I really like Helene Hanff. With her acerbic wit she's a delight to read, or in this case, reread. She's got this slightly irreverent humor yet she's very down to earth. I think I own all her books, or almost all of them and will continue to keep working my way through them. Last year I decided it was time to revisit 84, Charing Cross Road, and then I had to follow it up with her account of finally visiting England with The Duchess of Bloomsbury. I was all set to move on to Q's Legacy, but you know how those reading paths veer off into new directions.
It was calling out to me now, and I couldn't resist. Books about books, which this sort of is are always appealing to me, though I don't read them often enough. Hanff grew up during the Depression. She spent a year at university but then wasn't able to afford to continue when her scholarship wasn't renewed. It was actually something of a relief, but she decided to find her own English tutor by way of a book in the library. She searched for a book of lectures, looking for a tutor with the right credentials and more so someone who wrote clearly and understandably. Making her way through the alphabet in the section on English literature, specifically textbooks, she found only one book under 'Q". On the Art of Writing by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, professor of English Literature in the University of Cambridge.
This is sort of precursor to 84, Charing Cross Road as it is thanks to Q that she first began her correspondence and then friendship with Frank Doel and the ladies at number 84, Charing Cross. She began reading Q's lectures, but authors and books would pop up that she had not read, so she would stop, find said book and read it (more like them). And that's were Marks & Co., Antiquarian Booksellers comes into the picture. I've only just started reading myself, but I have to share an excerpt, as it gives me such a warm and fuzzy feeling. She wanted to find nice editions, reasonably priced, of the books she was studying and found an ad for Marks & Co. in the book column of the Saturday Review of Literature.
"London had held a special glamor for me from the time I was eight or nine and my parents began taking me to the theatre. London was The Barretts of Wimplole Street and Berkeley Square and Pygmalion. It was also Private Lives and Design for Living because whether Noel Coward's characters were disporting themselves in Paris or on the Riviera, you knew they lived in Mayfair."
"Then Q brought English literature into my life and my passion for London grew. Sam Pepy's London might be gone, but Leigh Hunt's was still there. I wanted to take the walks he took at night. I wanted to stand on Westminster Bridge and look at the view, because Wordsworth said Earth had not anything to show more fair. But it was all day-dreaming. Between my hand-to-mouth income and fear of travel, I never really expected to see London. Staring at that ad, I thought it would be a lovely prize to hold in my hands books that actually came from there. Marks & Co. might be another Chaucer Head, but while I was afraid to walk into such a bookshop I wasn't afraid to write a letter to one. I wrote to Marks & Co., requesting three books and warning the shop that I couldn't pay more than five dollars for each for each of them."
I can so relate to what she writes, which I suppose is why I always enjoy her books so much. This is a slim book, but one to read slowly and savor.