Today is day 3 of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge began with A on April 1 and continues the alphabet throughout the month, except on Sundays. My theme for the month will be this blog’s tagline: life, books, and all things bookish, so you can expect a little bit of this ‘n that. I’m still reading, though, and I’ll add reviews whenever possible. Thirty days of blogging is a huge commitment for me, but I’m looking forward to meeting and greeting new blog friends.
Today’s word is  Charing Cross.
What I read
While I’ll always have an affection for bookstore stories like The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and Readers of Broken Wheel, 84 Charing Cross Road is my favorite. If my copy is any indication of my affection, I’d say the book rates True Love. The nearly thirty-year-old binding glue holds together until about page 36 where the pages start slipping out. The paper is mellowed and musty and the corners dog-eared.
In the first years after World War II, American Helene Hanff, playwright and TV screenwriter, begins a correspondence with Marks & Co., Booksellers in London after reading their ad in the Saturday Review of Literature. Rather than frequent New York City’s Barnes & Noble’s for her rather obscure titles, she relies on Marks & Co. for ordering. Hanff’s list of classics (non-fiction, mostly essays, some Latin) suggested her eagerness to deepen her understanding of the world and explore the life of the mind. (Hanff was not college educated.) She was, she said, “a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books”.
I’ll admit that I had no appreciation with the books that Hanff so desperately wanted: Landor’s Imaginary Conversations, Quiller-Couch’s The Pilgram’s Way, Walton’s Lives. But never mind. This is a story about the friendship that develops between a reader and a bookstore. After only a few months, Hanff is sending the store staff gift boxes with fresh eggs, meat, and coveted nylons for the ladies (England is still rationing even five years after the war). Fast friendships develop, but Hanff doesn’t have the means (nor, apparently, the will, due to a fear of travel) to visit London, despite promises to the contrary.
And when she does over a decade later, she is too late for many reasons. The 1987 film by the same name starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins is a great companion to the book. Hanff wrote a sequel to Charing Cross about her visit titled The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. It’s good, but not nearly as charming.
What I lived
I had probably only worked at the small independent bookstore for a couple months in 1987 and was reading as fast and furious as the staff could recommend. 84 Charing Cross Road was a must-read, I was told–and a bookstore book to boot. I was 28. My part-time job at the bookstore was only my third job anywhere–I had been a teen bride and an almost-teen mom and I had just spent eight years at home with my three young children. Today they’re called SAHMs and young women blog and boast about it. Back then, I just wanted some relief from the 24-7 nose-blowing, potty-training, play-doh squishing, and park-sitting. I needed a break and some autonomy–what a coup to snag a job where I could work among aisles and aisles of books. And was told to read books–oftentimes for free!–whenever I wanted. Every staffer there was a kindred spirit and I was simply over the moon at my good fortune.
That job changed my life in ways I couldn’t begin to have imagined and was an anchor in some pretty rough waters. Divorce. Single-parenting. College. And finally, a new job: teaching. But it’s a time of my life that I still treasure today.