you were the predator two decades have taught me you might have been.” This letter was one of the few writings to both list the stranger by their full name and to incorporate the location as another letter recipient or an additionally harsh second party. Lauren Groff, in her titled piece “To the Man I Believe Was Good,” fully captures the indignation of hindsight while reflecting on youthful naivete and seeing a reality of exploitation. The generalization of Palermo, Italy as having a darker side, somewhere she will never claim and likely never return, is recognized within the letter as possibly being completely false and the product of an uninformed young traveler, akin to the rash assumptions made of all strangers. This letter is in the exact middle of the Mystery section, which seems appropriate as Groff left me wanting more of her own backstory. But more importantly, she communicated within her letter that deep need for answers after an impactful stranger interaction, and the continuous understanding that resolution will never be given. “You were an aberrant to my neat conclusion that language and sex were the only obstacles to friendship on board.” When I first saw that the third section was tagged as Chemistry, I assumed that the encounters would be passionate in nature. Additionally, when I read the title of Ying Rienhardt’s letter “To the Man Who Spoke With His Hands,” I entered the piece expecting a nameless, sensual recounting. I was instead pleasantly surprised to learn of the broken-language connection between two people stuck on a shipping freight together, with two decades of time spanning their different lives. Rienhardt’s reflection is written ten years after, and she contextualizes that her stranger interaction would have been less lasting if she had spoken in his native Italian because it was in the parsing of random hand gestures, after months at sea living and working together, that allowed their conversation to so naturally flow. “Behind all the fear I felt for my life and my child, this: an orange. Passed from woman to woman.” Sarah Menkedick’s short letter within the Gratitude section shows a brief moment between two women passing each other in the mountains surrounding Oaxaca, Mexico, who had absolutely no language in common, instead connected through an orange. “To the Lady Who Spared Me An Orange” again highlights a growing theme within the anthology that spoken words are often limiting, and it is through the simple but profound gestures that develop as a result of striving for the connection that talking can’t provide. Menkedick’s traveling with her young infant is mirrored by the elderly woman selling her fruit, both carrying the weight of their own worlds with them constantly and still being able to find genuine human connection somewhere within the brevity of the world. “And you laughed, truly, from your belly, so that I was finally sure I was with a friend.” This letter is longer in format because it shows the audience piece by piece how Jamil Jan Kochai had to attempt to communicate with a local Logari woman he met. “To the Logari Who Asked About the Sun,” under the Remorse section, shows the way that different heritages can affect someone’s relationship to their home country and by extension, other minority groups within it. There is a beautifully clear picture of the political tensions present in Afghanistan at the time, where even a surname could sentence a person to death. Interestingly, the two refugees’ connection point is their knowledge of American cities because of family members who had moved there in years past. Kochai very neatly guides his reader through the language differences within this stranger interaction, like he had reopened the uninformed past for everyone to experience the conversation-in-parts as he once did. “He took you at my word.” Despite the shorter two-page length of Carlynn Houghton’s letter, she perfectly encapsulated the trauma that comes with planning a future around a person you never actually met. There is a deep sense of loss present throughout, along with the confused inability to reconcile that a future life could end in a random gas station bathroom off of US Route 17 in upstate New York. “To the Protagonist of a Too-Short Story” translates an almost-mother’s grief as seamlessly as many other letters because above all there will always be the disruptive presence of a life never lived. Within the seven categories, I found that almost every author, in their own unique way, touched on the most fundamental ways in which humans form connections—sometimes without speech, commonalities, or the privilege of time to communicate. In the seven letters reviewed for this blog, I chose moments that related to some part of my own soul, reminding me of my own past stranger interactions or my similar, desperate want for the anonymity that travel brings. There are so many more genuine, enjoyable human moments in this letter collection that exemplify the exciting and lasting way that anyone has the potential to haunt you. (Pine Reads Review would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for sending us an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change up final publication.)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Carro Herdegen

