Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

December 31, 2019

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Love Lettering

by Kate Clayborn
December 31, 2019 · Kensington Books
Contemporary RomanceRomance

Love Lettering is a way to end the decade on a perfect note. Or perhaps it’s a way to start the new decade on a perfect note. Whichever option you choose, my enthusiastic recommendation remains the same. It’s not a book to race through and devour in a short span of time. My advice is to linger on each page and let the words engulf you. Love Lettering is about signs, art, words, and the power they wield over us — it’s only fitting that the reader treats the neat black letters on the page with as much gravity as the book does.

Meg Mackworth is at the pinnacle of her professional career and the rock-bottom of her personal life. Blessed with Instagram renown and a New York Times endorsement, The Planner of Park Slope has no shortage of clamoring clients to commission intricate hand-lettering and calligraphy. The inexplicable erosion of her relationship with roommate-slash-BFF Sibby is Meg’s biggest problem…until Wall Street quantitative analyst Reid Sutherland walks through the door. A former client with an engagement that never reached the altar, Reid is in possession of Meg’s worst M-I-S-T-A-K-E. Literally. A year ago, Meg crafted Reid’s wedding program to the exact specifications of her clients — with one major exception. Privately speculating the couple’s inevitable doom, she hid a secret code of M-I-S-T-A-K-E amidst the artistic swirls. Meg’s careless conjecture has backfired, but Reid isn’t interested in making her M-I-S-T-A-K-E public. He simply wanted some closure before he left NYC for good. Their confrontation should’ve been their last interaction, but Meg ropes Reid into her quest to seek artistic inspiration and help him say farewell to New York City.

I love this book. I love this book so much that I preordered an autographed print copy, an ebook, and an audio version. I love this book so much that I mailed the print ARC to my college BFF as part of her Christmas/romance-starter-pack present (she dabbles in calligraphy and I’ve been plotting to indoctrinate her into romance for some time now). Meg’s quirky train of thought, Reid’s guarded tenderness, calligraphy and hand-lettering pr0n — I love it all. The artistic descriptions will appeal to any reader who wanders the stationery aisle to stroke gleaming pens and inhale the scent of brand-new notebooks (you don’t need another one, but will adding a journal to your infinite collection hurt anyone? No). One book won’t work for everyone, but I still want to shove Love Lettering into the laps of every romance reader in the slightest chance that they might love it as much as I do.

Love Lettering is not a fluffy or comedic romance. Sparks of humor certainly exist, but it’s loneliness that anchors the characters together. Both Meg and Reid are desperately alone in ways that necessitate a box of tissues next to the reader. Meg’s isolation is easily apparent; the book is solely from her first person present POV and her heartbreak is spelled all over the pages. Cut off from her family and her best friend, Meg’s grief manifests in a creative block. Artistic blocks are always inconvenient, but Meg is within touching distance of a life-changing retailer contract. The letters aren’t speaking to her anymore, but maybe rediscovering New York City with fresh eyes beside her will spark inspiration and companionship anew.

“What I mean to say is . . .” He pauses, those blue eyes searching mine. “What I mean to say is, I think anyone would want to be your friend.”

Friend.

The way Reid says this word—I want to draw and redraw it, capturing how it sounds from his lips. I want to ask him to say it again, so I can watch. So I can know if I’m seeing too much in those letters when he says them.

Reid is more opaque as the reader is reliant on Meg’s perspective. The reasons for his loneliness are unknown — or so I initially believed. Love Lettering’s triumph is the hidden clues within the text. Like Meg’s secret premonition weaved into the wedding program, Love Lettering provides ample but easy-to-miss clues for discerning readers. Whether or not the reader guesses accurately is irrelevant. If you do decipher the signs, it’s an exhilarating “Aha!” moment that makes the reveal so much sweeter. If you don’t decipher the signs, it’s a revelatory “this is brilliant and it all makes sense!” moment. Either way, the reread is rewarding. I’ve read Love Lettering twice, and the second read is completely different from the first. The nuances gleaned in the reread make the experience so much more thrilling.

