Well, not really. In fact not even close. But I did just buy yet another copy of 84, Charing Cross Road. I think I have four editions already at home, and I now I have a duplicate of one of those editions. As we spend a few weeks along the Maine coast I have been going into used bookstores at a pretty steady pace and for some reason couldn’t resist buying another copy, even though at the time I wondered why. And I also thought of a recent email from Simon T. in which he states he has a no duplicates policy.
Rather than pure obsession, it might have actually been kismet that I picked up my fifth copy of 84CCR. A little further down the road John wanted to spend some time in a beautiful furniture maker’s store and shop and so Lucy and I decided to cool our jets in the shade. It was a good thing for him the 84CCR was close at hand. I was immediately drawn back into it and happily passed the time reading. Had I not been so engaged, John’s browsing time in the furniture store would have been considerably shortened.
So what did I think of my fifth or sixth reading of the lovely 84, Charing Cross Road? I thought it was just as delightful as the first time I read it. In fact, I think it is the best book about books ever written. Maybe it helps to also be an Anglophile, but I defy you to find me a book about books as charming as this one. (Actually I challenge you to find me such a book. If there is a more charming one out there it would be a banner day indeed. And don’t just phone this one in. No off hand suggestions of books on books that you liked. It should really knock your socks off, after all, it needs to stand up to what I consider to be perhaps the most perfect reading experience of all time…hmm…NO WAIT, although my prose gets more and more hyperbolic I am realizing that I DO want to hear about all your books on book feedback, even if it has no shot of dethroning 84CCR from my affection. Two that come close for me are Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris and Allan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader. Good lord, is this still a parenthetical thought?! Now you might start to get an idea of what it is like to talk to me in person.)
Where was I? Oh yes, my thoughts on the re-re-re-re-re-reading 84CCR.
1. A little startled by Helene’s brash sense of humor and way of communicating. Nora wrote that Frank liked, and shared Helene’s sense of humor, but I still worry retroactively that Frank may find it off putting. No doubt has to do with my own insecurities when I visit the UK. Always feel like a bull in a China shop.
2. Similar to #1, it must have been a pain for the folks at Marks & Co to deal with Helene’s cash payments in US dollars. Early on Frank suggests in a very tactful and gracious manner their preferred method of receiving payment only to have Helene miss the point and swat it away.
3. I am struck by Helene’s openness and honesty about her income. When did the English lose their ability to talk about personal income? Trollope is stuffed full of who makes what. And I love reading about who makes what. And from a more serious social historical point of view, Helene’s occasional discussion of how much she makes, and her living conditions gives us an interesting glimpse into the life of a writer.
4. As most of you know, I love fiction and almost never read non-fiction or essays or anything of that sort. But Helene is the opposite. How can I love her so much when she actually dislikes fiction? Yes, she does fall in love with Pride and Prejudice and she enjoys poetry, but otherwise everything she loves to read sounds very old and dry and dusty. On the other hand, with this latest (but never last) reading, I am kind of interested in tracking down some of these multi-volume works to see if I have any interest in them. Would I find the description of a battle as interesting as Helene did when she read the couple of pages that were used as wrapping material for one of her purchases? I doubt it, yet I am fascinated by the notion and kind of wish I would. When you think about the libraries that Marks & Co would have been buying in the 1940s and 1950s, and how Frank describes their editions and bindings, etc., and the titles themselves, it just puts one in mind of all those libraries in National Trust properties. Sure the books are pretty, but would I want to read them? Helene would.
5. When I first stared obsessing over the UK when I was about 12 years old, it seemed like an absolutely impossible dream that I would ever be able to visit. Yet at 19 I managed (with help from my parents) to make my first trip to England, Scotland, and Wales. And then I think of hard working Helene and the decades she had to wait before she could finally make it to England. I am glad she eventually got there and am even more glad (and grateful) that I have been able to visit many times.
6. Frank’s death really hit me hard this time. I knew it was coming, but was still shocked when it happened.
7. I really want to see the film version again. I have seen it about 10 times but it has been several years.