    Language: R (24 swears, 7 “f”); Mature Content: R; Violence: PG This collection of 65 letters will make you laugh and then invite you to cry. Organized into several categories -- including gratitude, wonder, and remorse -- these writers take you to all seven continents, but the real journey is in the impact of strangers and how each writer has moved forward since then. Reading these intimate thoughts has taken me on many adventures, though my favorite adventures have been the ones that they have h Language: R (24 swears, 7 “f”); Mature Content: R; Violence: PG This collection of 65 letters will make you laugh and then invite you to cry. Organized into several categories -- including gratitude, wonder, and remorse -- these writers take you to all seven continents, but the real journey is in the impact of strangers and how each writer has moved forward since then. Reading these intimate thoughts has taken me on many adventures, though my favorite adventures have been the ones that they have helped me remember. I have written a couple of letters to my own strangers, intrigued by the impact the strangers I have met have had on me years later -- just like the authors of those whose letters I’ve been reading. As I pondered my interactions with strangers, I was surprised to find that some of the experiences I was reading felt as personal and life-changing to me, a reader, as the ones I’ve had with my strangers as a participant. The mature content rating is for drug and alcohol use, indecent exposure, mentions of rape, and oral and vaginal sex. Reviewed for https://kissthebook.blogspot.com/

  7. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    An exceptional collection of essays that will make you think. Definitely made me consider my own interactions with strangers. I think we all have a stranger who stuck with us - I have a couple, and now I want to write my own letter to them. This would be a great assignment for a creative writing class, actually - assign this book and have each student dissect one of the letters, then have them write their own letter to a stranger. The section on "Chemistry" was my favorite. I think the first half An exceptional collection of essays that will make you think. Definitely made me consider my own interactions with strangers. I think we all have a stranger who stuck with us - I have a couple, and now I want to write my own letter to them. This would be a great assignment for a creative writing class, actually - assign this book and have each student dissect one of the letters, then have them write their own letter to a stranger. The section on "Chemistry" was my favorite. I think the first half of the book was the strongest. I skipped a few of the letters that didn't hold my interest, but they're all quite short - five pages or less. So it was great to pick up and read when I had a few minutes. All of these writers took a different approach which makes it interesting to read. A great concept with excellent execution that I recommend to anyone looking for a unique read. *Thank you to Algonquin Publishers for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.*

  8. 5 out of 5

    Amber

    I enjoyed this collection of reflections on brief encounters with strangers. I skipped over some stories that didn't appeal to me, but overall, it was a nice read. There were several standouts about kindness ("The Woman who Walked Beside Me," "The Lady Who Spared Me an Orange") and one about intuition, ("To The Man I Believe Was Good"). This will appeal to people who enjoy bite-sized stories and beautiful descriptions of far-flung places. All of us have wondered about what happened to a stranger I enjoyed this collection of reflections on brief encounters with strangers. I skipped over some stories that didn't appeal to me, but overall, it was a nice read. There were several standouts about kindness ("The Woman who Walked Beside Me," "The Lady Who Spared Me an Orange") and one about intuition, ("To The Man I Believe Was Good"). This will appeal to people who enjoy bite-sized stories and beautiful descriptions of far-flung places. All of us have wondered about what happened to a stranger in our lives - someone that we've shared a brief moment or knowing look, someone who helped us, or could've done us harm had we not made a different decision. Those stories are peppered throughout this collection.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ann Marie

    Special thanks to NetGalley and Algonquin Books for this ARC in exchange for my own opinion. When I read the excerpt for this book, I thought it was a great idea. I wanted to hear about more scary stuff though, like the crazy fan that just doesn't know when to stop. Now that I've read it, while there are some crazies out there, there are not enough in this book. This is a book you could pick up and put down. Few stories grabbed me that were interesting but I don't think some authors took the ques Special thanks to NetGalley and Algonquin Books for this ARC in exchange for my own opinion. When I read the excerpt for this book, I thought it was a great idea. I wanted to hear about more scary stuff though, like the crazy fan that just doesn't know when to stop. Now that I've read it, while there are some crazies out there, there are not enough in this book. This is a book you could pick up and put down. Few stories grabbed me that were interesting but I don't think some authors took the question posed to them the right way, or they just don't have crazy enough fans. This book, I feel, might've been better geared to celebrity actors and actresses. Still I gave it a 3.5 for the stories I did enjoy jumped up to a 4 for originality.