There’s a tragic irony in that both protagonists are lonely in a city of over eight million residents. Perhaps it’s not irony at all but a reflection of reality. The easiest place to feel alone, as we all know, is sometimes in a crowd that would never notice your absence. Watching Meg and Reid build their community of two amidst that bustling crowd feels cathartic. They’re both survivors of a sort, and finding their paths to each other is a last grasp at happiness. The road to love isn’t easy, but it’s well-earned and I was crying my eyes out by the end. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just say that Meg and Reid’s relationship is beautifully orchestrated with notes of yearning, teasing but gentle banter, and a warm embrace of each other.

I was astounded by the amount of care and nuance given to the non-romantic relationships. Meg has been hurt badly: by her parents in the past and by her best friend in the present. Sibby has been pulling away for no apparent reason, and her inexplicable dislike/ambivalence is slowly killing Meg on the inside. Meg’s grief is heart-wrenchingly familiar to anyone who has gone through a break-up of an adult friendship.

Meg is talented at many things, but conflict resolution isn’t one of them. She struggles with confrontation and unpleasant communication. It’s easier to paste a smile and swallow her feelings; why create problems by lashing out? Her hesitance extends to problems outside of her own; she certainly has opinions on the toxicity of a client’s marriage, but is it her place to say anything? It’s incredibly satisfying to watch Meg gain the confidence to say something, to defend herself, and to fight for her friendships. Love Lettering primarily focuses on Meg and Reid, but the attention paid to Meg’s non-romantic relationships is pitch perfect. Friendships are just as critical as romance to a person’s emotional equilibrium, and I was so happy to see that the romantic arc didn’t overpower everything else.

There are three love stories in Love Lettering: 1) the love story between Reid and Meg, 2) the love story between the protagonists and New York City, and 3) the love story between Meg and her lettering. I’m not sure which story the title is referring to, but I’d like to think that it’s all of them. First, Meg and Reid meet and fall in love via Meg’s career in hand-lettering. Second, the book is a literal love letter to New York City. Third, “love lettering” is a widespread term in the artistic community (for instance, #lovelettering is a popular Instagram hashtag to showcase hand-lettering).

All three love stories are intertwined to an extent that it’s impossible to pluck distinct plot threads out, but the second love story has changed the way I viewed my own city.

“There haven’t been many signs for me here.”

I have a sudden, shocking urge to protest.

But there are signs everywhere here! Street signs, business signs, billboards, subway ads, window decals, graffiti . . .

Of course I know it’s not what he means. But it’s part of what the city means to me.

Meg’s point-of-view is unique. She organizes her thoughts according to signs under the Manhattan skyline. The descriptions of New York City read like a revelation. I’m not a New Yorker, but I’ve never really focused on small lettering details in an urban environment. The day after reading Love Lettering, I stepped outside in my home city of Philadelphia and looked at the world around me. Normally, I confess, my earphones are vibrating with music and I’m completely focused on my destination. The city is home for now, but it’s not a home that I’ve ever paid attention to. I’m more concerned with dodging other pedestrians and making sure that no car is nearby if I jaywalk.

I’m nothing like Meg; we’re both introverted but the similarities stop there. I certainly don’t possess any artistic inclinations. I wasn’t sure what to expect with my spontaneous experiment; it felt incredibly awkward to walk without purpose. To my surprise and faint embarrassment, I realized how little I knew about the environment around me. I’ve strolled past a nearby bakery hundreds of times, but have never once noticed that the outside sign was red with white letters and a black border. I wish I was an expert at lettering; I couldn’t decipher any of the fonts or artistic styles, but I still tried to commit the curvature to memory. I’m not sure if I can ever truly organize my mind the way Meg does, but it was an interesting experience to actually pause and notice the world around me. I live in a vibrant, bustling city full of art and beautiful signs. My mind may not translate experiences via signs, but it’s still a good idea to lift my head up every once in a while and soak in the atmosphere.

Love Lettering is a special book that I’ll hold close to my heart for a long time. It’s a quiet romance with quiet protagonists, but sometimes it’s the quiet moments that echo the loudest. Meg and Reid will make your heart melt as they cross the finish line into their Happily Ever After.

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