Correspondence

A couple of weeks ago, I got all gooey about my love of books, precipitated in part by 84 Charing Cross Road, which I’d just started reading. The very next day I finished it – it was too short, and I felt cheated that there was still over half the book’s contents to go. The rest of it was taken up by another book by the same author – The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street which I knew nothing about.

What followed took me completely by surprised and may just have shot this edition of two-books-in-one right to the top of my ‘favourite books ever’ list. The second book was exactly what I wanted after the end of the first – a follow up that told me exactly what happened next and gave me truly excellent closure. I realise this makes no sense without the context, so let me expand…

Helene Hanff created 84 Charing Cross Road based upon her correspondence in the post-war era with Marks & Co bookshop, based at the address of the title. What I didn’t initially realise was that this is no novel, it’s all real and that makes me love it all the more (it’s the polar opposite of the betrayal I felt having read A Diary of an Ordinary Woman). I’ve said before how I instantly fell in love with this conversation between two book lovers from opposite sides of the Atlantic, it completely tapped into my adoration of physical books and bibliophiles. It comes to an abrupt end (I won’t spoil it for you) and the reader is left hanging. I haven’t been that sad at the end of a book in a long time – I may actually have gasped out loud (on the tube) as I turned the page and realised there was nothing more.

The second book was published sometime later and again is totally true. It’s based upon Hanff’s first trip to London following the success of the original work. In it you meet many of the characters from the first in 3D – rather than just a one-sided letter. By the time she took her seat on the plane home, I was shedding tears along with her. Perfectly beautiful.

Coincidentally, my ‘bedtime’ book that same week was another epistolary work (isn’t that an awesomely amazing word?!), this time total fiction. [In case you’re wondering, I can’t read my handbag book in bed because I’ll forget to put it back in the morning. Bedtime books are usually lighter reads that don’t suffer from falling asleep after 2 pages.] It was also a children’s (or at least teenager) book, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Daddy Long Legs (Jean Webster) is an American novel of the generation after Louisa M. Alcott, telling the story of a young orphan in receipt of a scholarship to college in the early 20th centrury, entirely via the letters she sends to her anonymous patron. She names him ‘Daddy Long Legs’ based upon her only glimpse of him and writes every detail of her life in her epistles, despite knowing that part of the agreement is that he’ll never reply to them. It’s a fascinating insight into the life of an American student in that era – the curfews, dresses and past-times all seem extremely quaint!

I read it as a result of one of my (possibly less endearing) habits – browsing through other people’s books. The terribly lovable Becki and I were having coffee a couple of weeks ago and as she’d arrived early she carried on reading her book. It sat on the table during our chat and when she popped to the loo I picked it up and read the first few pages. On her return she was amused and also astounded I’d never heard of it – so at church the next Sunday she passed it over. I’m extremely grateful to her!

This is not only a strong recommendation of two great books, but also a pondering…
With the death of letter writing, what will become of such books? Will future novels tell love stories via e-mails, emoticons and gchats? Surely that won’t be the same? Will there even be any correspondence other than short tweets and repetitive Facebook comments? I hope so.

Comments

  1. May I first of all express my extreme excitement to have featured in this post?

    YAY! =D

    Also, I have read a correspondence via email book… ‘The Boy Next Door’, by Meggin Cabot. Not the same at all.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Boy-Next-Door-Meggin-Cabot/dp/0060096195/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1271282860&sr=8-1

  2. Just finished 84 Charing Cross. (Based on your review I decided to add to my “to read” list). Agree that it’s entirely too short but having read of your distress was not too worried knowing that there’s a sequel! Off to see if the library has it in!

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