  10. 5 out of 5

    John

    It's a simple conceit: write a letter to someone with whom you've had an unforgettable encounter. Kinder (how could one not love that name?) put the call out to the writing community and got dozens of submissions in response. All short (approx. 5 pages), many poetic and moving, a handful by favorite authors (Laura Groff, Leslie James, et. al.), such variety that I parceled them out at two per day so I could reflect on each. Several I know I will return to, but together they inspire me to wish to It's a simple conceit: write a letter to someone with whom you've had an unforgettable encounter. Kinder (how could one not love that name?) put the call out to the writing community and got dozens of submissions in response. All short (approx. 5 pages), many poetic and moving, a handful by favorite authors (Laura Groff, Leslie James, et. al.), such variety that I parceled them out at two per day so I could reflect on each. Several I know I will return to, but together they inspire me to wish to write similar letters: To the stranger who gave me her password. To the cop who gave me more than a ticket. To the man who never owned a television. It's a great writing prompt. And a book that might appeal to those who enjoy the Chicken Soup books of yore.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Francis M. Torres

    This is a book filled with little short stories/letters to people that they have met, or have known. I love reading books like this, you get a different tone all the time. Some stories were confusing, and sometimes so short and some had no true ending, but these stories are meant to be that way, because these are actual peoples stories, not the authors. Some taught me lessons and some made me cry, and some left me as confused as when I read the title, haha, but other than that its a great collec This is a book filled with little short stories/letters to people that they have met, or have known. I love reading books like this, you get a different tone all the time. Some stories were confusing, and sometimes so short and some had no true ending, but these stories are meant to be that way, because these are actual peoples stories, not the authors. Some taught me lessons and some made me cry, and some left me as confused as when I read the title, haha, but other than that its a great collection to get into. Thanks Netgalley and the publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this gem.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Fortier

    There were a handful of standout stories in this collection, such as the person visiting a residential school in Canada and the woman saying goodbye to her unborn child as she miscarried. Overall, however, many of the stories were just fine. This book was a good distraction to read in bite-sized chunks but didn't hold up to its potential for me. There were a handful of standout stories in this collection, such as the person visiting a residential school in Canada and the woman saying goodbye to her unborn child as she miscarried. Overall, however, many of the stories were just fine. This book was a good distraction to read in bite-sized chunks but didn't hold up to its potential for me.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kyla

    The premise of this book - amazing! I’ve always been incredibly intrigued by strangers. I think several of the stories missed their mark but overall I love it. The forward was excellent and you just have to read it if you pick this book up.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Mijangos

    I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I love this concept--a letter to a stranger who unknowingly made an impact in your life. Interesting reads. It would make a great English assignment.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Megan ♡

    Thank you to Netgalley, Algonquin Books, and Kelly Doyle for the eARC! frtc

  16. 4 out of 5

    Carrie

    Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC of this title. As with most essay collections, this one was a mix of fantastic essays and essays I had to skim through or completely skip. I love the concept, but found that many of the stories were more about their authors than the strangers they met. Some of the essays were a bit uncomfortable, tales of privileged white people in foreign countries, but many of them were wonderful. I particularly loved Michelle Tea's piece. Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC of this title. As with most essay collections, this one was a mix of fantastic essays and essays I had to skim through or completely skip. I love the concept, but found that many of the stories were more about their authors than the strangers they met. Some of the essays were a bit uncomfortable, tales of privileged white people in foreign countries, but many of them were wonderful. I particularly loved Michelle Tea's piece.

  17. 5 out of 5

    T Madden

  18. 5 out of 5

    DeRosia

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lysa

  20. 5 out of 5

    Abby

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jaime

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lavinia

  24. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  25. 5 out of 5

    Melinda Palmer

  26. 5 out of 5

    Fabio Calderon

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jenessa Abrams

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lira

  29. 4 out of 5

    Emily Crowe

  30. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne LaGrande

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