Letters to Juliet by Lise Friedman and Ceil Friedman, a book about a generations-old tradition of seeking romantic advice from Shakespeare’s Juliet, is kind of like…licorice. It’s a rare and sweet thing to consume, leaves a person feeling lighter than most sweets tend to do, and it’s finished very quickly. Letters to Juliet is short and does nothing to tax our reading muscles. It has an uncommon feel-good goodness that makes you wonder when you’re ever going to have such an innocuous, but delightful experience again, a yummy taste with zero grams of fat.
Visually, it’s a beautiful book. It’s lovingly laid out pages are interspersed with passionate splashes of red. There are photographs of Verona, Italy past and present to illustrate the story of the men and women who have worked as Juliet’s “secretaries” for decades. These volunteers respond to the millions of letters that have been sent to ’Juliet’ on relationship matters big and small. There are also many gorgeous pieces of art showing scenes from Romeo and Juliet. And, a delectable illustration to go with the ’Baci di Giulietta’ cookies recipe. The images of scribblings left by fans of Juliet at her tomb bring home sense of connection so many people seem to feel to Juliet and her tragic love story.
I read the edition that came out after the movie with the same title. I never saw the movie, got the book at a last-ditch sale price, expected fluffy merchandising dressed up with pretty pictures and typeface. Instead, I got all the prettiness without the feeling of being duped out of money that so often comes from movie memorabilia purchases. That should not have surprised me, though.
The simple, but touching, substance of Letters to Juliet makes sense, since it’s a really just a sweet piece of reporting that pre-dated and, actually, “inspired” the film. The seven chapters take us through the possible sources of the Romeo and Juliet legend, the milking of the myth and the goodwill of the secretaries who write Juliet’s letters. Throughout the book there are, of course, many examples of the touching and amusing letters that people worldwide have sent to the young lady from Verona. If you’re any kind of a romantic, these letters are sure to reassure you that there is still good-hearted whimsy in the world. That alone may make it worth a read for many of us.
Finally, it may not be a bad idea to stuff this book in your luggage if you ever have the chance to go to Verona. Much of it is nice travel writing, and it certainly inspires an enthusiasm for the city. Even if you never go, you can feel like you’ve touched Verona through the pages of the book. And, you may be inspired to send a page or two of your own to the young Veronese heroine, if just to share a postmarked piece of her enduring love story. The secretaries are, after all, waiting for our love notes.