84 Charing Cross Road

And sometimes, desperation and persistence wins the day. I have been going through an unusually dry spell in terms of what to read next. I am reading, slowly, The Great American Sportswriter edited by Schulian, but I’m taking it in bite-sized chunks. I have struggled and struggled and struggled to find something that will awaken me from this summer drowse and fill the world with color. No Cheering from the Press Box, edited by Jerome Holtzman riled me from this slumber for a moment, but that was way back in June.

Last night, out of a combinations of boredom and desperation, I flipped through every page of James Mustich’s 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die in the hopes of finding something. As I reached the Ds, I considered re-reading Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, which I recall loathing in junior high school when I had to read it. This is the level to which I have fallen. I told myself I was being noble by giving a second chance to a book that a teenaged version of me scorned. But I pressed on. I made it through the entire book, skimming, at least, every entry, and making note of a few: Dispatches, Notes on a Cowardly Lion, A Book of One’s Own, Ongoingness, Lonesome Dove, The Diary of Samuel Pepys.

As I drifted off to sleep, bookless, one of the titles lingered in my thoughts, more of a place than a title, really, 84 Charing Cross Road.

This morning was beautiful: sunny and clear, with the humidity blessedly vanished, and temperatures in the upper 60s. I headed outside for my morning walk, and took in the wonderful weather, and that was the last time I noticed it. Or anything else on my walk for that matter. I began listening to the audiobook version of 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, and I was lost in the delightful letters between a New York Bibliophile, and the employees of Marks & Company Antiquarian Booksellers, lead primarily by Frank Doel. Those letters were wonderful, and Hanff’s witty style put a silly grin on my face for the entire morning.

Though short, this has to be one of the best books I’ve read all year. It surprised me, caught me off guard, and quickly and dramatically transformed my desperation into gratitude. But there was also a sadness. It is unlikely that a story such as this could ever happen again. People just don’t write letters anymore, for the most part. And a correspondence such as this could not be replicated in e-mail; it is not, I have found, a medium that lends itself to a literary style.

Sometimes, a book like this is just what I need to stir things up, and before I know it, I find that there is indeed plenty out there that I am interested in reading. I am hopeful that is precisely what happened here this morning.

2 thoughts on “84 Charing Cross Road

  1. I second the movie recommendation. Starting Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft, it was introduced to me by my mother when I was in high school and I’ve watched it at least once a year ever since. It’s a beautiful and smart and funny and literary movie, a valentine to books and writing and letter writing and friendship.

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