The modern conundrum: while the art of letter writing is fast extinguishing, the need for expressive, impressive, appropriate letters is as great as ever. The result? A mortifying amount of miserable missives that sadly miss the mark. E-mail informality is all very well for one's sister in Toledo or one's colleague three cubicles down, but when one needs to promote a product or raise funds, seek a job or request a favor, effectively complain, apologize, or reprimand, or send a letter of condolence, the typically confident and competent achiever gets noodly in the knees. Write a thank-you letter? The prospective correspondent is suddenly busy cleaning his or her desk and organizing the office files.
All you really need is a template to show you the way, and that's where Harold Meyer's Lifetime Encyclopedia of Letters excels. There are 981 letters covering most every business or personal occasion, organized in 600 categories, and followed by a comprehensive index. From Declining Requests (subdivided into "Invitations," "Applications for Credit," and "Donations," among others) and Requesting Favors to Sympathy, Apology, and Thank-You notes, Meyer shows an array of approaches, discusses effective techniques for various intended results, and instructs you on which tone to pursue, depending on whom the letter is going to and what you're trying to achieve. The encyclopedia won't actually write the letter for you or affix the stamp, but it provides proven formats to help structure your thoughts, and smooth starter and closer sentences--typically the hardest to write--to jump-start your communication and end with style. --Stephanie Gold