There aren’t many books that I reread. There are just so many books left unread, untouched, unheard of, out there that I am constantly seeking that next new discovery, that next new-to-me author whose works I have to add to my TBR list.
Which is a pity.
Because there is such a pleasure in the reread.
The characters who have become family.
And despite the familiarity, that little phrase, that little spark that you hadn’t noticed before.
It comes with snuggling under a blanket, sipping a hot drink, returning to that story, that location, those characters.
For me, this month at least, that warm comforting sip came from Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road. A lovely, loving book that I’ve read a couple of times before. A secondhand copy I picked up from a library sale somewhere in LA (the husband and I had drove down to visit my sister and she had taken us out for brunch. Somehow as we were walking back to the car, there it was a sign that said ‘book sale’. And this was the only book I bought. It was meant to be!)
I’ve been looking for a good book to kick off the Postal Reading Challenge. I haven’t quite been able to make it to the library this week thanks to a wee reader-spread virus that hit everyone at home (we’re doing much better, but still keeping meals simple and resting). And with the impending calamity (ok that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but those first few months with a newborn kind of feels that way!) of a baby due in early May, I wanted to get a good headstart on the reading challenges I had signed up for. I’ve made some kind of headway for What’s in a Name and Global Women of Colour, but hadn’t yet begun reading any postal-related books.
So I figure, what better than this reread? Because 84, Charing Cross Road is just such a lovely lovely book to read. It’s a book about books, sort of. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s a collection of letters between Helene Hanff, an American scriptwriter living in New York, and a bookseller, Frank Doel, in London. The letters are at first just about the business of books. As she explains it in her first letter:
“I am a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books and all the things I want are impossible to get over here except in very expensive rare editions, or in Barnes & Noble’s grimy, marked-up schoolboy copies.”
But soon they become friends and they begin chatting about other things, and other members of the staff start writing to her as well.
It’s fun to see the changes in the tones of their letters. Helene addresses the good folks at Marks & Co as ‘Gentlemen’ first, they (or rather, Frank) starts off his letters as ‘Dear Madam’, until she wonders: “I hope ‘madam’ doesn’t mean over there what it does here.”
I just can’t help liking Helene and her love for books.
“I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest. The day Hazlitt came he opened to ‘I hate to read new books,’ and I hollered ‘Comrade!’ to whoever owned it before me.”
And the way she so generously sends food parcels to the bookstore staff after learning how bad the rations are – it is 1949 when their correspondence begins and, according to her neighbour’s British boyfriend, each family gets just 2 oz of meat per week and one egg per person per month.
It’s also funny the way her buying books from this bookshop in London is kind of like buying books off the Internet today (although of course perfectly fine books can probably be found at your local bookstore too):
“Why should I run all the way down to 17th St to buy dirty, badly made books when I can buy clean, beautiful ones from you without leaving the typewriter? From where I sit, London’s a lot closer than 17th St.”