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Friday, June 16, 2006

84 Charing Cross Road

A few days ago, I bought the book 84 Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff, from the used book stalls under Waterloo Bridge on the South Bank. It's really just a series of letters between Helene and the employees of a book shop at the address of the title, where she begins by ordering rare or complete or original-language works, but ends up making friends -- heartwarming, I know.

Helene, living in NYC, idealizes London and Charing Cross Road, but she wouldn't be disappointed (indeed, she wasn't, as she describes in her follow up, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street).

The center-focus of Charing Cross Road -- in terms of book stores, anyway, and that's all that matters, isn't it? -- is Foyles, an indie book shop of chain-store proportions. But it's the smaller, used stores, like Helene's pick, which make for the best browsing. And, they're cheaper.

After finishing 84, I of course needed to find out what is now at that address. I nearly googled it, but then the realization that I was just a 20 minute walk away stayed my typing fingers, and I did my (short) pilgrimage by foot.

From what I could tell -- the buildings are frustratingly inconsistently numbered -- the current tenants of number 84 are either a chain pub called All Bar One or a Pizza Hut/Costa Coffee, either of which are lamentable, but at least the spirit of the rest of the street remains essentially the same. (The internet tells me that the bar is indeed at number 84... you win this time, Google.)

While there is more chain crappiness on the street than there was in Helene's time (just post-WW2), there are still book stores like her Marks and Co, and there are still Helenes about. A lady followed me into Henry Pordes Books the other day and walked straight up to the counter -- manned by two grey haired men in glasses -- and asked if the had the Iliad in Latin. Sadly, they did not at the moment, one said, and this launched a conversation on the sad state of things that people no long read such works in the original Greek and Latin. Helene would be proud.

So to pair the booky theme with some modern techy interaction -- and because I need to revitalize my to-read list -- I hereby request some recommendations. What book do you think I'd like? What's your favourite/top three/whatever?

Aside to Mary: There's an awesome bit on Helene being converted to novels after reading P&P that made me gleeful... I think you'd like it. Have you read it?

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Blogger Nat said...

One of my favourite books is The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It's the story of a man who, through some genetic fault travels back and forth in time uncontrollably. In his travels he meets his wife as a child and repeatedly visits her as she's growing up. The book is from both of their perspectives. It's a beautiful love story and one of the few books that makes me cry.

You'd better read it soon. Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston's company got hold of the rights and will probably make a movie that doesn't stand up to the book.

Read an excerpt here:


Blogger Mary said...

My top five desert-island picks includes two Austen novels, so I'll forego those since I know you've already read them all.

I love Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, a slow, leisurely, stream-of-consciousness novel that is very much about London. I also think you'd like David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day, if you haven't already read it. It's hilarious.

The Hanff book is available at the U of A library. I'll have to grab the next time I'm there. It will look a little out of place amongst all the pre-1800 architectural treatises that I currently have on hold.


Blogger Nicole said...

I've been meaning to read the time travellers wife one. Looked kinda crazy.

Have read Mrs Dalloway, but not the David Sedaris one. Must look into that... It's hard to find good funny books.



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