I've been reading a lot of mysteries and horror lately - reviews will come shortly - and yesterday I wanted to read something different. I grabbed 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff off of my books to be read shelf. I read it once long ago, and I've seen the movie with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. I prefer the book version, because the sense of the relationship, the love of books, the love of selling books to the right people, comes through this series of letters over 20 years between Helene, an American writer, and Frank, who works in a used book store on Charing Cross Road in London. This was my introduction to London, that there was a street devoted to selling books. This is no longer true of Charing Cross Road, although many good bookstores are found in and around the area, both new and used. I know because whenever I go to London, that's always one of my destinations. I came to Charing Cross Road because of the book 84, Charing Cross Road.
I love the generosity between these two people, and the lives that are touched by this correspondence. Helene writes because of an ad the book store - Marks & Co - have put in a paper, advertising they specialize in out-of-print books. As I read about her request for books, I was thrilled to see that in the 15 or so years since I read this book, I have read some of these books now myself! Helene is always searching for a particular edition of a book, and Frank is both the buyer for the store, as well as book seller and correspondent with Helene.
This is a fine meeting of love of books and kindness, and it is becoming a book I love. My edition is the new Penguin edition with a photo of the bookseller on the front cover. I see only the books, though. .And the street in London.
Last week I finally took the plunge and ordered some out of print books from the Book Depository in the US. You can find them through Amazon.ca/com/co.uk. They will hopefully arrive next week - I'll do a post when they arrive, but really what has struck me is how different the world is now from 60 years ago when Helene first wrote to Marks & Co with her list of books. Back then, there was only mail, and letters written and sent, and long waits for replies. Now, it's the internet - in some ways magical, with book ordering at my fingertips, and I do love the internet for this!! And being able to see at any time what's in print, what's available, what isn't. But I don't write letters any more, and unless I go to my local bookstore - which I do regularly - I don't get to meet and talk with my local bookseller about books.
What some of you may not know, is that once upon a time I worked in bookstores also. Both new bookstores, and used bookstores. I like them both, for different reasons. I miss spending my days among books, helping customers find the right books, ordering for them, and just being surrounded by books. 84, Charing Cross Road made me long to be back in books again! So I said to my husband that when I have my holidays at the end of this month, I really want to take a day to just go wander in the used book stores in Ottawa. Because we have two universities here, we have more used book stores than many cities do, which is a secret pleasure of living in Ottawa. Many have gone out of business now, including The Book Market on Dalhousie St, where I got my very first job when I moved to Ottawa 26 years ago. There are still many fine ones, and I always, always find books when I go into them.
84, Charing Cross Road is all about the magic of reading, and the sharing of good books.
Here is a small list of some of the books that are currently out of print or very hard to get, that I am looking for, because part of talking about books, is talking about what we really want to read and just can't find yet, as well as what we love.
- Winds of Marble Arch by Connie Willis - put out by Subterranean Press, only the hardcover was published so far. I held a copy of the hardcover in my hands, and put it back as my birthday was approaching and I wanted my husband to get it for me. Sadly, when I went back to get it, it was already gone and any more copies have been unavailable since.
Forest of Souls - A Walk Through The Tarot by Rachel Pollack. I recently found a copy at our library and read it. It was a revelation to me, and I have since bought all her books and am restudying the tarot. While some are available used on line, I want to wait and see if I can track it down here before risking the mail.
The Spiral Dance - Gabriel Garcia Y Robertson - I had a copy of this book, read it and loved it - time travel romance set in England and Scotland, it was amazing. It's also out of print.
Raising Demons - Shirley Jackson. I once saw a copy, I might even have owned one. I sillily gave it away and have been looking for it ever since. It's the hilarious story of raising her children, à la Erma Bombeck.
- any book by Charles Addams, who is the creator of the Addams family in cartoon sketches. I once owned several books of his illustrations, which are gorgeously creepy and deliciously hinting at darkness in humans. Absolutely the best and I finally found one of his books online at Powell's, so this is one of the orders I am waiting to see how it gets here, and in what condition. I'm so excited! Here is a link to one of his on my wishlist.
What are you looking for, dear reader, that you haunt used book stores for, or pine away on Amazon looking for a copy suddenly appearing?