Flashback Friday is a meme hosted by Bookshelf fantasies focusing on showing some love for the older books in our lives and on our shelves.
The book I have chosen this week is one that has been on my mind for the last few days. I don’t quite know why, but I have been thinking about this book a lot. I was fourteen years old when I first read it and I have read it many times since. I only stopped re reading it when I realised that I almost knew it by heart.
“I am a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books…”
This is the ultimate book about books. It is a record of a twenty year long correspondence between Helene Hanff, the afore mentioned writer with the antiquarian taste in books and Marks and Co, a second-hand book shop in London, located at 84 Charing Cross Road.
Most of the letters written on behalf of the bookshop were written by Frank Doel, who was their principal buyer. The book is made up of letters written between 1949 and 1969 and though they are primarily discussions about books, they carry all the flavour of that time, everything from post war food rationing in Britain, to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the second to the advent of television.
Helene has an abiding love for the England of English literature and hopes to see it for herself one day. In the meantime, she has her bookshop. She buys books from them because as she says, “Why should I run all the way to 17th Street to buy dirty, badly made books when I could buy clean, beautiful ones without leaving the typewriter?”
But mostly, she keeps buying books from them because she likes to have a link with London. Marx & Co. send Helene old books and Helene sends them food parcels. She is appalled to hear about the food rationing in Britain and uses some of her meagre income to send parcels of eggs and meat to her friends at the bookshop. They write her thank you letters and send her gifts for Christmas, which are mostly books.
What makes this book so unique is Helene herself. She is a spirited soul with a wonderful sense of humour and a passionate love of books. Here are a few of my favourite quotes from the book.
“The books arrived safely. The Stevenson is so fine it embarrasses my orange-crate bookshelves. I’m almost afraid to handle such soft vellum and heavy cream coloured pages…I never knew a book could be such a joy to the touch.”
“I do love second-hand books that open to the page that 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.”
“I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned and reading passages someone long gone has called my attention to.”
“Frankie, guess who came while you were away on vacation? SAM PEPYS! …he came a week ago, stepped out of four pages of some tabloid, three honest navy-blue volumes of him; I read the tabloid over lunch and started Sam after dinner.
He says to tell you that he’s overjoyed to be here, he was previously owned by a slob who didn’t even bother to cut the pages.”
This book is a must read for anyone who loves books.