Sunday, January 27, 2013

Not a Book Review, but a Recommendation

I think that there are two books that are essential reading for any Anglophile bibliophile, and those books are 84, Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff.

The first is a collection of Hanff's 20 year correspondence with Frank Doel, an antiquarian bookseller at Marks & Co., situated at the eponymous address in London. It all begins when Hanff, a great reader of English literature, but also a woman living on her own on a budget in post-WWII New York City, spies an advertisement for Marks & Co. in the Saturday Review of Literature. What starts out as a simple purchase order for some hard to find classics evolves into witty banter and, ultimately, a transatlantic friendship forged over a love of classic literature and books themselves.  (As a person who also romanticizes appreciates books, I completely understand Hanff's delight at some of the leather bound editions she receives in the mail at ridiculously inexpensive prices!) The book calls to me on so many levels: that of a reader and that of an Anglophile. I think that the only way that this book could be any more appealing to me would be if every time I opened it, a footman would pop out and serve me afternoon tea and then Tom Hiddleston or Richard Armitage would read me the book by candlelight in front of a fire. (Okay, that MAY have been a bit of an overshare...but I think you get the point.)

In the first book, Hanff had planned to travel over to England to meet her friends in the bookshop, but life (also known as $bills$), as it does so often to all of us, got in her way, and she had to postpone her visit. Unfortunately, she didn't make it to England before SPOILER (highlight to read - JR, you should be thanking me right about now...) ;-)
the untimely death of Frank Doel in 1968 and the closing of Marks & Co. two years later.
The book based on Hanff and Doel's correspondence was published in 1970, and due to the success of the book in Britain, Hanff traveled to England in 1971 to do some promotional work for the British publishers of 84, Charing Cross Road. She chronicled her visit in a diary; the resulting work became The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, which was published in 1973. This book inspires in me a feeling of "I am so jealous of this woman that I want to eat my hat, and I wish I too could benefit from the kindness of random strangers because I wrote a book that touches the heart about books and my love of all things British." In 84, Charing Cross Road, Ms. Hanff wrote that someone once told her that people going to England find exactly what they go looking for, and she says that she would go looking for the England of English literature. That is exactly what she did, starting on the street with the bookstore that became her touchstone in the heart of its capital. She got her own personal literary tour of London and didn't take any of this for granted and approached each wonderful thing that happened to her in England with the same sheer delight that I would feel if I were in her shoes.

I think because that is exactly what I have tried to do on each of my visits to England, I feel utterly connected with this book. (She stays in Russell Square. I have BEEN to Russell Square, and I had a bit of a moment when I saw the Russell Hotel and thought that my next step was the Heaviside Lair! And, yes, I did just reference Cats!!) I love Charing Cross Road, but Bloomsbury Street is the book that I read when my heart needs lifting.

(Also, I would HIGHLY recommend watching the film of 84 Charing Cross Road. It stars Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins, but the supporting cast is made up of people you might recognize...Judi Dench being one of them!)


  1. Oooh, I'll have to put these on my Good Reads TBR list! Great suggestions. (And love the TH/RA line. Swoon.)

    1. I think that you will like them. (It also helps having been to England to appreciate Bloomsbury Street. Did I read that you have a trip planned to go there or was that another one of our DA Sunday night Twitter crew?)



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...