THE 50 GREATEST LOVE LETTERS OF ALL TIME edited by David Lowenherz (Crown/Random House), 208 pages, $30 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
these aren't really the 50 great-est Love Letters Of All Time. They're the 50 best ones collector David Lowenherz was able to get his hands on and publish. But if Lowenherz didn't look at all the love letters ever written and weed out the best, he has still, considering his limitations, found material that's quite moving.
The letters are divided into six categories, including a section on Tender Love that's more family-oriented and a set of letters called Fire And Ice that looks at love gone bad.
And so not all the messages are passionate in a positive way. Read Mozart's letter to his wife, Constanze, and discover that even a genius can get really petty about relationships. Or check out Anaïs Nin's hate mail to Henry Miller.
Though the intensity level can get pretty low -- George Bush's note to wife-to-be Barbara is tepid to a laughable point -- passion deeply felt can generate some real thrills. Beethoven lets loose on love with the insistent rhythms of his symphonic codas, Zelda Fitzgerald breathes her alcoholic desperation, and you can practically feel Balzac's heat emanate from the page.
The biggest surprise is a poignant letter written in the oval office by Ronald Reagan to Nancy. A deft touch is not something you'd expect from someone with such a simplistic politic.
Hottest correspondence? Easy -- Vita Sackville West's exchange with Virginia Woolf.