Obligatory: Christmas Lobster #6
No offense to Gê Orthof who is responsible for the cover illustration, but I do NOT think it does this book justice. At a glance, one might think it is a children’s book. I don’t get it.
FIRST SENTENCE: Q and I met on a summer morning when I was eighteen, at the main branch of the Philadelphia Public Library where I’d gone in search of a teacher; and I took him home with me despite certain doubts about his fitness for the post.
WHAT’s it ABOUT: This memoir by Helene Hanff could be considered an unofficial Part 3 in her life story about Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and the London bookshop, Marks & Co, who enabled her education. Part 1 would be the famous 84, Charing Cross Road and Part 2 being the travelogue The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (which I haven’t yet read).
Hanff talks about her self-educating process using Q’s books as a mentor; how she tried to support herself as a text-book writer and playwright, how she wrote about her relationship with Marks & Co, originally thinking it would be a magazine article but it was too long. It did find a publisher and then became a ‘cult’ classic.
She is a delightful writer and had to have been a delightful person. She’s funny; she’s smart. Wouldn’t she have been a wildly popular blogger? I loved - and was amazed – by how her fans reached out to her as if she were an old friend and she welcomed it. Crazy.
I do wish she might have included a few more examples of how Q influenced her writing. I can even imagine her contemplating what more to add on this before saying out loud with martini in hand, “Aw screw it, let’s see wait what the publisher wants me do.” There’s a sense that she is amused and resigned to the idea that people want to read her memoirs. Give ‘em what they want. Let the Fates decide.
Her experiences feel so authentic. and unique. It warms the heart to read stories about good things happening to cool people. I do wonder…, reading about her hard luck times in NYC if she ever crossed paths in the 60s with a few other hard-luck-time NYC-ers, like Patti Smith. No?
That connection – experiencing the 60s in NYC – is not the only one. Hanff mentions St. Swithun’s Day as did David Nicholls in One Day. She also mentions Oscar Wilde a few times. Jane Austen. And a bunch of other people I probably should know but don’t. Oh! she mentions that Diana Athill was on her publishing team! Of course. They would SO have been friends.
I enjoyed this very much. I found this book in the library of the ‘Old Folks Home’ where I volunteer. Though the cover is off-putting, I grabbed it solely on the power of the author’s name.
If you love books and haven’t yet read Hanff, get thee to a library and check out 84, Charing Cross Road. Might as well get a few other books by her, too, while you’re there. Or read these other reviews of this that you can find at Fyrefly’s Book Blog Search. Or click on that horrible book cover image above and it will take you to goodreads.com.